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Catch a Fire: The Life of Bob Marley de…

Catch a Fire: The Life of Bob Marley (edição: 1992)

de Timothy White (Autor)

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363553,723 (3.84)1
This is the classic biography of reggae legend Bob Marley, updated and revised for the twenty-fifth anniversary of his death. Bob Marley left an indelible mark on modern music, both as a reggae pioneer and as an enduring cultural icon. Catch a Fire, now a classic rock biography, delves into the life of this man, the leader of a musical and spiritual revolution that continues today. The book chronicles Marley's life and career, as well as the milieu that shaped his spiritual and political beliefs. Under the supervision of the author's widow and with the collaboration of a Marley expert, this fourth edition contains a wealth of new material, including many revisions made by the author before his untimely death. This new edition, factually updated throughout, chronicles Marley's legacy in recent years, as well as the ongoing controversy over the possibility that Marley's remains might be exhumed from Nine Mile, Jamaica, and reburied in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where hundreds of Rastafarians live. Fascinating inside information about the intrigues of the reggae music business, the dramatic rise of Marley's musical offspring, the complex legal struggles surrounding the Marley estate, and a sweeping social history of modern Jamaica, as well as the Rastafarian religion, also make up this expanded edition.… (mais)
Título:Catch a Fire: The Life of Bob Marley
Autores:Timothy White (Autor)
Informação:Holt Paperbacks (1992), Edition: Rev & Enl, 476 pages
Coleções:Sua biblioteca

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Catch a Fire: The Life of Bob Marley de Timothy White


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I’m a fan, so I enjoyed Catch A Fire, but it’s possible a reader with no interest in Bob Marley or reggae music could still find this book fascinating. The story begins not with Marley’s birth in 1945, but in 1892 with the birth of Tafari, grand nephew to the then-sitting Ethiopian Empress. Only just barely connected enough to the throne to merit the title of "Ras" (prince), he became Ras Tafari, and if you recognize the word Rastafarian in that name, it’s no mistake. The entire first chapter follows his extremely unlikely path to the throne, as natural death, mental illness, palace intrigues, and murder remove obstacles in his way. By 1930 he was crowned Emperor of Ethiopia (Ethiopia being an empire binding together heterogeneous kingdoms, fiefdoms, and semi-nomadic rural tribes people, is how I understand that).

What’s that got to do with anything?

Well, over in Jamaica, a lot of political and social changes were going on, particularly in the Afro-Jamaican population in the first half of the twentieth century. During the 1920’s, the Holy Piby began to supplant the mainstream traditional Bible in Christian worship. The Holy Piby, as near as I understand it, mirrors much of the Bible, but also draws from apocryphal texts, early Coptic mysticism and an Egyptian Freemasonic sect called the "Brotherhood of the Blind" to place much stronger emphasis on the significance of ancient Ethiopia as a holy place, favored in God’s eyes and second only to Israel. Popularity of the Holy Piby played into the "back-to-Africa" movements which also swept the Caribbean during the mid 20th century. Catch A Fire describes at least one attempted mass migration of Afro-Caribbeans back to Africa, although it sounds like the expense, logistics, and documentary requirements (as well as World War II) prevented the migrations from taking place.

When Ras Tafari was crowned, it was a big deal amongst the Caribbean-African empowerment movement. To better understand why, you need to appreciate that even though they call themselves Christian and follow the Holy Piby, Rastafarians also practice a lot of folk beliefs from the Atan and Arawak cultures native to Jamaica (pre-European influence) as well as other beliefs including numerology and astrology. Mixing all these together, Ras Tafari’s crowning was a big deal because of the astrological circumstances of his birth and crowning, as well as his alleged pedigree: he is supposedly a direct descendent from the union of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. His coronation was to signal the start of an age when dignity and power would be restored to Africa and its Diaspora. (END NOTE 1) Recognizing this, a whole mythology began to grow around the young Ras... stories about how he could speak with animals at a young age, how he knew things it would be impossible for a mortal man to know, etc. With so much hopefulness for the future, and dignity for its followers, it's easy to understand why Rastafarianism caught on. And although the movement was rooted in African pride, it preached brotherly love for the entire human family, as well as nonviolence and social justice. Thus, one of the recurring themes among Rastas is that the current era of corruption and oppression embodied in the image of Babylon (END NOTE 2) is being ushered out. When Mussolini’s forces invaded Ethiopia in 1935, it had prophetic significance to Rastas and some Christian sects, and Ethiopia encouraged -without much success- Jamaicans to come join the fight for the Ras.

