Essays, Bob Marley


Icon, Visionary, Legend

by Jean Severin (c) 2006


Table of Contents

Introducing the Icon  1

Life and Death of the Icon  1-2

The Symbol of the Icon  3

Semiotics of the Icon  4-5

Maslow’s and McLuhan  5-6

Consuming the Icon  6-7

The Icon’s Influence on Me  7-8                             

The Icon Concludes  8

Sources  9


Icon, Visionary, Legend

By Jean Severin

“Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds.”(Marley Music) This statement on its own may seem a bit shallow and without meaning to many however, it may perhaps be a symbol of hope for an entire generation. The line is taken from the lyrics to a song called “Redemption Songs,” written and performed by a man who is sometimes considered by many as a prophet, a visionary, a philosopher and to me an icon.  February 6, marked the 61st birthday of Bob Marley and was celebrated from St. Ann , Jamaica the land of his birth, to Africa the land of his heritage. ( Caribbean Camera)

Life and Death of the Icon

Born Robert Nesta Marley on February 6, 1945 in Nine Miles Saint Ann Jamaica , the legacy of my icon Bob Marley would commence in the 1950’s, when he moved to Jamaica ’s Trenchtown slum with his mother. (Catch a Fire, White.T)   It was there in the Trenchtown slum that Marley would meet Neville “Bunny” Livingstone, (Bunny Wailer) and Peter Macintosh (Peter Tosh). Together with MacIntosh and Livingstone, Marley would form a group that would metamorphosis from The Teenagers, the Wailing RudeBoys, The Wailing Wailers and later The Wailers. (Catch a Fire, White.T)  The Wailers’ first album, Catch a Fire, was released worldwide in 1973, and sold well. It was followed a year later by “Burnin” which included “Get Up, Stand Up” and “I Shot The Sheriff“, of which a version by Eric Clapton became a hit in 1974. The band was defunct in 1974, leaving many unanswered questions as to why the dismantling of the group had occurred. (

Being the true leader that he was; hence the reason why I’ve selected him as my icon, Marley would continue his journey as a singer/songwriter and peace advocate with what would now become Bob Marley and the Wailers. He would be backed by the Wailers Band and the I Threes with his wife Rita Marley, whom he had married in 1966.( With  his newly revived musical unit, Marley toured throughout Europe, Africa and North America and produced several hit records including his breakthrough album in the US, Rastaman Vibration, which spent four weeks on the Top Ten of the Billboard charts.(

Marley cheated death in 1976 when he was shot at his home. The shooting occurred prior to a free scheduled concert called “Smile Jamaica ,” which he had organized with Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley to commemorate general elections. Accounts of the shootings pointed towards politics and even the CIA. Despite the shooting, Marley would perform with his injuries, which to me exemplifies true heart and heroism. However, on May 11, 1981 he died at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Miami , Florida after a long and unsucessful battle with cancer. His funeral was an honorable event and included activities of  Ethiopian Othodox denomination and that of Rastarfari. He was laid to rest in a crypt at Nine Miles, near his home, embracing a Gibson guitar, a marijuana spliff and a Bible. He is survived by his wife, Rita Marley and his twelve children. (

Since his death in 1981 at age 36, Marley continues to dominate pop culture, with his countless memorabilia, greatest hits compilation releases and tribute concerts. His home in St. Ann , Jamaica was transformed into a heritage site, by the Jamaican government. ( Caribbean Camera) There are various statues, and drawings that are created in his likeness, so as to keep his legacy alive.

The Symbol of the Icon

Robert Nesta Marley is a symbol of peace, unity, love, Jamaican music and Rastafarianism. The man speaks even though he has been dead for 25 years in all corners of the globe, through his indelible music. The lyrics to one of his worldwide hit sings, “one love one heart, let’s get together and feel alright,” advocates world peace, unity and exemplifies what he stood for. “I want to give you some love; I want to give you some good, good loving.”  “I wanna love yeah; I wanna love and treat you right.”  These lyrics are a sign of the compassionate side of Marley. He was responsible for popularizing and introducing reggae, a Jamaican beat to the world. When individuals think about Jamaica they must hear the voice of Marley stirring it up, in reggae redeem. “Rasta man vibration yeah ah positive;” “Rasta man live up.” (Marley Music)  Marley was a symbol of the Rastafarian sect; he stood as their messenger and their prophet. As a political figure he embraced peace in Jamaica and political freedom in Zimbabwe , Africa .

