January 2, 2015

Operation Marley: Babylon Takes On Jamaica’s Reggae King

In 1887, a man named Marcus Garvey was born in the Jamaican parish of St. Ann. He would grow up to be a great uniter, someone with a high degree of oratorical and organizational skills. He eventually relocated to Harlem in New York City, amassing a following worldwide of millions of devotees who agreed with his notions of repatriating back to Africa. The bedrock of his decree lay in the assumption that Ethiopia was the cradle of civilization, the birthplace of man. He preached of the God of Ethiopia and cited Psalm 68 in the King James Bible, which noted, “Princes shall come out of Egypt; Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God.” When a baby was born in Ejarsa Gora, near the city of Harar in Ethiopia on July 23, 1892, many were convinced he was a direct descendent of King Solomon of Jerusalem and Queen Makeda of Sabo (or rather Sheba). He was named Ras Tafari and he had uncanny powers of psychic foreknowledge. This was the leader, or Lion of Judah, many believers who followed the Holy Piby (the “Black Man’s Bible”) were sure was their long-awaited messiah. The Piby was purportedly based on the first Bible, written in Amharic (the early language of Ethiopia) which was later supposedly usurped by the Roman Catholic Church and altered to make God and his prophets in the image of Caucasians. On Sunday, November 2, 1930, Ras Tafari was crowned Haile Selassie I, a name that meant literally “Power of the Holy Trinity.” What Garvey, and soon others, proclaimed as the fulfillment of a long ago prophecy, the faith of Rastafarianism took root among many of the poor and neglected blacks across the globe, and especially on the tiny island of Jamaica.

Bob Marley was also born in the parish of St. Ann fifteen years later in 1945. And like Garvey before him, Marley would be seen as a world-renowned unifying voice in the tenets of Rastafarian life. While many would cite his views as revolutionary, a position which would target him as a threat to varying, powerful factions, Marley, like other Rastas, didn’t advocate violence nor was he a racist. Everyone was invited to repent of their sins and accept Jah (an abbreviated form of the word Jehovah). Of course, Rastas assert they once led the human race, and thus, being the superior race, they would rule again after the Armageddon. Their ganja, or marijuana, was a blessed herb, a wisdomweed, that when smoked, was a religious rite of praise to Jah. At the outset, however, all Bob Marley seemed interested in, once he made his way to Kingston in the early ‘60s, was to make music.

In September 1959, the Jamaican Broadcasting Company came on the air and radios around the island blasted out tunes from local talent. Jimmy Cliff was an early star with “Miss Jamaica” and Owen Gray scored favoritism with the locals on his song “Darling Patricia.” Both artists recorded for a Chinese-Jamaican named Leslie Kong, who subsequently recorded Marley’s first tune “Judge Not.” The calypso sound that dominated the island’s output in the 1950s was evolving to the scat-paced, jerky, sounds of ska by the early 1960s. Bob’s follow-up songs, “Terror” and “One Cup Of Coffee” garnered him more attention in the Jamaican music community. Recruiting several musicians and backup singers, including his friend Bunny Livingston (aka Bunny Wailer) and Peter Tosh, Marley formed a group called the Wailers. He subsequently left Kong over a payment dispute and hooked up with eccentric producer Clement Dodd, otherwise known as Sir Coxsone. Another local producer, Edward Seaga, did not get the opportunity to retain Marley’s services, but he would come to see Bob as a threat far greater than a simple ska musician in the next decade.

By the 1930s, Jamaica’s sugar industry had all but dwindled. Bananas became the primary product of export, under the auspices of the country’s colonial rulers, the British Empire. Low wages and horrible working conditions led to bloody strikes, which, in turn, fostered the need for labor representation. In the late ‘30s, two political factions stepped forth to represent the constituents of the island. One was the Jamaican Labour Party (JLP), a conservative, right wing outfit, and the other was the democratic and socialist People’s National Party (PNP). Both parties jockeyed for representation in Parliament, and Jamaica’s populace soon became split over which group to align themselves with. The parties also signaled to Britain that Jamaica would soon be seeking independence. In the 1950s, two cousins led each faction — labor leader Norman Manley ran the PNP and the intimidating, military rascal Alexander Bustamante lorded over the JLP. At the turn of the 1960s, Bustamante’s right-hand man was Edward Seaga, the record producer, and now, also a member of the Legislative Council, who chose West Kingston as the focus of his constituent base. West Kingston was the heart of Jamaica’s recording industry. Born in Boston and a Harvard scholar, Seaga was distrusted by the island’s Rastas, who were convinced he had been recruited by the CIA while attending the prestigious university. On August 5, 1962, Jamaica became independent of Britain, and Bustamante and his JLP assumed control of the government.