Let’s leave that bit for now. Timothy White next gives a brief history of Caribbean music in the mid-20th century. Calypso was the prevailing style (think of Harry Belefonte's Banana Boat Song and Day-O) but Jamaica, as a British holding, was also exposed to the Big Band sound and old standards (Sinatra being favorite) broadcast for the Anglo-Jamaican upper class on local radio. Weather permitting, some of the more powerful radio stations in the Southern U.S. were also heard, which played Mississippi blues, Dixieland, early rock like Chuck Berry, and R&B... all of which found warm reception on the island. It seems even certain riffs, phrases and other musical fragments can be traced from American blues to evolving Afro-Caribbean popular music, calypso, Cuban jazz and a homegrown calypso/R&B fusion known as "blue beat" (later called "ska"), popularized by the Jamaican guitar player Sam Cooke. When Jamaicans occasionally did seasonal work on nearby Caribbean islands, they also brought local French-creole and Spanish-creole folksongs back to Jamaica with them. By the late 50’s/early 60’s a new sort of sound was taking shape with enough distinctive characteristics to be called its own genre, which we now know as Reggae.

All this groundwork is meant to provide the context of what sort of environment Bob Marley was born into, both culturally and musically.

Robert (Bob) Nesta Marley was born in 1945, the son of a down-on-his-luck Anglo-Jamaican ship’s Captain, and the daughter (Ciddy) of an Afro-Jamaican tennant farmer. The couple seperated only weeks after marriage, and Bob spent his childhood divided between the grinding rural poverty of Ciddy’s family, and the slightly more comfortable but more socially hostile environment of his father’s residence in Kingston. Without a doubt, a powerful early musical influence on Marley was the music at Ciddy’s church- which in typical rural island fashion was nominally Pentecostal but heavily infused with elements of island folklore (to include séances!), Roman Catholicism, and even Hinduism (a large East Indian population worked the nearby bauxite mines). Services lasted most of the day Sundays, and incorporated liberal amounts of music from the various traditions. Worship also dwelt heavily on secular issues of social justice, which obviously figured into Marley’s worldview later in life. His rural cousins may have been blind to their economic disadvantage, but not so for Bob, whose travels between his parents’ homes were a forced lesson comparing urban and rural life, and the bus rides his travels necessitated took him past the opulent estates of the island’s famed "Twenty Families"- an oligarchy of Old Money dynasties which dominated the Jamaican economy and owned a large fraction of the real estate.(END NOTE 3)

In Bob’s teen years, his father disgraced the family by taking a second wife without divorcing Ciddy. She sued for bigamy, but realized no financial gain from this. She and Bob moved to the Kingston slums known as Trenchtown, whose name and image are recurring themes in Marley’s lyrics. (END NOTE 4) At the end of public schooling, Ciddy arranged through friends for Bob to get a welding apprenticeship, and he probably would have gone down that path, but for a very unlikely series of events in which he was "discovered" in 1961 by a Chinese-Jamaican record store owner (Leslie Kong) looking to produce local music. The middle portion of the book documents Bob's early career. He formed The Wailers (also variously called "The Teenagers" and "Pipe’s Schoolboys") with cousin Bunny Marley and friend Peter Tosh (McIntosh). Joe Higgs, an older Kingston singer who had been commercially successful in the 50’s, became their mentor. The Wailers become popular at dance halls and bars, and with Higgs’ guidance and Kong’s backing, they started making hits.

White lovingly details some of their shenanigans around this time- the styles The Wailers followed; their juvenile early lyrics about dancing, girls and fighting. There’s nothing about The Wailers’ early career to suggest this little Kingston band would ever find international popularity, but sundry circumstances conspired to smooth a path for them to the international market: the Jamaican novelty song "My Boy Lollipop" (performed by Millie Small) become a fleeting hit in England in 1964; around the same time Carol Crawford, an Anglo-Jamaican model became the first Jamaican to win the Miss World title. Later in the year, Ian Fleming’s Dr.No, set in Jamaica and largely filmed on location around Kingston, became a global boxoffice draw. On the heels of this, a Jamaican delegation of ska performers became a televised sensation at the Pan American Exhibition in New York. For several weeks following the Exhibition, ska acts were booked on American Bandstand, to enthusiastic acclaim, and famed American dance instructor Arthur Miller devised dance steps to go with the music. Also in 1964, Brazilian singer Astrud Gilberto broke into American markets with several successful Samba hits; the best-remembered probably being The Girl From Ipanema.