In April of 1978, Marley performed at the “One Love Peace Concert”.(Catch a Fire, White.T) At that concert, Marley got Jamaican Prime Minister, Michael Manley, and the Leader of the Opposition, Edward Seaga, to shake hands on stage. (Catch a Fire, White.T) Because of the significance of this act, Marley later received the Medal of Peace from the United Nations. Another significant political event which Marley participated in was the independence celebration of Zimbabwe , in April of 1980. (Catch a Fire, White.T) During the concert Marley discovered that the freedom fighters knew the lyrics of this song far better than their own new national anthem. Bob was the only artist to be invited by the new Zimbabwean government to this celebration, as the event marked the last time that the British flag flew over Africa .( Excerpts from his song Zimbabwe are as follows;   

“Every man got a right

To decide his own destiny

And in this judgment

There is no partiality

So arm in arms, with arms

We will fight this little struggle

Cause that’s the only way

We can overcome our little trouble”

 I and I ah liberate Zimbabwe . (Marley Music)


Semiotics of My Icon

(Photo courtesy of

"Bob Marley" Framed Poster

For the signifier, I see a person of African decent, with long ungroomed hair and beard. The person’s eyes beaming with happiness and a face that exhumes a wide smile. This person is wearing a light coloured shirt, which is partly unbuttoned exposing a slight portion of the chest area. On a second level of semiotics, the signified to me is Bob Marley, the reggae superstar. He was a great song writer, visionary, and a man who is known throughout the world, for his message of peace, love and hope.  On a third level of semiotics, the signified surpasses the reggae superstar status. I see Bob Marley as a Pan African freedom activist, who although was not extremely educated, gained the attention of billions of people with his cultural and uplifting messages. For many people of colour Bob Marley was a prophet and a messenger, in that most of his lyrics propagates African freedom, unity, anti-oppressionism and gives people of colour a voice on the international forum. In contrast however, some people view him as just a Rastafarian, a drug addict, who opposed the status quo. 

I see a man who had the right face and image for the music. There were many great artists who came before Marley, who were perhaps equally talented or perhaps more experienced and who had paid their dues to the music. Artists such as Jimmy Clive, groups such as Third World , and Toots and the Maytles, and many more could be included in this category of musicians. I sometimes wonder why Bunny Livingstone (Wailer) was not selected as the star; is it because he was not half white like Marley?  As a person who is of African Caribbean heritage and as a musician, to me he is a great singer/songwriter, who I have learned a great deal from. I see two levels: the reggae superstar and Rastafarian everyone is aware of and the visionary leader who was ignored by many.

Maslow’s Hierarchy applied to the Icon

(Image courtesy of,


I can apply Maslowian applications at all levels with respect to my icon. Starting with the first level which is the Physiological Needs (food, clothing, shelter); I have made a living performing my icon’s music at various venues. Therefore, the first level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is applicable in that sense. At the safety level, I find safety in songs like Three Little Birds. “The lyrics, don’t worry about a thing, because every little thing is gonna be alright.”(Marley Music) These words always help me to feel safe, regardless of what situation I’m in. At the belonging level, I can relate to the song “One Love, People Get Ready” with the refrain, “one love, one heart lets get together and feel alright.” These songs allow me to realize the importance of friendship and companionship and have facilitated in the establishment of some enduring relationship with various musicians. I often sit and reflect on the lyrics of his music and appreciate the importance of connections to my cultural heritage. At the esteem level, as a man of colour my icon’s representation of my race on the international platform has instilled a sense of self esteem in me and made me proud of my race. At the highest level of self actualization, I see him as a godlike figure.  Whenever I watch a video of Marley performing on stage, I use his performance as a benchmark of what exemplifies a true and complete performance. He exhumes total control during every tune that he performs. In other words, in becoming a great performer, his performance to me is what I have strive to emulate throughout my music career. It is what I know is the highest level of performance one can achieve.