Bob Marley was probably quite unconcerned about his emerging nation’s politics at the time. He concentrated on his music for the first half of the 1960s, churning out singles for Sir Coxsone. On February 10, 1966, he married his back-up singer, Rita Anderson. The next morning, he flew alone to the United States to live with his mother in Delaware, where he would work an assortment of odd jobs raising enough money to support his musical ambitions back in Jamaica. While he was away from his homeland, Haile Selassie flew to Marley’s island nation in April for a heralded, religious celebration. More than 100,000 Jamaicans met him at the airport, and Rita was bowled over by his majesty and presence. Bob, meanwhile, was despondent in America and saddened he had missed the emperor’s visit. He had a dream in which his estranged father, a white naval officer, had given him a black jeweled ring. The trinket made him feel uncomfortable. Before Marley left to go home to Jamaica in October 1966, his mother gave him a black jeweled ring his father once owned, exactly like the one in his dream. Bob was immediately taken aback by the significance of it. His mother said, “Yuh been given a sign. De ring might help yuh ta ketch de meaning of it.”

Upon his return to Jamaica, Bob was swayed by Rita and her experience of seeing Selassie to immerse himself in spirituality, specifically in the Rastafarian faith. He grew his hair long, allowing his locks to twine into nappy tresses. Marley was in top physical shape, jogging and playing soccer on a daily basis, and abstained from alcohol, tobacco, meat and most fish so that he would be ital, or pure, as required by his faith. A mentor named Mortimo Planno introduced him to the world of Rastafarians, taking Marley deep into the jungles of Jamaica to their settlements. Plano interpreted Bob’s earlier dream about the black ring telling Marley that he would either grow in his spirituality through his experiences or ‘ketch a fire’ (catch hell). Marley channeled his newfound beliefs into his music. Releasing singles through the end of the 1960s, he moved from the “rock steady” sound the island had embraced to a new kind of beat, reggae. The Wailers were increasingly draining their financial resources, and in the winter of 1971, found themselves stranded on a tour in England. Chris Blackwell, a well-to-do entrepreneur, whose family had owned plantations in Jamaica, offered to take Marley onto his Island Records label. The initial album release, “Catch A Fire,” embodied Bob’s distinctive singing style and its sound was a template for hundreds of reggae acts to come. From the start of his association with Island Records, Marley’s songs would shout to the world Rasta dictums such as ending racial oppression, decrying Babylon’s (the establishment’s) tyranny, living within the earth’s limits, and becoming more in tune with Jah.

Blackwell purchased a dilapidated home in a prestigious Jamaican neighborhood of wealthy businessmen and government officials in the early 1970s. Located at 56 Hope Road, he dubbed it Island House, and soon, he was loaning it out to Marley and all of his Rasta friends. Most Rastafarians who lived in the Kingston area were mainly grouped in Trench Town, a hazardous, unhealthful district so named because it was built over a ditch through which all of Kingston’s sewage flowed. Bob and Rita had lived with their family on the outskirts of that area in government-built projects known as ‘Concrete Jungle.’ So when Marley and his group of Wailers plopped down residence in the tony Hope Road side of town, Rastas were skeptical of his adherence to their beliefs. But once he opened his home up to them, organizing daily soccer matches on the front lawn and passing the ganja around late into the night, Marley became a sort of hero to his fellow displaced and hated Rastafarians. Fellow group members Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh, however, soon sought to seek their own fame and left the band in pursuit of solo careers.

In 1973, when his next album for Island, “Burnin’,” was released, Bob became an internationally-acclaimed musician instantly. Hits from the record like “Get Up, Stand Up” and “I Shot The Sheriff” put Marley on the map. People like Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney raved about his wonderful music to the press. Hippies from America swarmed to Jamaica by the thousands, eager to bask in the Rasta vibe, and of course, smoke a lot of ganja. The leaders of Jamaican politics and high society already despised the island’s Rastafarians, since their beliefs ultimately aspired for the day privileged whites and their empire would topple into the ocean. With Marley’s heralded, global fame, and the world’s attention being drawn to the message and lifestyle of this non-tax paying, materialism-rejecting, fringe group, several people in power on the island saw him as a foe who needed to be manipulated.