Either the book or I may be overstating all these tropical pop-culture tie-ins from the 1960’s, but when you start listing them out, as the book does, it does seem like a trend.. enough anyhow that record producer Chris Blackwell, founder of the Island Records label, started contemplating international promotion of Jamaican talent. Blackwell is an interesting character in his own right: heir to the Appleton rum fortune, he spent his formative years in Kingston- not on the polo circuit, but down by the docks and on the beaches with the Rastas, smoking the spice and learning their music. Predictably, he wasn’t entirely embraced as a true islander by the Rastas, but his habits- especially a fondness for ganja- were deemed a bit too "native" for the Anglo Elite, and he certainly was a curiosity to his greater extended family back in England. In short, he didn't fit in anywhere. For reasons unclear, he decided to go into the music biz, founding the Island Records label, which had some great early successes with bands like King Crimson, Jethro Tull and The Allan Parsons Project. Naturally, Blackwell was familiar with Marley’s work, so when a chance meeting occurred in 1972 between the two, Blackwell already knew he wanted to make a record with Bob. For his part, Marley was hard up for cash, and agreed. Thus the legendary Catch A Fire (an expression roughly equivalent to "Catch Hell") was produced, which was Marley’s breakout disc. It took off in American markets after a favorable review in Rolling Stone magazine, and got a lot of play in urban stations, who likened it to some of Stevie Wonder’s rhythm-heavy tracks, whose lyrics also contained social commentary on ethnic strife and economic class disparities.

Bob Marley and the Wailers followed up the album by touring as an opening act for Sly & the Family Stone along with another unknown named Bruce Springsteen. In another year, Eric Clapton was covering I Shot the Sheriff, and artists as diverse as Paul McCartney, the Commodores, Paul Simon, Mick Jagger, and the Jackson Five were looking to collaborate or perform with him.

From here, the book reads like any episode of VH1’s "Behind the Music" series. Fame led to (more) drugs, marital infidelities, tension within the group, artistic disagreements among artists, producers, distributors, etc. The most interesting part of all this to me is that when fame started to get crazy, and temptations of wealth and status were most powerful, that seemed to be the time when Bob Marley took the most interest in the themes of social justice, class struggle, and racial strife. It’s true that these ideas weren’t completely unknown to him; Martin Luther King’s 1964 goodwill tour to Jamaica made a powerful impression on Bob, as it did much of the normally-apolitical Jamaican underclass, who nevertheless followed the American civil liberties movement with interest. Marley’s transformation really started in force when his wife Rita, a one-time Sunday school teacher, converted to Rastafarianism just about the time Catch A Fire was released. Because of this spousal tie-in, I can’t help but think of Marley as a bit of a Constantine figure for the Rastafarians. Honestly, who of us in the developed world would know anything about this Island religion if it hadn’t been for Marley? If you follow his discography and the lyrics that go with it, there is a steady move towards Rastafarian ideals, culminating (my opinion) with the 1979 album Survival, which is my favorite of his.

The story gets interesting when one of Leslie Kong’s early partners, Edward Seaga -a one-time Harvard anthropologist later known to have ties to the CIA- became active in Jamaican politics. In fact, he was a bit of a populist firebrand. His political career starts with the eve of Jamaican independence from Great Britain, on August 5, 1962. After 1972, Seaga and his opponents both vie for Marley’s favor, seeing him as a cultural superstar with unopposable influence with the Jamaican poor. For as much as Marley tries to stay out of partisan politics, he can’t control how his words in interviews and songs are misinterpreted. In 1976, Bob agrees to do a concert in Kingston, but he is unaware the concert is partly a political event funded by Seaga's opposition. His agreement to perform is widely publicised, and is taken as a political stance against Seaga. On December 3rd, 1976 there is an attempt on Bob’s life, which also results in a non-critical head injury for Rita, and spinal surgery for his bass player. Marley goes ahead with the concert, but makes clear to the crowd that he is nonpartisan, further amplifying his stature as a national hero.

