In today's celeb-obsessed, instant info society, the greats of reggae (as well as other genres) may die, but they're never really allowed to rest.
The grisly and macabre (damn near necrophiliac) procession of a dead body from the Marine Police post in Port Antonio yesterday just happened to coincide, roughly, with the 31st anniversary of Bob Marley's passing, an anniversary understandably marked with considerably less fanfare than his birth.
I link these two seemingly disparate events for one reason. The public converged on the other side of the infamous yellow tape wasted no time in converging on the somewhat hapless funeral van bearing the body of the young fisherman (some mystery still surrounds the circumstances leading to his death), anxious for a glimpse, however mangled, of the body that was fished out of the waters by Folly. Similarly, Bob Marley in death is exponentially bigger than he was in life, and that's clearly saying something.
When you're dead, you got it made So said Jimi Hendrix, another fallen' rock hero. Probably not even Hendrix could have known how sadly prescient his words were to prove. His death, in 1970, came at the dawn of the reggae era. It certainly would have been interesting to have heard Hendrix's take on reggae. We have instead Marley's take on rock and, in the ever-expanding hierarchy of deceased music demi-gods (and goddesses), Bob is pretty high up. In fact, even though the numbers seem to grow rapidly (the Beastie Boys' Adam Yauch and Whitney Houston being but a few of the high-profile celebrity passings of the last few months ), Marley still has a very esteemed place - on the 2007 annual Forbes magazine list of top-earning dead celebrities, Bob was 12th among musicians (with US$4 million). Even though it's likely the recently departed Houston may outpace him for the next list, the Marley name is still bankable, dead or alive.
But sheer dollars aside, the Marley mystique is enhanced in myriad ways. There are any number of tribute projects, singles, albums, videos and now, of course, a generally acclaimed movie. There are branded products and events tightly controlled by the estate including energy drinks (Marley's Mellow Mood) coffee, fashion and yes, cigarettes. There is the sheer volume of Internet impressions. Google Marley 103 million results; Marley similar; Bob Marley dies 19.5 million results; His image is still emblazed on T-shirts (including that worn by Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger as he made his way into the stadium for the Super Bowl against the Green Bay Packers in 2011), and re-mixes of his recordings still pop up on charts worldwide.
But all that attention can prove quite wearying, if not for the dead, then certainly for those to whom his memory is dearest. His numerous progeny appear to bear the burden well, at least those that are more regularly in the media spotlight. For those more in the background, and those charged with protecting and expanding his estate, the endless fascination must seem a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it brings prestige and a healthy revenue stream, on the other, it brings a sometimes invasive level of public interest and a level of expectation (financial and otherwise) that is quite difficult to live up to, even if they desired to do so.
One thing is for sure, the crowds be they working-class people chasing a hearse in Port Antonio, or the unseen hordes via the World Wide Web won't diminish anytime soon. The dead retain the interest of the living, if only as a reminder that our time has not yet come. In the case of celebrities and megastars, like Marley, it also encompasses the desire for access whether denied or insufficient, that fans and even the merely curious feel in respect of those who appear larger-than-life.
Keep on walkin' that Zion Road, Bob.
Editor-in-Chief's Note: Michael Edwards is a freelance contributor with MNI Alive