Under Bustamante, Edward Seaga was now the JLP’s minister of finance. He was next in line, along with Bustamante’s successor, Hugh Shearer, to take over the reins of power in the country. Norman Manley of the PNP had died, but not before passing on the torch of his cause to his son, Michael Manley. And when the general elections of 1972 were underway, Manley gave Seaga a run for his money, by appealing to the Rastas. Michael had gone to Ethiopia to sit with Haile Selassie and returned to Jamaica with a walking stick the Emperor had personally given him. Manley paraded that holy piece of wood all over the island, dazzling Rastas far and wide. Whereas, Seaga and his JLP had beefed up Jamaica’s infrastructure, bringing forth incentives for local and foreign corporate interests to invest in the economy, Manley was intent on appealing to the downtrodden, the individuals stuck in Trench Town, promising socialistic advances for people of any class. Manley and his PNP swept the election in 1972, and Michael moved into a home just a few blocks over from Marley’s place. The two, oftentimes, spent many hours on Bob’s porch, talking the night away. The Prime Minister and the Reggae King.

Marley began hanging with the big shots in both of the political parties. Each faction had their political strongmen, like Bucky Marshall of the PNP and Claudie Massop of the JLP. When trouble needed to be stirred up in the name of their cause, or radicals needed to be put in their place, guys like this would be the ones to goad supporters into violent action. Marley’s next album, 1974’s “Natty Dread,” contained several allusions to a need for political change through revolutionary means. Both parties felt threatened by this slant, sensing Marley was in league with the other faction. Since the PNP was in power, Rastas, including Peter Tosh, were beaten up and hassled on the island while Marley and his Wailers went on tour in support of the album that year.

Even though he was stirring tension with his lyrics, especially with the smash 1975 hit single “Jah Live,” Marley was also cognizant of his actions amongst his fellow Rastas. He spoke of the strife and desires his brethren were suffering to interviewer Eric Benjamin. “Home there are people who can not even go out on the street without going to jail. Just for how he look he can go to jail. They publicize that the Rasta bad, and all that s***. All the Rastafariah wants is to live with love. If you live with love, you live forever, as His Imperial Majesty Almighty God.” With increasing financial success, Marley took time to be extremely charitable with his island fans. On Fridays, a long line of people would congregate outside his Hope Road front lawn, with tales of woe to tell. Bob handed out thousands of dollars to them. He bought books and uniforms for mothers who were unable to finance these items for their kids’ education. And when he went to visit his old friends in the ghetto, he never put on airs. Chris Blackwell described the times Marley would visit Trench Town in his hard-earned, fancy silver BMW automobile. “…When he would drive into the ghetto, he would never lock the car, he would just get out of it and leave the windows open or whatever. He never separated himself from the people.”

Marley and his Wailers acquired a savvy manager named Don Taylor in early 1975. He was quick to put together a huge concert on the island on October 11th of that year. R&B legend, Stevie Wonder, riding high in his career after a successful stream of hit albums in the early-to-mid-‘70s, agreed to perform with Bob Marley’s group. Thousands of fans swayed to the hybrid sounds of an American legend playing with their nation’s number one rock star. Police nervously watched the audience during Marley and Wonder’s rendition of “I Shot The Sheriff.” For many, this moment signaled a turning point in Rasta recognition worldwide. When “Rastaman Vibration,” Marley’s 1976 album was released a short time later, he effectively became the biggest-selling artist in the third world. With his acknowledged acceptance of a new kind of Rastafarian faith on the album, one involving the Twelve Tribes of Israel, as well as including a recorded message from Haile Selassie entitled “War,” Bob was extremely outspoken in his beliefs. As it would be later revealed, nefarious individuals within the United States’ government were assessing Marley as a grave potential threat to the stability of the Caribbean.