A lot more happens, but I’ve spoken enough already. Bob Marley died of widely metastatic melanoma on May 11, 1981, and I personally believe the tragedy of his unfulfilled potential is as great in the social sphere as it was in music. I guess this is the personal part of the review. For some reason, I feel like I should leave a note here about why I read this book, and why I like Bob Marley so much. I mean, why does a rasta reggae singer from the 1970’s have so much appeal with this white-bread middle class American guy in 2012? His songs have been with me for quite a while, and through a quirk of fate, I came to know his music just about the same time I was forming a lot of other ideas about how things work in the world, and these two things complement each other. One of my professional mentors was (is) a big Marley fan, and that’s was what really made me first take notice of reggae. I vividly recall us sitting out on his patio late one summer night, playing cards and half-drunk, with Survival playing in the background:

♫♫ So much trouble in the world… ♫♫

You said it, Bob. You said it.

And then songs like Top Rankin’
They don't want to see us unite:
All they want us to do is keep on fussing and fighting.
They don't want to see us live together:
All they want us to do is keep on killing one another.

Top rankin', top rankin':
Are you skankin' (skankin', skankin')?
Are you skankin' (skankin', skankin')?
Wo-ho, top rankin' (top rankin'), 'Ow, did you mean what you say now?
Are you - 'ow are you (rankin', rankin') -
Are ya - Lord, Lord, Lord! (skankin', skankin')?

They say the blood runs;
And it runs through our line,
And our hearts, heart of hearts divine, eh!
And John saw them comin', ooh! - a-with the truth
From an ancient time.
[ Lyrics from: http://www.lyricsmode.com/lyrics/b/bob_marley/top_rankin.html ]
The brotherly love (brotherly love), the sisterly love (sisterly love)
I feel this morning; I feel this morning:
Brotherly love (brotherly love), the sisterly love (sisterly love)
I feel this morning, this morning. Hey!

They don't want us to unite:
All they want us to do is keep on fussing and fighting.
They don't want to see us live together;
All they want us to do is keep on killing one another.

Top rankin' (top rankin')!
Did ya mean what you say now (top rankin')?
Are you skankin' (skankin', skankin')? (END NOTE 5)
Are you skankin' (skankin', skankin')?
Top rankin' (top ranking),
Did you (top rankin') mean what you say (top rankin')?
Are you (rankin', rankin)?
Are you (skankin', skankin')?
Top rankin' (top rankin');
Top rankin' (top rankin');
Are you (skankin', skankin')?
'Ow are you (skankin', skankin')? /fadeout/

Or Babylon System

We refused to be;
what you wanted us to be;
We are what we are:
That's the way (way) it's going to be. You don't know!
You can't educate I
For no equal opportunity:
(Talkin' 'bout my freedom) Talkin' 'bout my freedom,
People freedom (freedom) and liberty!
Yeah, we've been trodding on the winepress much too long:
Rebel, rebel!
Yes, we've been trodding on the winepress much too long:
Rebel, rebel!

Babylon system is the vampire, yea! (vampire)
Suckin' the children day by day, yeah!
Me say: de Babylon system is the vampire, falling empire,
Suckin' the blood of the sufferers, yea-ea-ea-ea-e-ah!
Building church and university, wo-o-ooh, yeah! -
Deceiving the people continually, yea-ea!
Me say them graduatin' thieves and murderers;
Look out now: they suckin' the blood of the sufferers (sufferers).
Yea-ea-ea! (sufferers)
[ Lyrics from: http://www.lyricsmode.com/lyrics/b/bob_marley/babylon_system.html ]
Tell the children the truth;
Tell the children the truth;
Tell the children the truth right now!
Come on and tell the children the truth;
Tell the children the truth;
Tell the children the truth;
Tell the children the truth;
Come on and tell the children the truth.

'Cause - 'cause we've been trodding on ya winepress much too long:
Rebel, rebel!
And we've been taken for granted much too long:
Rebel, rebel now!

(Trodding on the winepress) Trodding on the winepress (rebel):
Got to rebel, y'all (rebel)!
We've been trodding on the winepress much too long - ye-e-ah! (rebel)
Yea-e-ah! (rebel) Yeah! Yeah!

From the very day we left the shores (trodding on the winepress)
Of our Father's land (rebel),
We've been trampled on (rebel),
Oh now! (we've been oppressed, yeah!) Lord, Lord, go to ...

[*Sleeve notes continue:
Now we know everything we got to rebel
Somebody got to pay for the work
We've done, rebel.]


...just resonate with things I believe. Get me drunk enough and I'll still cry to Babylon System.

