Bob Marley Died Dreaming of Babylon on Fire

© Brandt Hardin

Courtesy of Brandt Hardin

Fire up a spliff and bow to this man at

Bob Marley shined a ray of hope upon the starved and battered denizens of the Third World with his soothing reggae rhythms. The singer rose up from the brutal Jamaican ghetto to emerge on the international music scene as a charismatic voice of conscience, holding up the bitter legacy of European colonialism to the shame of well-fed “baldheads.” He sang an apocalyptic song of freedom, tapping Rasta prophecies that promised the return of Africans to their homeland, “Zion,” and the total destruction of decadent Western society — Babylon. As the tumultuous 1970s drew to a close, Marley and his fellow Rastafari were certain the end was nigh.

Bob Marley’s world ended in a Miami hospital bed thirty years ago this week on May 11, 1981, while the First World’s marketing gurus captured and framed his image in ganja green, blood red, and merchandising gold. Despite the best intentions of international charities and the impassioned diatribes of pot-smoking college students, thirty years later the Third World continues to groan under the weight of commercial exploitation and crushing poverty. Maybe Jah smoked one spliff too many and forgot all about Armageddon.

If Heaven is peace and plenty, then sweltering Caribbean ghettos are Hell on earth. Even sheltered tourists can’t help but notice the desperation and violence that seethes beyond the putting green…

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