Kingston, Jamaica in 1976 was a hotbed of violence and corruption. Manley’s police would regularly fire shots into shantytown neighborhoods. Snipers commonly strafed unwitting schoolyards and community centers. It was suspected Edward Seaga’s JLP was inciting unrest amongst his factions in West Kingston. The general election was slated for December, and both the PNP and JLP were unsure which party Marley would champion. As the voice of the Rastas, it was pivotal to earn his favor, either by friendly or threatening means. When Bob and his soccer buddy, Skilly Cole, accompanied JLP strongman Claudie Massop on a day at the races over at Caymanas track, Rastas and the PNP felt Marley might be making a statement. In October, a few of Manley’s thugs appeared at Bob’s Hope Road home, suggesting the famed musician hold a free concert just before the elections in order to quell the violent atmosphere around Jamaica. Labeling the event as “Smile Jamaica,” Don Taylor suggested it be held at Jamaica House, Prime Minister Michael Manley’s office building. JLP associates soon balked at the overt partisanship Marley would be displaying, and so, the venue was changed to the National Heroes Circle, a memorial in honor of less-politically-aligned individuals like Marcus Garvey. This action placated the JLP momentarily, however, Manley’s PNP were aggressive in hanging posters around the island, showcasing the Prime Minister and Marley’s concert.

It was a fact that the United States’ government had kept a close eye on Jamaican politics over the course of Michael Manley’s tumultuous reign. With his socialist ideals and close association with Fidel Castro, the Republican administrations of Nixon and Ford did not disguise their distrust of his party. Their allegiance was more in tune with Edward Seaga’s Westernized, capitalistic JLP. Chris Blackwell was brought into the office of the American ambassador to Jamaica for a discussion about Bob Marley. Blackwell related, “…He said that they were keeping an eye on me, on what I was doing, because I was working with this guy who was capable of destabilizing. They had their eye on him.”

A few weeks before the announcement of the concert, a group of sketchy individuals who regularly hung around Bob’s home concocted a blackmail conspiracy concerning the racetrack at Caymanas. These criminals were former friends of Bob and Rita’s when the couple had lived in the ‘Concrete Jungle’ section of town. Their plan was to kidnap one of the jockeys, threaten his life to throw a few races, and promise him money to leave the country. The deal went down as planned, but some of the criminals skipped the country along with the jockey, absconding with the share of loot slated for their fellow compatriots. The thugs left behind looked to Marley to make up the financial difference in their losses, since the scam had been hatched on his property. They even threatened his life if he wouldn’t pay. Bob, who had nothing to do with the actual incident, reluctantly agreed to pay out installments. The thugs sent around a courier on select afternoons to collect their scandalous funds.

Meanwhile, Bob completely underwrote the concert himself. He did not want it funded by either political party. Manager Don Taylor flew off to the United States to collect a $143,000 royalty check and to hire a documentary film crew for the event. As a gesture of security against the JLP or other factions, and in light of death threats Bob was receiving, Manley sent over several armed bodyguards with automatic rifles. Calling themselves the “Echo Squad,” they stood guard at Bob’s house night and day. Marley later told Don about an incident that occurred while Taylor was away in America. “…The other day a white boy came here and told me that if I do not tone down my blood claat lyrics and if me no stop tek weh, the white people them from America, them a go tek weh me visa and me can’t go to America again.” As related in his autobiography, Taylor asked Marley how he replied to the threatening Caucasian. “I told him tek yu blood claat out of my yard, before me lick yu up. You should see the white man run out of Hope Road lie a madman into his car and speed away.” It was suspected that the man had an affiliation with the CIA.

The “Smile Jamaica” concert was slated for December 5, 1976. During the week prior to the event, when the bodyguards roamed the Marley front lawn, the ‘Concrete Jungle’ thugs were unable to get their courier through to pick up payments. On Friday, December 3rd, two days before the event, Bob Marley and his Wailers rehearsed some songs for the upcoming concert on the side porch of his 56 Hope Road home. The group broke for a rest around 8:30pm, and band members moved about the house and property relishing the downtime. Don Taylor, back from Miami, and having just met with Chris Blackwell about the concert, drove through the Hope Road home’s driveway gates. Behind him, two white Datsuns quietly drove into the property. At approximately 8:45, Seeco Patterson, the groups’ percussionist, peered out the window and noticed the “Echo Squad” bodyguards were nowhere in sight. At that moment, Don Taylor was entering the kitchen, and spotted Marley at the counter, slicing a grapefruit open for himself.