Even though these songs are written for the disenfranchised poor of the Trenchtown slums, they so clearly apply much more broadly. They espouse a Rasafarian worldview, but also seem almost Biblical in that sense of being history-as-told-by-the-losers. When Marley sang in 1974 about how one day the Third World man would take over, it must have seemed either laughably unlikely, or maybe terrifying to those who took it to mean an overthrow of the middle class by the poor. But from the vantage of 2012, it seems clear that the Elites who run our political and financial systems are turning us, the former middle classes, into the poor, and if things don't turn around, the Third World uprising Marley sang about won't just be in places like Trenchtown, São Paulo, Johannesburg and Mumbai, but also in Buffalo, Detroit, East St. Louis, and East L.A. (and maybe even places you don't expect yet, like Scottsdale, San Jose, and Georgetown). I don’t identify as a Rastafarian, but I do think many of these things Marley sings about will come to pass, and that makes this powerful music. ( )
1 vote BirdBrian | Apr 4, 2013 |
Great read. Fascinating subject. White avoids lionizing him, and instead places him in the broader stream of Jamaican musical culture. A man of his time and place. ( )
  chriszodrow | Jul 8, 2009 |
Honestly, I couldn't get past page 11. The little that I did read was interesting, but never touched me. ( )
  izze.t | Apr 14, 2008 |
Now that I understand Reggae and Rastafarianism, I like Marley more and the rest of it less. White makes it easy to see the progression from early rock and jazz to Reggae to hip-hop. He also illustrates the unfortunate cultural and political drivers of Jamaican poverty. None of Marley's family or associates really followed his same ideals. Rita suddenly lived a life of excess, and most of his fellow musicians and producers squabbled over his legacy. He's popular worldwide as a symbol of hope but I think his advocates miss the things that could make such hopes fulfilled. Marley linked himself to Ras Tafari Makonnen (later Emperor Haile Selassie I, an alleged descendant of Solomon). ( )
  jpsnow | Mar 31, 2008 |

Catch a Fire is a 380-page biography of the Jamaican reggae hero, Bob Marley. There are no previous editions of this book. It is available in hardback (ISBN 0-03-063531-4) or paperback (ISBN 0-03-062109-7). The paperback edition of this book has 25 pages of black and white photos. There are 48 photos in all. Their subjects are mostly Marley's friends, relatives, homes, and band promotional photos. There are also pictures of Haille Selassie I, the God-man of the Rastarian cult, and travel advertisments for Jamaica in the late 1940s. The typeface is 12 point and the language contained in the book is a combination of American English, Jamaican English, and Jamaican patois. In the Preface, White notes that he uses the Dictionary of Jamaican English published by the Cambridge University Press to standardize the spellings of Jamaican patois words in the book. The book contains Acknowledgements, Preface, Discography, Bibliography, Index and 16 Chapters.

In the Preface the author states his goal as not only to record the life of reggae hero, Bob Marley, but also to illustrate the atmosphere of religious convergence that influenced his life and music. White claims that his biography is the true story of Marley's life and that he had a lot of help recreating it from Marley's closest friends and relatives. In addition to several interviews with Marley and those who knew him best, the author also relied on 40 years of articles in the Jamaican Daily Gleaner and articles published in the United States and the United Kingdom that reference either Marley or reggae. White also tells us that he used Jamaican records and documents housed in the Institute of Jamaica in Kingston and the Institute for the Study of Man in New York City. He cautions readers, however, that goverment record keeping in 20th century Jamaica was not very exact. Through the Freedom of Information Act, he also accessed C.I.A. and other U.S. government documents kept on Marley and the Rasta scene.
The author also takes advantage of the Preface to explain that many people in the book report "supernatural events and surreal coincidences," (xv). He acknowledges that while many of the mystical or prophetic events in the lives of Bob Marley, Rita Marley, and Haille Selassie I of Ethiopia are considered nonsense in American culture, they have been handed down as folk-tradition and are just as valid to the people who tell them, as are the events in biographies of American heroes. Similar consideration should be given to the folk-knowledge White uses when describing issues regarding magic, Rasta, Obeah, duppies, folk healing and the black arts. He notes that he has included stories of mysticism and folk-knowledge because he wants to give a subjective picture of Jamaican and Rastafarian culture from the viewpoint of its two main figures: Bob Marley and Haille Selassie I, both of whom we know believed in magic and prophecy.

