Catch a Fire: The Life of Bob Marley: The Definitive Edition- Revised and Updated


“Marley pushed the thick, ropy strands of his dreadlocks away from his swollen eyes, peering into the darkness beyond the blinding lights onstage. There were shouts, screams and the muffled thuds of police batons against bodies as what looked from a distance like a swirling tide of people beaten back from the crest of the stadium’s parapets.”


Marley rose on stage as the mystical creature he was bellowing out rhymes of Jamaica’s revolutionary struggle, White colonial tyranny and his own artistic insight.


The honour is long overdue for a legend whose influence spans across decades, genres, race, age, sex and philosophies. While many artists have their moment, Bob Marley is a musical legend that never left the spotlight. Singer, songwriter, guitarist, activist, spiritual leader can liberally begin to highlight his lifetime achievements. The revised and updated biography of reggae legend Bob Marley, written by Timothy White “is as close as rock journalism comes to transcendent literature.”  White having produced three priorly written, informative accounts  of Bob’s life are merely a fraction of this well rounded, exhaustively researched labor of love entitled Catch a Fire: The Life of Bob Marley- The Definitive Edition.


Timothy White is no stranger to the written world of communication, his impressive resume features eleven years as Billboard’s Editor in Chief, a lengthy career in rock journalism, and host/co-producer of Timothy White’s Rock Stars/The Timothy White Sessions; an award-winning nationally syndicated radio series. His most noted mastery was his ability to get artists to reveal very personal details of their lives. He was able to get candid interviews that others died trying. “Considering his erudition and his reputation, there was something unintimidating about him, and people would just open up,” says Andy Denemark, White’s producing partner on the radio show.


Having conducted several interviews with Bob himself and the inner circle of friends and family, Timothy was granted access to private papers, photographs and memorabilia, making this biography rich in real occurrences.


Organic Rastafarian lingo is diffused throughout the pages of White’s biography which is sure to prolong the reader’s vocabulary. 


From the opening pages we are staged into an unalterable time and unchanging place where industrialization is next to none- Jamaica, leading to economic poverty and societal disgrace. Trampling ideas of freedom are merely ideas that are out of reach.  Young Robert Nesta Marley, whom later, self imposed the name ‘Bob’ immersed himself in music to suppress the harsh realities of living in Jamaica.


In this book, White describes Jamaica as “a place where people grew up in a hurry or not at all,” Young Marley was a cardinal example of a boy turned man within a hurried time. Moving from one locus to another due to the scarcity of employment, faced with the abandonment by his father, living in political turmoil, witnessing labour riots and British exploitation. He took his unique education and his “awareness of all things he hadn’t learned and all the jobs he wouldn’t get” and used this pessimism as the driving force to pursue his destiny.


The evolution of Jamaican music which serves as a core foundation that shapes the denizens of Jamaica is summarized in White’s revised version. The early sixties brought Ska music; Caribbean mento and calypso beats infused with American Jazz. The ska scene was ill received by producers that were hesitant of releasing overt Rastafarian thoughts; material that “explained and celebrated tolerance, brotherhood, moral rectitude view and defiance of all forms of oppression.” Radio stations called this music ‘blasphemous,’ Rastafarians simply spoke of the universal truth. Ska gave birth to Rock Steady and from there the most dominate wave of music was born; Reggae. “The art of storytelling is highly regarded in Jamaican culture,” the core of Jamaican culture lies in Rastafarian Reggae. Reggae gave Bob a voice, a voice with a swaying sound that led to a revolution, changing the face of Jamaica, the nation as a whole.


From the simplicity of his words to the intensity of his message, his lyrics spoke volumes; yet Bob Marley devotees would agree there is a lack of musical insight projecting from the pages of this biography. However, Bob’s pronounced albums and songs are all cited; from the Wailer’s first 1973 album ‘Catch a Fire’ to his critically acclaimed roots reggae album ‘Exodus’ to the 1980 final studio album ‘Uprising.’


This is not only a story about Bob, but also about Chris Blackwell (Founder of Island Records), Marcus Garvey (Jamaica’s First national Hero), Haile Selassie I (Emperor of Ethiopia/the eternal divine god), the original Wailing Wailers, duppy business, the ghetto, Rastafarian culture and the art of storytelling.


This revised version is extended by two hundred pages in comparison to the first written version in 1983. Catch a Fire is a history book giving insight into the Jamaican struggle to desert Babylon and journey to Zion. References are made to prominent icons and movements that arose, during that time, to shift the chaotic ugliness. This book justly explains the wisdom behind Jah Rastafari and the crusade that sprung from his philosophies; notably his ideas of liberation and reparation. Furthermore, supernatural events and surreal coincidences that occurred in both Bob and wife Rita’s life that compelled them to bosom the doctrines of Rastafari on an esoteric level, are illustrated in this biography. 


The overall level of detail on the years following Bob’s death, the disagreements on the facts of Bob’s recording career, Bob’s estate and government conspiracy are covered in the final chapters.


“Tim said this book is about personal destiny. He believed you are never handed your destiny but that you have to chase it like a moving train; you run until your legs and lungs ache, and if you are extremely lucky you might catch it; thereby living the life intended for you. He loved and admired Marley for not only boarding that train but also becoming its engineer.” This was the last works produced by Timothy White before his sudden death.


“Rasta nuh fear death, because Rasta never live, an’ never die,” said Bob. White has indeed done a brilliant job of keeping Bob Marley’s prestige alive.


~ by deliciousnoize on April 1, 2008.

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