“I told him I wanted to speak with him and that I would also like a piece of grapefruit,” Taylor later wrote in his autobiography. “He beckoned me to come and get it. Just then, as I reached for the grapefruit, I heard a sound like firecrackers. It was Christmas in Jamaica. Firecrackers at this time of the year are a common background noise. I paid little attention. Bob, however, looked startled and asked, ‘Who the blood claat a bus firecracker in mi yard?” At that very moment, the seven or so gunmen from the ‘Concrete Jungle’ had encircled the house and were blasting away with automatic rifles and pistols. “Before he could finish the sentence,” Taylor continued, “the kitchen was shattered by an ominous and repetitious ‘rat-ta-tat, rat-ta-tat’ sound. Suddenly, I felt a strange burning sensation, and even before I realized that I had been shot, my body went limp and I pitched forward onto Bob, whose only exclamation was, ‘Selassie I Jah Rastafari.”

A gunman with an automatic rifle had come in through the back kitchen door. Seeco Patterson ran right past him. He squeezed off 8 shots in the general direction of Marley and Taylor. One hit the counter, another went into the ceiling, but five drove into Taylor’s backside and one ricocheted off Marley’s chest, leaving a crease and burrowed into his left arm. Throughout the incredible firestorm, Bob flashed upon something that had mystically come to him in an earlier dream. “It hurt me on one arm on one night, but me feel the vibes, me know something was going to happen,” he later recalled. “Me not know exactly what. So when one night I go to bed and in the night my vision say me in a barrage of gun-shot, but me can’t see who fires the shot, and me like against the wall amid pure gunshot fire. But me not get shot. When me wake up, me start to think about me vision and realize it very serious vision, so me talk with the brethren about it. Here I was, and when I first heard gun-shot outside, me jump and think to run, but remember vision – in vision, don’t run. I must stay, don’t run.”

“I recall Bob holding me up in front of him while the shooting continued,” Taylor wrote. “When the hail of fire had finally stopped, he let me go, and I tumbled onto the floor, unconscious. Everything had happened as if in a dream.” In all, 56 bullets had been fired at the house. Bob’s friend Lewis Griffith was shot in the stomach. The only other person in the house to have been injured in the firefight was Rita. She had tried to make her way across the front lawn with her children and a visiting reporter when she was literally lifted off her feet with a bullet to the head. The slug did not smash through her cranium but instead lodged between her scalp and skull. A police car passing by frightened off the gunmen, who leapt into their Datsuns, careening at top speed down the street. Marley and others hurriedly brought the cops into the house. “I regained consciousness,” Taylor recalled, “and found myself crumpled on the floor of the kitchen, amid a ghastly silence. Gradually, I could hear quarreling voices. I heard Bob say, ‘They shoot up Don Taylor, Don Taylor dead or something.’ The Rastafarians were arguing and refusing to lift me up off the floor because they objected to handling ‘deaders.’ I tried to say something but could not speak.”

Bob and the policemen carried Taylor, whose aorta was open, furiously releasing precious blood, to the backseat of a squad car. He and the Marleys rode to nearby University Hospital. Michael Manley met them in the emergency room. Bob was treated immediately and released. Rita underwent surgery to remove the bullet from her scalp as did Lewis Griffith. Don Taylor lay on a stretcher, unable to move whatsoever. He heard a nurse refer to him as being dead. His vocal muscles would not let him get out a scream, let alone a whisper. An orderly wheeled Don on a metal gurney to the door of the morgue. Mercifully, an intern passing by asked to examine Don, and suddenly gasped, “This man is not dead, he is alive!” Immediately wheeled into the emergency room, Taylor needed a blood transfusion, but the nurse who had the key to the facility’s blood bank was away at a Christmas party. He blacked out and awoke to see Prime Minister Manley and his wife standing sorrowfully over him. A bullet was lodged near his spine, and the doctors’ limited expertise at the hospital made it impossible for them to remove the slug. Chris Blackwell paid to have Taylor flown to Miami’s Veteran’s Administration Hospital to have it extracted.

Bob was taken to one of Chris Blackwell’s private enclaves high in Jamaica’s Blue Mountains, escorted by Manley’s police squad and kept under constant watch that weekend. Very few people knew of his whereabouts. Singer Roberta Flack, who had flown in for the “Smile Jamaica” concert was driven up to the hideout. One member of the documentary film crew, whom Don Taylor had hired in the United States, made it up to the encampment. However, he wandered in without his camera. His name was Carl Colby. Suspiciously enough, he happened to be the son of CIA director, William Colby.

