Rita Marley, Cindy Breakspeare 'merely women'
Roger Steffens has a stellar roster of interviewees for his book, So Much Things to Say: The Oral History of Bob Marley (WW Norton & Company).
Through careful selections from interviews over three decades, Steffens puts together Marley's life story chronologically, from birth in 1945 to death in 1981.
All judgements are left to the reader, as Steffens presents interviews (or parts thereof - there are extensive quotes from Neville 'Bunny Wailer' Livingstone, with whom Steffens has plans for an as-yet unpublished biography) from persons who knew Marley at different levels. Among them are two band members from the 'and the Wailers' period who have died, drummer Carlton 'Carly' Barrett and keyboard player Earl 'Wya' Lindo, who died earlier this week. Original Wailer, Peter Tosh, was also interviewed; he was killed on September 11, 1987.
Early Wailers producer Clement Dodd, also deceased, speaks, as does Island Records's Chris Blackwell, though with noticeable restraint. Among the notable absentees are Lee 'Scratch' Perry (about whom a thrashing in a nightclub is recorded) and Johnny Nash (communication from him declining to answer some allegations is in So Much Things to Say). And while Bob Marley's sons Stephen and Ziggy, and daughter Cedella, are interviewed, their input, as well as that of Rita, is significantly slender.
On the other hand, Cindy Breakspeare's input is voluble and it is from Damian 'Jr Gong' Marley's mother that one of the many outstanding quotes from So Much Things to Say: The Oral History of Bob Marley, comes. When Bob fell ill and where to take care of him was being decided, she and Rita were excluded from the process which ended with him at a clinic in Germany.
Breakspeare says: "I wouldn't really have added to the stress by placing him in a strange place in a climate he hated, surrounded by people he didn't know. I didn't agree with that decision and I know Rita didn't either. I don't know who forced him to do that, because we didn't have much say. We were merely women."
Some other striking responses from a book chockfull of choice observations are:
Bunny Wailer: "Bob was a wild child. He was the ugly duckling. He had to find his own little brush to pick, and his own little cornmeal. Nobody wanted him around their corn, so he got what's left. His most serious endeavour was just to eat and drink."
Tyrone Downie (speaking about the shooting at 56 Hope Road in 1976, when band members took refuge in a bathroom): "We were all in the bathtub, like four or five of us, in the bathtub."
Gayle McGarrity: "He used to tell me that one of the reasons he liked being with me was because I looked like him. He was getting ready to go on tour once, and he really wanted me to come to the airport to see him off. When I told him that I didn't think I could, I remember him saying, 'You think I have so many women and so many people I care about, but really I am very lonely'."
Colin Leslie: "Bob bought many homes, but not for himself. He slept in a little cot upstairs, right above the garage at 56 Hope Road. It was very, very late in his career when some of the ladies in his life decided that it was very bad. We need to get a proper bedroom set up for him and they went up and got this custom-made furniture made for him. Bed and carpets."
A review of So Much Things to Say: The Oral History of Bob Marley, was published in yesterday's Gleaner.