Bob Marley: I and Eye, an exhibition of photographs of the reggae superstar in Jamaica in the mid-'70s, opened on January 11 at KM Fine Arts. The show features images by photographer Kim Gottlieb-Walker and is presented by reggae archivist Roger Steffens. Steffens first travelled to Jamaica in the mid-1970s, toured with Marley, and has written a half dozen books on him. Tomorrow, the gallery hosts a presentation with Steffens from 2-4pm; Gottlieb-Walker will also be at the gallery from 12-5pm.
Here Steffens, who was also co-host KCRW's program Reggae Beat in the '80s, shares his memories of the legend in his own words.
Roger Steffens: “There are dozens of misconceptions about Bob. People think he was just a stoned out freak who was smoking dope all the time. On the contrary I think he was one of the most disciplined human beings I've ever met in my life. I spent two weeks on the road with him in '79 on his Survival tour. He was always the first guy on the bus and the last guy to go to bed at night and the first guy to wake up in the morning. He probably only slept three or four hours a night and just wanted everything to be absolutely professional and perfect.”
Roger Steffens: “There's a misconception that he smoked to escape. Bob smoked a lot of herb, but he did it as a tool of communication with Jah, the almighty, I and eye. All those incredible anthemic songs that he gave to the world were all created under the inrpiration of herb. At the millennium, The New York Times said that Bob Marley was the most influential musician of the second half of the 20th century. The first half, they said, was Louis Armstrong, and they were both daily herb smokers, so go figure.”
Roger Steffens: “The happiest guy on tour was the bus driver, because he got to sweep up all the roaches at the end of each evening. The guy would go home with three or four ounces.”
Roger Steffens: “Bob was phenomenally generous. He never owned his own home, but he bought dozens of homes for other people, his band members, his baby mothers, his relatives, his lawyer. He gave away almost all the money he made during his lifetime, and his business manager, Colin Leslie, who had to sign the checks or they weren't valid, told me that he thought Bob supported monthly somewhere around 6,000 people.”
Roger Steffens: “When he was shot [in December, 1976] was the major point when he went from showman to shaman. When he escaped practically point blank being killed. The bullet came right across his heart and if he had been inhaling instead of exhaling he would have been killed. He became the ultimate figure in music – and a mythological figure to a certain extent – because he escaped the assassin's bullet.”
Roger Steffens: “He is a spiritual figure. Jack Healey of Amnesty International told me that internationally people see Bob Marley as a symbol of freedom. I've been doing a one man show about Bob Marley's life for 30 years. We've done that show at the bottom of the Grand Canyon for the Havasupai Indians, who believe that Bob Marley is the reincarnation of Chief Red Cloud returned to earth as a black man to lead the red man towards freedom. We've done it for aboriginal people in the outback of Australia who regard him as a deity and the M?ori people in New Zealand, who gave him the title 'redeemer.' He's a spiritual figure and of a special interest to first nation and native people around the world, because that's what he was.”
Roger Steffens: “He transcends show business. He is a moral figure. He was a man who preached a message that we should be better than we are, that there is a meaning to our lives, and that Selassie is the reincarnated Christ in these times. That was his major mission in life. He was also a prophet; so many things he predicted came true. When he was 24, he was living in Delaware in that Woodstock summer of '69 and he told some young men that he was going to die at age 36, and he did. The fact that he knew that kind of explains the incredible activities of the last four years of his life, after he was shot. He never stopped. It was constant creation.
The last time I saw Bob was at the Roxy in November of '79. It was his last show in LA, where he did a three hour soundcheck by himself where he played all the instruments himself, and the first hour he kept singing over and over about redemption.”
KM Fine Arts hosts a presentation by Roger Steffens in conjunction with Bob Marley: I and Eye from 2-4pm on Saturday, January 25.