I had hoped to tell of the further exploits of our booty seeking boatmen, Captain Sparky and crew, but they’ve yet to return from their voyage up to the Tortugas. Young Ricky Vinyl talked with Caleb last night via shortwave. All is well and they hope to be back by Saturday Night. With no one to watch his goats, Raymoan remained on the island and sulked. He’s taken his herd over beyond Spivey Point to graze in the wild west country and hasn’t been seen all week. Ras Eddie isn’t back from Dub City where I returned from Sunday as to spend Tuesday in the studio. Monday was my birthday. Not a definitive mile marker, but I’ve made it up there in the double digits. I celebrated by going to see Lee Scratch Perry and the Sub-Atomic Sound System. At 76, Scratch can’t help but make you feel young as he prances about, stalking the stage, burning incense, grabbing his toe and holding his leg out to one side while he chats through all his classic riddims with wholly fresh lyrics. ‘Rocking and reeling and having a ball. Singing and swinging, strait jacket and all!’ Is he a madman or a genius or a prophet or is he putting us all on? His track record is undeniable. Scratch the innovator. Scratch the hit maker. Had a chance to talk briefly with him after the show and got a hug. If Jamaica ever gets around to carving out a Mount Rushmore in the Blue Mountains, I know Bob Marley will be up there on one end and Scratch at the other. Who would be the other two? There’s grist for your great debate mill.
I saw the new Bob Marley documentary this past week. I highly recommend it to your attention. I hadn’t intended to see the film this week nor did I know the opportunity would even present itself. I was just taking my post lunch nap on Number 9 Tigertail Trail’s front room couch Wednesday afternoon when there came a knock at my door. It was my young mate, Treacherous Potholes. I’ve known Treacherous since that stormy day years ago when I first put into Skank Harbor just ahead of a big blow. He was the kid on the dock who was offering to carry my sea chest and ditty bags, take me to Dub City’s best bar, cheapest hotel or finest brothel. And he offered to get me anything I wanted with a heavy stress of the ‘anything’. Along the way to the old Breakers Hotel (it burned in the late 90s) he pointed out sites of local interest, dangerous dacoits in the stormy shadows and treacherous potholes in the thoroughfare. The name stuck. That was many years ago. Treacherous grew into a record distributor, professional crowd estimator and hot sauce purveyor among other things. I hadn’t seen him in weeks.
He first inquired if I had anything of great importance on my schedule that day. I mentioned my interrupted nap. And then he excitedly induced me to come down to the community pier to see his newest toy. I roused myself grumpily and trundled down the beach. A small crowd of fishermen, tourists and dilettantes had gathered midway out on the pier and were looking down at something admiringly. There, tied up, gleaming in the midday sun and bobbing in the surf, was a sleek black cigarette boat. Like a polished ebony dagger of glass, the slender craft is what the US Coast Guard used to call a rum runner in the Prohibition days. Up the northeast US coast they’re used for smuggling cigarettes and such up and down from Canada. The same in the Mediterranean. They’re usually considered smuggler’s boats. The same holds true in our waters.
“Got a hemi in it, Captain! Brand new! Come on. I’ll take ya for a ride.”
Just why Treacherous needed such an extremely fast boat that’s best known for it’s radar-defeating low profile and tumultuous demon speed, I never asked. Island hopping, I supposed. I climbed aboard and reveled in the heart stopping thrill of skimming across our many hued sea of blue at such a breathtaking clip, just mere inches above the water’s surface. Treacherous at his open helm and throttle, the great Chrysler engine purring like a huge contented panther and our little island quickly disappearing into the horizon behind us, it was a grand adventure. Then I was informed we were actually on our way to Port Antonio, Errol Flynn’s old port of call, for a viewing party to see the new Marley biography. A birthday gift! I was most pleased and the journey in the cigarette boat didn’t take all that long at all. The sunny afternoon was perfect for the season, the seas calm and the rocket aqua ride quite memorable. I hadn’t ridden in a runner like Treacherous’ new toy in a while and I hadn’t been to Portie in quite a while. It remains one of the unspoiled jewels of Jamaica’s northeast shore.