The 16 chapters in the book cover specific events and periods in the life of Bob Marley with the exception of Chapter 2, which focuses on Haille Selassie I. Each chapter is given the name of a Wailers' song. Chapter 1, "Riddam Track" begins a couple of years before Marley's death with a concert in Zimbabwe. This trip to Africa is Marley's first and has a great impact on him. After years of spreading the word of Ras Tafari, another name used for Haille Selassie I, Marley discovers that the man Rastafarians built their religion around is regarded with scorn or disinterest in the country of which he was once king. White also explains that basic background of the "millenarian-messianic cult of Rastafarianism," in this chapter (5). This discussion of basic Rastafarian origins prepares the reader to read about Haille Selassie's life in Chapter 2. This chapter, called "Kingdom Come", covers the birth, education, career, coronation, and death of Haille Selassie I in great detail. Chapter 3, "Misty Morning" begins with the birth of Robert Nesta Marley in Nine Miles, Jamaica. In "Misty Morning" the reader meets Marley's mother, Cedella and his grandfather, Omeriah Malcolm. The topic of sorcery is introduced here as Omeriah is locally noted for his aptness at protecting victims of sorcery from the demons the Jamaicans call "duppies" (56). Omeriah believes that in his earliest days Marley is a target for sorcery. In "Bad Card", Chapter 4, Nesta (as Marley's mother called him through most of his youth) is sent to Kingston to stay with his father's family. Despite her reluctance to send a 6 year old to the large capitol city to stay with virtual strangers, Cedella makes this sacrifice because she wants Nesta to have the best schooling possible. An older female cousin accompanies him on the bus to Kingston, but when he arrives at the depot he is quickly transferred to the custody of his father, a "craggy old white man whom he had never seen before," (81). After picking him up at the station, Captain Marley dumps Nesta with some relatives and is not seen again until years later. Meanwhile, Cedella is terrified because she has had no word from Nesta and is unable to locate him for about a year. Later, a family friend helps Cedella locate her son, and he is brought home to Nine Miles. It is not long after Marley's first taste of Kingston's ghetto culture, that Cedella decides to relocate herself and Nesta to a government yard in Kingston, called Trench Town. The government yards that would have such influence on Marley's music later on were first created by the government to house the Jamaicans that were left poor and homeless by devastating hurricanes in 1941 and 1951. White describes Jamaican relgion in "Pass It On", Chapter 5, and covers Cedella's participation in religious activities in Kingston. In this chapter, Cedella also confronts Captain Marley after she is informed that he has married again and takes him to court for bigamy. She is unsuccessful due to her lack of knowledge about the Jamaican court system. At the end of the chapter, she finally confronts Captain Marley's second wife after he is dead. The next chapter, "Small Axe", desribes life in Trench Town and the music scene that is springing up in Kingston. Also, White mentions the organization of two important political parties in Jamaica: the Jamaican Labor Party (JLP) and the Democratic Socialist People's National Party (PNP). In chapter six, the reader is also told that Marley enjoys studying history and first realizes that little has changed throughout his people's history: Jamaicans are still controlled and exploited by the descendants of their colonial masters. In Chapter 7, "Who Feels It Knows It", Marley is apprenticed to a local welder and makes his first record. White also touches on the invention and subsequent popularity of ska, which gave Jamaican voices an international audience for the first time. The