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'Marley' tells songwriting tales

Published:Sunday | April 29, 2012 | 12:00 AM
Rita Marley
Kevin Macdonald (left), director of the documentary, and Neville Garrick.- Winston Sill/Freelance Photographer

Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer

In Marley, the Kevin Macdonald-directed documentary which premiered at Emancipation Park, New Kingston, two Thursdays ago, there are many insights into Bob Marley through his words and the memories of close friends and colleagues.

The Marley/Wailers music utilised is mainly acoustic takes and demos, Macdonald choosing mainly to stay clear of the familiar tracks from the Island Records years and the Studio One cuts. And in telling tales of Marley, fellow Wailing Wailer, Bunny, speaks about how two songs in particular were written.

Corner Stone and Small Axe are both written in a somewhat competitive spirit, the first when Marley was denied a loan by his father's side - the Caucasian - of his family and the other when the Wailers saw themselves in competition with an alliance of three top Jamaican music producers of the 1960s.

Ironically, as Marley was rejected by his family's Caucasian side, as a mixed-race child, he was also spurned closer to his physical home. As Bunny Wailer puts it, "he was the only red pickney in the place. Everybody else was black". He said that one woman called Bob "Jarman (German) boy" and, when asked if Bob was teased, Bunny Wailer said, "teased is not the word. Rejected!"

asking for a loan

In Marley, it is graphic artist Neville Garrick who speaks about Bob going to his white relatives at the company, Marley and Plant, to ask for a loan to buy a car, the visual cutting to Rita Marley who said they told Bob to go away. Marley's confidante Alan 'Skill' Cole said a song came out of it, that track being Corner Stone, which uses the Jamaican retelling of the biblical admonition that "the stone that the builder refused shall always be the head corner stone".

The large audience cheered when, in the documentary, a white relative of Bob Marley confirmed that this has come true, saying "he is the Marley now and nobody knows about what happens to the others".

Earlier in the documentary Bunny Wailer sang a bit of Small Axe, the background being that the Wailers had come up against a three-headed giant of the Jamaican recording industry, Studio One, Treasure Isle and Prince Buster. So there is actually a double play on 'three', as the lyrics indicate the number three even as they take out the 'h' to make it the Jamaican expression of 'three' - making it tree and allowing the image of the axe to be used.

So the opening lines jeer:

"Why boasteth thyself oh evil man

Playing smart and not even clever"

Then the chorus delivers the promise of David's blow against Goliath:

"If you are the big tree

We are the small axe

Sharpened to cut you down ...".