The screening wasn’t public but was held at the beautiful seaside home of a friend of Treacherous. With about a dozen present, there up on a private media room screen, far larger than either Heartbeat’s or Dub City’s tiny theaters, unwound the tale of the undisputed King of Reggae. It’s aptly titled “Marley” and comes from the family store, Tuff Gong Films. It’s directed by Academy Award winner Kevin Macdonald and is as exhaustive a film biography on the legend to appear to date.
I’ve read just about everything that’s been printed of any note on Marley from as diverse and skewed inside perspectives as those of Rita Marley and one time manager Don Taylor to weighty outside views from the biographer likes of Davis and White. And through the years I have seen all the bio films. Though lengthy at almost two and a half hours, this new film never drags. Macdonald is very thorough and fills in areas of Bob’s life that seem to have been danced over in other observations. Cindy Breakspeare’s involvement opens up a lot of Marley’s later years. Rita has always been there with her input in other films on the early years, but not Cindy. There’s a fine variety of commentary and memories from family, band mates and others on hand to tell his story. I didn’t note any omissions in those who share their reflections. His creativity and dogged determination are revered. His cultural influences abound. New stories are shared. His competitive edge is recalled. Rough edges are not glossed over. Strong arm record promotion in JA’s radio market and the falling out with a cheating Taylor in Africa are there. Bob’s proclivity for child producing relationships is noted, discussed, but not judged. His struggle with cancer is there too in all its’ heartbreaking detail. His generosity is recalled. His spirituality and deep dedication to Rastafari, his desire for understanding and love between all races remained paramount in his life to the end.
And the film looks good. Not only does the author seems to give us a fairly balanced story, the film has a very balanced look. Many bits and pieces of notable historical points like The Smile Jamaica Concert following the assassination attempt on Bob’s life and the Peace Concert’s Manley-Seaga handshake have been shown before, but the quality here is exemplary. New footage blends perfectly with archival. Considering what a patchwork any film biography is, it’s evident great care has been taken to achieve the look. Nothing choppy here. It flows beautifully. And the sound, of course, is exceptional.
This is a mere glimpse into what slumbers in the Marley Tuff Gong family attic. I’ve long regretted more is not being made available. Estate infighting kept much off limits for too long. Before the height of their popularity, Bob Marley and the Wailers began surreptitiously mixing and mastering tracks at Miami’s legendary Criteria Studios in ’75, under the table due to some legal moogey foogey having to do with British taxes since the original tracks were recorded at Island Records in London. While there, the Wailers used one of the Criteria studios to rehearse and work on new material. At the time, I was loosely affiliated with the great studio, Tom Dowd’s fabled playground that Mack Emerman built, and was, I’m proud to say, a friend of the late engineer on those Marley sessions, Karl Richardson. The Wailers recorded constantly and recorded everything, in studio and in concert. Both audio and then later video too. Karl shared a lot with me that has never seen release nor ever even referenced in all these ensuing years. And the rehearsal tapes he recorded at Criteria were amazing. Hopefully we’ll see and hear more of all this in the future. A definitive concert film would be greatly appreciated worldwide. Sadly before Bob’s death, Karl had moved to Jamaica to get onboard the Tuff Gong train on a permanent basis. Coming around a blind curve, he found another driver coming right at him. He was tragically killed. Be careful if you drive somewhere to see “Marley”, but see it by all means.
Natty just wandered over from Sand Hill and is opening up the control tower shutters. I imagine Raymoan will end his self-imposed exile and be here to take the covers off the stacks soon. Le Roix just topped the generator with petrol and Smiley iced down some cold ones for tonight. I think I hear Ras Eddie’s Honda 90 coming down the Shore Road. The Dread Sound System # 2 cranks at 10. Big fun soon come.