40 years ago, in May of 1981, the mortal Bob Marley passed away at the age of 36. The legend of Marley- the one that today sustains a musical empire and global brand- was already in the process of coalescing into form at the time of his passing; a local reggae sensation turned worldwide superstar, political and civil rights spokesman, and survivor of an assassination attempt. More and more, the stories of the musician were building the lore of Marley with less widely known about the man; a soccer-loving Jamaican country boy who once worked in a Delaware auto factory.
This coffee table book of photographs, curated by Marley’s eldest son, Ziggy, as part of Bob’s 75th birthday celebration, opens with Ziggy’s mission to fill in some of the spaces between. There are plenty of shots of Marley in action, at his craft, in unwavering focus on stage. And there is an abundance of Marley being interviewed, holding court, or prepping for a performance. Save for a couple dozen pics of soccer games in backyards and parks, it’s predominantly a portrait of Marley on the job, circa 1976-80.
On the surface, that’s enough to engage the die-hard Marley fan or the curious newcomer. The sparse and thoughtful text includes a few revelatory interview excerpts and context of select performances, detailing Marley’s frequent willingness to perform for free in support of a cause. A closer examination of the 235 pages, however, reveals something only photos can effectively convey. Vitally important to the man/legend metamorphosis, there is a visual component omnipresent within Marley’s iconography: Style.
A majority of the chosen photos are either tight on Marley- on his deeply expressive face, in particular- with little in the background, or longer shots of Marley in a group- with neighborhood peers and admirers; at a children’s party; with bandmates and family. In each, though, there is Marley, magnetic as a composite of unaffected bravura and humble humanity: his clothes- ghetto rude boy meets denim hip- his sinewy physical radiance, his gravitas in motion or repose, draw the eyes in and hold.
This is Bob Marley, in pictures, in the latter years of his life, as a man, a legendary artist, and in some respect, as an immortal work of art.