(Soundbite of song, "Exodus")
Unidentified Group: (Singing) Exodus. Movement of Jah people.
Mr. BOB MARLEY (Reggae musician): (Singing) Oh, yeah. (Unintelligible).
FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
Thirty years ago, reggae legend Bob Marley released "Exodus." The album made him an international superstar. Now, a new book chronicles how the making of the album and its reception affected Marley and the world.
Journalist Vivien Goldman knew Bob Marley personally. She was in the studio for some of the "Exodus" recording sessions. Goldman told us how and why Marley started the album.
(Soundbite of song, "Exodus")
Mr. MARLEY: (Singing) We, the generation. Tell me why.
Unidentified Group: (Singing) Trod through great tribulation.
Mr. MARLEY: (Singing) Trod through great tribulation. Exodus.
Ms. VIVIEN GOLDMAN (Music Journalist): I was around him and the crew of The Wailers and saw an awful lot in what I think of as the "Exodus" cycle because I was in Jamaica working in '76. And Bob actually invited me to stay as a guest at his house, Hope Road, a sort of communal place in Kingston. But the day after I left there, gunmen broke into his house to try and kill him. And then he came to London, where I lived, and he recorded "Exodus" partly as a response to this politically motivated attack. And the studio is just up the road from me. So I was there an awful lot of the sessions and, you know, and then I went on the road with them when they toured.
And as I looked at the other books that has come out since I wrote like my first biography of him - "Soul Rebel, Natural Mystic" - I noticed that nobody really shot a spotlight on this incredibly important period. So I really, really wanted to tell this story.
CHIDEYA: Vivien, explain a little bit more about what you mean by a politically motivated assassination attempt.
Ms. GOLDMAN: Okay. Well, at the time, they did try and pass it off as if Bob had got caught up with some sort of runings at the racetrack. But, really, what went down was that election time was coming up and despite his best efforts - because he really wanted to be seen as apolitical - Bob was viewed as endorsing Michael Manley's People's National Party, the PNP. And basically, it was gunmen from the other side the Jamaican Labor Party, the JLP, headed at that time by Edward Seaga who really did bust into Hope Road, which he was trying to make like a Rasta commune in uptown. And, you know, just sprayed bullets all over the kitchen, the - they had a very narrow galley kitchen. It was amazingly lucky that he wasn't killed.
CHIDEYA: So you spent a lot of time in the studio with Bob Marley. Can you give us a sense of what he was like as a person and also as a creator?
Ms. GOLDMAN: He had really music flowing through him to such an extent that if you were spending time with Bob Marley, it's a pretty safe bet that, at a certain point, he'd be picking up his guitar, strumming songs, working out ideas for songs and getting everybody who was in the room singing along with him. He was really a people's person, a people's artist. He loved that feedback, and he was very communal in his approach. And that's why the "Exodus" sessions in London, it was extraordinary. There were like tons of people there, loads of local Rastas, and just all sorts of people would wind up there who were somehow in Bob's milieu. And at the same time, he was really a perfectionist. You know, they always used to say that he was first on the tour bus and the last to leave the studio.
CHIDEYA: Did you ever talk to him about religion? You have a lot in your book about "Exodus" referring to the biblical story of Moses leading the Hebrews out of slavery. You talk about Rastafari…
Ms. GOLDMAN: Yes.
CHIDEYA: …and Marley's following of that religion. Did you ever talk about religion and spirituality?
Ms. GOLDMAN: It was really hard to talk to Bob Marley and not talk about religion and spirituality. It's funny. I was just flipping through the book and my eyes fell on this quote where he says, you know, I don't really want you to just be talking about me and what I'm interested. You know, the important thing is to keep talking about Rasta because there's nothing he liked more than a good Rasta reasoning, you know, which is where everybody sits around and talks about the Bible.
The Bible was a very huge presence in his life. And it was not only a religion - if you can say only religion, but maybe saying addition to being a spiritual thing. You know, it also did have a political aspect to black empowerment.
Obviously, you know, Bob pulled off this very neat trick: being very pro-black and really trying to give the African Diaspora a sense of its strength and the unity that can exist. And at the same time, really embracing, you know white people, to an extent; doing his best to make a multicultural world work. I mean, he himself was born into these conflicts having had a white father and a black mother. You know, when he was a kid growing up in the ghetto, people would mock him, you know, for being too white, you know? And then he went to try and get money from his father's family, hello, he was too black. So these issues were very profound within him.
CHIDEYA: What was he like to work with? Was he difficult? Was he exacting? Was he mellow - since you did work with him for so long.
Ms. GOLDMAN: Generally, he was kind of a very self-contained person. And he was very professional. And also, he was very funny. After he saw me dye my hair a number of times because I was a punk, he said, oh, so what are you now? Red, green and gold woman? Because my name is Goldman and red, green and gold were the Rastafarian colors.
Ms. GOLDMAN: I mean, that's just one little tease. But he was a great tease, and it was a great fun as well to be with him. And at the same time, he was super committed.
CHIDEYA: There has been so much celebration of Bob Marley in recent years. But one thing that gets talked about every now and then is that he never became as popular with black American audiences as he did with either Jamaican audiences or white American audiences. Why do you think that's the case?
Ms. GOLDMAN: Well, in the book, I do mention an interview I did with the (unintelligible) Hewen Lao(ph), who was a Jamaican who was working at Ireland at the time. And he felt very strongly there was a sort of protectionism going on in black musical circles. It was as if there was a feeling, wow, it's hard enough for us to get our stuff through, and now here's our Ireland cousins coming in and taking - thinking they'll take center stage. I don't think so. He found it very difficult to get air play on black stations. And I think that had a lot to do with it.
CHIDEYA: So, Vivien, when you think about Bob Marley's legacy - but very specifically, the legacy of "Exodus" - who do you think it's influenced musically? How do you think it's shaped where we are today and where we're going in music?
Ms. GOLDMAN: I think the boldness with which he fused - with moving towards fusing his local west Indian rhythms with aspects of funk or disco without losing the integrity of his sound. I think that's always a big pointer to the way music is very intermixed nowadays.
But, you know, the sense of being outrightly, forthrightly militant in "Exodus," right, that is what I missed today, that great flare that Bob Marley threw out with "Exodus."
CHIDEYA: Well, Vivien, thank you so much.
Ms. GOLDMAN: Thank you very much.
CHIDEYA: Vivien Goldman is the author of "The Book of Exodus: The Making and Meaning of Bob Marley and the Wailers' Album of the Century." You can listen to Vivien Goldman read an excerpt from her book at nprnewsandnote.org.