author also describes the day that Jamaica became a free nation within the British Commonwealth. At this time, Marley obsesses over local and foreign R&B stars and begins playing with a group of friends as "the Wailers". "People Get Ready", Chapter 8, covers Wailers' recording sessions and live dates in the early 1960s. Marley also begins dating his future-wife, Rita, in this chapter. Chapter 9 is titled "Natural Mystic". This chapter tells of the growing nationalism in Jamaica in the 1960s and Marley's grandfather's death. Omeriah Malcolm leaves his estate in Nine Miles to Marley. Chapter 10 discusses the reaction of the police to the allegedly high crime in Kingston at the time. Because of recent publicity surrounding a Jazz slaying in the Caribbean, the middle and upper classes in Jamaica pressure the police to be harder on crime. "Stir It Up" (Chapter 10) also points out racial attitudes in Jamaica at the time. The author reports that most Jamaicans consider it better to be white or as light skinned as possible, rather than black. While the lighter skinned Jamaicans are considered better than everyone else, black skinned Jamaicans are considered worse and are believed to have a 50/50 chance of being good or evil. This chapter ends with Marley and Rita exchanging wedding vows in a friend's home. Marley goes to visit his mother in Delaware for a few months in Chapter 11. The title of this chapter, "Rat Race", sums up Marley's feelings about the busy and hasty U.S. While visiting Cedella, he writes songs and has a prophetic dream involving a ring fabled to have belonged to Haille Selassie I. In "Coming In From the Cold", Marley returns from Trench Town to find Kingston flooded with new musical acts and that Rastafarianism's popularity is on the rise. At this point, Marley is only beginning to take interest in Rastafarianism adn the fledgling religion is becoming loosely affiliated with the Jamaican music scene. Marley opens his own record store and continues to make music with the Wailers who are now playing a trendy rhythm called "rock steady" that will soon evolve into reggae (222). Chapter 12 also mentions many sleazy tricks played on Jamaicans artists by local and foreign record producers. By Chapter 13, "Crisis", Marley is a music hero and a full-fledged Rasta. The Wailers are touring the world and collaborating with Chris Blackwell of Island Records. At the same time, networks and record companies are fighting over who has Marley under contract. He and his friends and family move into a big white house in uptown Kingston. In "Who the Cap Fit", Chapter 14, the author describes life in the big house uptown. Marley's house on Hope Road is always filled with friends, Rastas, and family. This chapter also includes the story of Haille Selassie's death and the record the Wailers made shortly afterward proclaiming that Selassie lives because he was a God and , therefore, cannot be killed. In Chapter 15, "Redemption Song", the author notes the explosion of the political violence related to an upcoming election. The Wailers are asked to headline a concert to unite Jamaicans. The concert nearly obtains this goal, but only after Marley and friends barely live through a politically motivated ambush on their Hope Road home. Chapter 16 opens with the Wailers' world tour, but Marley's health is poor. It is in this chapter, "Exodus", that Marley is told he has a brain tumor. He seeks treatment in Manhattan, Miami, and Mexico. he finally seeks more experimental techniques in Germany. There, Marley is able to lives six more months at a mountain resort under the care of a doctor, but dies only a few days after leaving Germany. This chapter closes with comments from Cedella concerning the whereabouts of Marley's ring, which has become an object of mystery and folklore over the years due to the mystical persona of its wearer and the prophetic dream in which he first saw it.

