Bob Marley, Andrew Brown, and RDN

Andrew Brown wrote a characterisically clever and challenging piece in his Guardian Cif Belief blog: Bob Marley, miracles and monsters on my path to atheism. I commented as follows:

AB and I agreed on a quite a lot of things when we worked together at The Independent in the 1980s, but not about Bob Marley’s music (which I adored and adore). Now I am not sure we agree about Marley’s religious role.

I had one long conversation with Marley, as he travelled to Brighton for a gig on his last UK tour. He was courtesy itself when I said that Rastafarianism and especially its Ethiopian fantasies seemed quite absurd. My memory is that BM said that at the very least it was important and valuable to its adherents, who needed something like it to hang on to. I am almost sure that he left plenty of room for the possibility that he did not believe all of it either.

I had no impression that BM saw himself as a prophet, shaman or saint, though I certainly came close to thinking he came close to being the last. I mean that whatever charges can be laid at his door, I don’t think self-righteous or self-promoting spirituality was part of his deal. (I don’t doubt he was selfish: I have known a few famously saintly people, and they were all egotists of one sort or another.)

It is perhaps worth noting that I did and do feel strongly that BM’s music and lyrics, and especially the latter, owed a good deal to the Psalms, and were a sort of psalmody (and not least in their deliberate monotony). I know very little about Jamaica but have the impression that many people there, and not least the older musicians, have the Bible and Prayer Book close to their hearts. When I met Marley and most listened to his music, I was coincidentally spending a lot of time in monasteries: they seemed surprisingly alike in their loveliness.

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Publication date

01 September 2012


Mind & body