On what would have been Bob Marley’s 68th birthday, author John Shore offers some insights into the Marley you probably didn’t know.
1. Bob’s father was a 50-year-old white British naval captain named Norval Sinclair Marley. His mom, a black country village girl named Cedella, was 19 when, in the small Jamaican village of Nine Mile in Saint Ann Parish, Bob was born at 2:30 in the morning on Feb. 6, 1945.
2. Norval instructed Cedella to name the baby boy Nesta Robert. So she did. “Robert” was the name of Norval’s brother.
3. Nobody knows to whom or what “Nesta” referred. Whatever its significance, it was important enough for Norval to make sure that Cedella spelled it right before he moved away.
4. As a little kid, Bob had a knack for deeply spooking people by successfully predicting their futures by reading their palms.
5. A Jamaican immigration official suggested to Bob’s mom that “Nesta” sounded too much like a girl’s name. So they switched his name to Robert Nesta Marley.
6. “Tuff Gong,” the name of Bob’s recording label, was a nickname Bob earned for himself in the Kingston ghetto of Trenchtown for being exactly the wrong guy to screw with. Ever.
7. Bob was a devout Rastafarian. Ras Tafari is the name of a man who was crowned King of Ethiopia in 1930. With that crown came the honorific name Haile Selassie. Rastafarians thought this “Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah” was the messiah, come to redeem the black man. Though doctrinally a legitimate sect of Orthodox Christianity, Rastafari can be difficult for non-Jamaicans to grasp. The one thing everybody does get is that Rastafarians smoke dope and wear dreadlocks (which put dread in the heart of the oppressors, see). Old Testament devotees, the Rastas smoke because Psalm 104:14 says: “He causeth . . . herb [to be grown] for the service of man . . . .” Their hairstyle comes from Leviticus 21:5: “They shall not make baldness upon their head.”
8. Nobody really knows what the word “reggae” means, or how it originated.
9. When Bob was twenty-one, he lived in Delaware for seven months. During that time he worked the night shift at a Chrysler plant (about which he wrote in his song, “Night Shift”), drove a forklift in a factory, and worked as a lab assistant for DuPont Chemical.
10. Bob, who at twenty-one married a beautiful Trenchtown Sunday school teacher named Rita (and stayed married to her until his death did they part), fathered an untold number of kids by an untold number of women. (The general estimate puts the number of Marley’s progeny at around twenty. )The way he could tell his children, he said, was by the way each spoke out of the side of his or her mouth, the way he did.