As the Marley contingent spent the weekend recovering from the shock, Bob debated whether to appear at the concert or not. He certainly didn’t wish to cave in to violent overtures, and if the attack was politically motivated, it was all the more reason to attend the performance. Manley’s cabinet minister, Tony Spaulding showed up at the hideaway on Sunday, December 5th, the day of the concert, trying to persuade Bob to appear. The event was already underway, and they could hear via walkie-talkie, the support at the National Heroes Circle of the 80,000 fans who had turned out to hear their reggae leader. “At that moment, Bob’s wife, who had fled the hospital in her hospital gown and a bloody bandage on her head and a bullet still in her forehead in a stolen car, showed up…,” road manager Roger Steffens later recalled to FFWD Weekly. “Bob grabbed her as she got out of the car, put her in the back seat of the police chief’s car and said, ‘We’re going to do a song.’

The motorcade threaded its way into the center of Kingston and onto the festival site. The crowd cheered thunderously, as Michael Manley greeted Bob onstage and hugged him. Marley turned to the audience and said, “When me decided ta do dis yere concert two anna ‘alf months ago, me was told dere was no politics. I jus’ wanted ta play fe da love of da people.” Because of his arm wound, he could not hold his guitar and told the crowd that he would only be able to perform one song. He and the Wailers launched into “War,” the Haile Selassie-inspired revolutionary call to arms. Overwhelmed and energized by the cacophonous applause, the band continued on for another 90 minutes. “It was one of those most amazing moments in musical history of this past century,” Roger Steffens told FFWD. “It was the weekend that Bob went from pop star to shamen.”

As to the identity of the actual gunmen, speculation has mostly fallen on the individuals mixed up in the ‘Concrete Jungle’ gang and their racetrack scam. It is highly-rumored that all of the gunmen met their deaths shortly after the incident. One was killed in New York, another was found hanging from a tree in St. Catherine’s, Jamaica, while others simply went missing, permanently. Questions remain, however, as to what exactly their motivations were and perhaps, who might have ordered their assault. The JLP and Edward Seaga faced another election, and they were well behind Manley in the polls. A seemingly-buddy-buddy friendship Manley had fostered with Marley worked to the JLP’s detriment. Silencing him before his PNP-backed concert might throw the party into disarray. But the more likely scenario concerned the PNP using Marley as a pawn.

The CIA seemed to feel that the PNP were using Marley for their own purposes. A telegram sent to the CIA from the American embassy in Kingston was later given to Neville Garrick, an artist who painted Marley’s album covers, under the Freedom of Information Act in 1983. As author Timothy White revealed, it read in part: “The concert was part of People’s National Party (PNP) election campaign and was scheduled to coincide with the Jamaica Labour Party’s (JLP) release of its long-awaited manifesto – to the detriment of news, time, and public attention for the latter. Rumors abound as to the motivation for the shooting. Some see the incident as an attempt by JLP gunmen to halt the concert which would feature the ‘politically progressive’ music of Marley and other reggae stars. Others see it as a deep-laid plot to create a progressive, youthful Jamaican martyr – to the benefit of the PNP…”

Whether Marley had died or if he had performed, he would have been helping the PNP’s cause either way. It is a mystery, of course, that Manley’s armed bodyguards conveniently disappeared from Marley’s property minutes before the attack. Since the CIA and Washington were very sympathetic to the JLP, it’s unlikely they would have funded a plot to kill Marley in order to make him a martyr to the PNP platform. Instead, it appears they sent an agent by to try to talk him out of the performance, and later, might’ve even tried to keep tabs on him with Colby’s son showing up at his hideout. Asked in 1977 if he knew who shot him, Marley responded succinctly, “Yeah, but dat top secret. Really top secret.” He reflected further on his lack of malice about the whole incident in 1978. “It was a miracle. The whole thing was a miracle. No one sees who, no one catches who, and is a miracle that me get saved. So everyone get the miracle, mon.” On December 16, 1976, a week and a half after the concert, Michael Manley and his PNP party won the election.