The Discography included by White details song releases of the Wailers and other associated artists. The list is complied from sources in New York, London, Kingston, Brooklyn, and Los Angeles. The discography is broken down into descriptive sections named for the solo artist, production studio, or group to which they belong. Each of these 18 descriptive sections is subdivided by producer. The listings include the title of the track, the catalog number of the track (when available) and the year of release. White points out that the catalog numbers and release dates are hard to find for many ska, rock steady, and reggae songs. One reason he cites is that many Jamaican 45s did not receive labels at the time. Another obstacle is that Jamaican producers did not usually keep records of this type and thos that did confess that they are not very accurate. The author explains that the discography is meant to show, "a release schedule for a body of work, not a recording history," (317). White explains that many of the songs were recorded and even played at dances sometimes a year in advance of their actual commercial release. He also makes the reader conscious of the lag-time between the popularity of the songs on the Jamaican radio and their release in Britain.
White also includes a standard bibliography and index to aid the reader in more specific research. The bibliography is sorted by materials: books and articles and pamphlets. The index provides page information for names, bands, subjects, terminology, and song titles.


White deftly portrays Jamaican culture by telling the story of one of the most popular contemporary figures. The use of Jamaican dialect and proverbs adds a lot of cultural content to the book. The bouncing tone and blending words in Jamaican patois increases the readers sense ofr culture shock at first, but one quickly gets the hang of reading and pronouncing the dialect. The author's explanations of traditional Jamaican proverbs not only show the use of everyday metaphors by Jamaicans, but impart some of their value system and general worldview as well. White tells readers that Bob Marley was influenced by the many religions that exist side-by-side in Jamaica. His book illustrates this point by incorporating cultural descriptions and background information about Rastafarianism, Obeah, and Coptic Christianity. Obeah is the traditional name given to a broad category of indigenous beliefs and practices that were brought from Africa by slaves. The descriptions of Obeah in the book often deal with beliefs about sorcery and soul-sickness. The "duppies" previously mentioned are like demon spirits that wander at night in hopes of doing harm to some unsuspecting person walking alone at night. Descriptions of practices like walking in a zigzag line so that duppies cannot follow makes the descriptions of Obeah more accessible to the reader (who likely has little experience with such beliefs). White gives us a great mental picture of Jamaican and African cultural and spiritual life when he details important events in the lives of Marley and Haille Selassie I. For instance, through the description of Marley's birth and the tradition of burying the afterbirth under a tree, the reader learns about beliefs and practices related to protecting and encouraging the growth of infants in Jamaica. The descriptions of many events in Haille Selassie's life lend an air of sacredness to the book. White describes the prophecies and mystical events that heralded Selassie's rise to power. He also gives great detail about the ceremonies that accompanied Selassie's birth and coronation.
White encourages the reader to perceive knowledge as relative. He notes in the Preface that many events described in the book may seem foolish or fictitious to many American and European readers because of their miraculous and mystical nature. The book points out that just because this knowledge is contrary to Wester views regarding science and history, does not mean that folk-knowledge is not valid. Also American and European heroes are no less likely to have fabulous stories inserted into their biographies as truth. One such example is the story of George Washington and the cherry tree: we do not know that this antic dote is true, yet it is commonly passed down as history in America.
White's use of many sources to gather information lends credibility to the book. Based on his extensive document and article research, White is able to substantiate some of the information he received in interviews. The fact that he uses several interviews with Marley and his friends and family to present their subjective view of his life also leads the reader to believe that what he/she reads is as close to the truth about Marley's character and experiences as possible. As one does not hear many bad things about Marley in the book, one might infer that he never annoyed or angered anyone except maybe the government. Surely Marley had his detractors, however, one may guess that his celebrity status and untimely death made him somewhat of a saint to the general public in Jamaica.
The overall organization of the book was adequate, but the addition of a discography really makes this work stand out. The chapters nicely flowed into one another and were, for the most part, arranged chronologically. These qualities made the book a pleasure to read and easy to follow. The discography is a very neat idea that showcases some of the author's research that did not lend itself to inclusion in the chapters. While the author probably could have incorporated this information into the general story line, keeping these release listings separate allows him to stay focused on culture and religion throughout the chapters. The discography would be very useful to a music student or any other reader who may seek further cultural experience through Marley's music.


This book is a good purchase for libraries that wish to extend their resources in foreign cultures, class struggles, and music. Small/ rural public libraries should by Catch a Fire to give its patrons more opportunity to learn about ethnicities that are uncommon in their area. Also, this book would add depth to a larger/ urban public library's biography section. White's book has tons of research possibilities for academic libraries as well. I recommend this book for college and junior-college level academic libraries because libraries that have many student patrons doing research would get a lot of use out of it due to the numerous research topics to which it pertains. This book is especially useful for smaller liberal arts colleges as well because it has so many themes associated with the arts and humanities. Libraries with special collections of ethnic literature or religious ethnographies need this book. With the themes of anti-colonialism and political uprising, Catch a Fire is an excellent tool for students researching political activism and class struggles. This book might also get a lot of use in an academic library that serves as a main research stop for music students too. Of course, its lengthy discography makes it especially useful to music students. Music students can reference this book in researching the musical development of ska, rock steady, and reggae or the history of the music production industry. This book is easy enough for a high school or junior high school audience; however, secondary school libraries would not get enough use out of Catch a Fire to warrant purchasing it. High school students do not do enough research to make it worthwhile and the odds that a book on so unorthodox a subject will get little use.
  redclover | Apr 22, 2007 |
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This is the classic biography of reggae legend Bob Marley, updated and revised for the twenty-fifth anniversary of his death. Bob Marley left an indelible mark on modern music, both as a reggae pioneer and as an enduring cultural icon. Catch a Fire, now a classic rock biography, delves into the life of this man, the leader of a musical and spiritual revolution that continues today. The book chronicles Marley's life and career, as well as the milieu that shaped his spiritual and political beliefs. Under the supervision of the author's widow and with the collaboration of a Marley expert, this fourth edition contains a wealth of new material, including many revisions made by the author before his untimely death. This new edition, factually updated throughout, chronicles Marley's legacy in recent years, as well as the ongoing controversy over the possibility that Marley's remains might be exhumed from Nine Mile, Jamaica, and reburied in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where hundreds of Rastafarians live. Fascinating inside information about the intrigues of the reggae music business, the dramatic rise of Marley's musical offspring, the complex legal struggles surrounding the Marley estate, and a sweeping social history of modern Jamaica, as well as the Rastafarian religion, also make up this expanded edition.

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