the stone that the builder refuse,
will always be the head corner stone
– “Corner Stone” (1974)
Not until I saw the new documentary Marley did I get a true understanding of what brother Bob was speaking of in “Corner Stone.” Even his cousin and half sister — both of whom are featured — seemed genuinely surprised to learn that he was referring to the sting of rejection he endured at the hands of his paternal family. Who knew?
Speaking of stones, there are few left unturned in the film, which, tomorrow, opens in theaters and streams on Facebook (his page has nearly 40 million fans) and video on demand. It goes without saying that Marley’s path to the center of the world stage was far from straight and narrow. There were bumps, bruises and hard lessons along the way, yet he always had a larger vision for himself, even when he was surrounded by poverty and ridiculed for his interracial bloodlines. He poured it all into his music, and these many years later you can still feel the pain and the joy and the wonder in his voice. In case you need a refresher course, as I did, the soundtrack will bring you up to speed and get you to swaying.
The intricate tales of his family and politics, religion and music are woven together via archival interview clips of Bob himself, as well as conversations with those who knew him best, including his first teacher, the ever-vocal Bunny Wailer, the still-lovely I-Threes, Island Records founder Chris Blackwell, son Ziggy, daughter Cedella, and, of course, his widow Ms. Rita, who is as poised when she speaks of their sweet courtship as she is when discussing Bob’s infidelities. Cedella, however, is much more blunt when recalling his personal shortcomings, while Ziggy, who serves as one of the film’s executive producers, laughs when recalling how his father rarely let the kids win when competing in games and races. What everyone agrees on, though, is the fact that he truly loved and was very much connected to his mother.
Marley is poignant, funny and, at times, heartbreaking, especially when the specifics of his health decline are revealed, with photos. The film paints a vivid portrait of a pioneering artist, yes, but it also reveals that at his core, Bob Marley was, simply, a man. That’s what makes his story so real, so beautiful.
Throughout his 36 years of life, he remained quite aware that his music and the movement it spawned were not just about him. As he states during an interview conducted at the height of his success, “My life is for people; my life is only important if me can help plenty of people.”
Well done, Bob… well done.
Regina R. Robertson is the West Coast Editor of ESSENCE. Follow her on Twitter @reginarobertson.