Marley subsequently stayed away from Jamaica for the better part of the next year. He traveled to various cities and recorded the album “Exodus” in London. While in Paris in 1977, playing a little soccer with friends, he exacerbated an injury on his big toe that he’d previously wounded two years earlier. The toenail came off, and once his digit was examined, he was informed that he had cancer. Melanoma to be exact. Bob’s distrust of the medical community led him to seek holistic treatments over the next few years. Rumors to this day purport that he was somehow injected with the cancer as a part of a CIA plot to eliminate him. The debate is an ongoing source of highly-speculative fare on television and the Internet. Dr. Lowell B. Taubman M.D., a devoted Marley fan and melanoma specialist, recently told interviewer Peter Grimes, “…To the best of my knowledge, it is not possible. I will try to simplify this. If I give you a piece of my tissue to you, your body will reject it. So you cannot take cancer from one person and inject it into another person…In 1977, when Bob developed his melanoma, tissue rejection and transplantation was a new field of science. If Bob was injected with melanoma, his body would not have recognized it, thereby it would be walled off, so it would not spread.”

On the flipside, conspiracy theorists contend that the billions the American government spends in covert operations and technologies makes it extremely possible that they might have had a way to eliminate their Rasta foe. The Covert Action Quarterly in Winter 1991 contained an article by Richard Hatch who purported that the CIA, in close connection with the National Cancer Institute, had been conducting experiments revolving around aerosol distribution of carcinogenic viruses as early as 1970, for applications in biological warfare. A Dr. Richard Griesemer at Ohio State University, working in conjunction with the two government agencies, allegedly was successful in introducing tumors to mice and monkeys via aerosol transmission beginning in 1965. JFK conspiracy speculators have always felt that this is how Jack Ruby contracted cancer behind bars in prison. Griesemer later went on to conduct human radiation experiments under the umbrella of the Department of Energy.

All the same, Marley began to suffer and decline in health from the ill-effects of his disease. While in London and Miami, he had been approached jointly by both Seaga and Manley’s strongmen, Bucky Marshall and Claudie Massop, to take part in a “One Love Peace Concert” being held in Kingston on April 22, 1978. Bob agreed, and appeared that day before 30,000 fans. He beckoned both Edward Seaga and Michael Manley onstage and brought their hands together into a united shake above his head, symbolizing his strong desire for peace in the island nation. On June 15, 1978, Marley was awarded the Peace Medal of the Third World from the United Nations.

But peace was an ideal and not the natural state of affairs in both Jamaican politics and street life by the end of the decade. Nine months after the One Love Peace Concert, Claudie Massop, along with two other JLP cronies were pulled over by police and executed. Street legend around the island has always held that Marley once prophesied that his primary attacker would one day be cut down by the same number of bullets fired upon him in 1976. The myth-spreaders contend that Massop was riddled with 56 bullets. PNP’s henchman, Bucky Marshall was shot to death at a reggae gathering in New York City in May 1980. During the election period on the island later that year, violence invaded the shantytowns of Jamaica to one of its all-time highs. Factions supporting both Manley’s PNP and Seaga’s JLP took to the streets, spreading mayhem that escalated to an official death toll of 750. It was rumored that the CIA, in conjunction with the incoming right-wing Republican president Ronald Reagan, were eager to get JLP and Seaga into office at any cost. Marley allegedly learned that he would be killed if he tried to enter Jamaica after his world tour before the polls closed on election day. The Rastas were disgusted with both parties, but especially disdainful of the new chief warlord in D.C. To them, the number of letters in Ronald Wilson Reagan’s name, 6-6-6, only confirmed that he truly was the antiChrist incarnate. Seaga won the election that year.

Marley would not live much longer into the new decade. On May 11, 1981, he passed away from the cancer that had voraciously spread throughout his frail frame. Both Seaga and Manley attended his massive funeral. Despite his wish for peace and non-violence, Jamaica’s history raged on with incidents of bloodshed and instability well into the 1990s. Marley’s agreement with Gandhi’s postulate, “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind,” would seemingly go unheeded. But the reggae prophet had planted a seed through his music. His reflections on the dignity of black men and women, on the validity of Africa being a sacred continent, and his desire for one-blood, a view of the world as nonracial, carry on in the strains of his melodic, insightful songs. Like all Rastas, he believed in Word/Sound/Power. That is, if you combine visionary words with embracing sounds, it will result in world-transforming power. He referred to this phenomenon as “Chant-down Babylon.” Taking down the establishment. His work remains as a living inspiration to new generations of impoverished, downtrodden individuals who seek a powerful voice to shatter the forces that seek to bury their spirit.

© 2001 Ned Truslow

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