Marshall McLuhan and the Icon

Marshall McLuhan would have seen Marley as an icon, who had a great impact on mass media and a great influence on people. He would have seen him as a symbol of peace that is being used in popular culture to cultivate consumption of various products and services. McLuhan would have seen his endorsement of products as a great accomplishment in modern media. The medium that is Bob Marley is a message of peace and the message that he spreads would be interpreted based on the individual. Therefore, the message based on the individual is the content, in that if you’re a Rastafarian the content would be that of peace. An individual that is against the beliefs of Rastafarianism would view that content as being radical and the promotion of drug use (marijuana). The music of Marley and his image is an extension of an individual’s beliefs and their voice. Whatever the individual thoughts may be is voiced through Marley’s lyrics and his philosophy.

Consuming the Icon

The name and image of Bob Marley is being used to promote, sell, and influence every aspect of reggae music. Therefore, I believe that Bob Marley is a Brand name. His music, his image and his name is a brand. He was one of the first Caribbean artists to achieve international superstar status and is to me was the Michael Jackson of reggae. In addition, his family dynasty is comparable to the Jacksons . He remains extremely popular and well known all over the world, and more so in Africa . In 1993, Marley was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Time magazine chose Bob Marley & The Wailers’ album “Exodus” as the greatest album of the 20th century. In February 2001, Marley received a star on the Hollywood walk of Fame, and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. In February 2006, a Brooklyn community board voted to rename a portion of Church Avenue after Bob Marley. (  Whenever I visit the reggae section of most large record stores, the most predominant CD on display is that of Bob Marley and it appears that there is always a new release on the records shelves. At any reggae concert that is staged, the show is not authenticized until an artist performs a song of their “prophet.” Though there have been many recent reggae superstars such as Shaggy, Bennie Man, Shabba Ranks, and more recent Sean Paul, one is never mistaken as to who  the artist is when a song like “No Woman No Cry” comes over their radio. Then when you feel depressed, and you hear a song like “don’t worry about a thing cause every little thing is gonna be alright,” you will instantly put the face of Bob Marley to these uplifting words. There are magazines $8 US T-shirts $30 US, coffee mugs $15 US, keyrings $20 US, DVDs $13 US, baseball caps $15 US, posters $ 10 to $60 US. ( Resort ( “Marley Resort and Spa”) and Bob Marley’s A Tribute to Freedom at Universal studios Florida . (  Bob Marley is being branded so extensively that I sometimes imagine what would have happened if he was still alive today and what he would think of it. He was the voice of peace, love and unity as in his song “Africa Unite” advocates. He represented Rastafarianism and reminded people of colour that they were special. Reggae had an ambassador, now it has a brand that sells and a coorporation in the name of Bob Marley. Everyone is reaping from the “fruits of his labour,” starting with myself  I have a dozen of his songs in my repertoire.  The Jamaica Tourist Board is using Marley’s name to attract visitors to their shores, and countless producers are releasing complilation CDs of his music. Any item that is associated with his name is authenticated and therefore, the value of that particular item will increase.

The Icon’s Influential Impact on My Life

 My initial exposure to the music of Bob Marley occurred at an early age, and the song was “Redemption Songs.” Though I was much too young to understand the context of his lyrics, I knew one thing back then and that is, I wanted to play and sing like that man. I started listening to that particular song as many times as I could, until my cassette player had one day decided to chew it up, for even the cassette player had an appetite for my icon’s music. Eventually, I got a full length album with eight tracks which I had never heard before. By then, I had learned the words to Redemption songs still I did not fully understand the meaning to the words of that song. Eventually, a Rastafarian friend of the family would add meaning to the words of the song, which had now become my personal anthem. He would also teach me my first notes, my first chords and then he taught me how to play Redemption Songs. On a conscious level, Marley’s lyrics are influential to my life, in that they represents my extended self, in that the way I perceive social issues and injustice and have tried to write like him. I have a poster of him in my bedroom, DVDs, and a six CD box set of his music and one of his official t-shirts. I am a disciple and a devout fan and one day, I will record a cover of Redemption Songs though my only concern is whether or not I will be able to surpass his original rendition.


To conclude, I believe that Bob Marley was the greatest and most influencial singer/songwriter who has provided me and countless others with great inspiration, and hope as we carry on our daily lives. His is an icon of music, peace and goodwill whose vision of taking the music of the Caribbean to the world and spreading the message of peace in just about every song. In most households around the world is a reggae album/CD that is definately of Bob Marley’s. Marley toured extensively throughout North and South America, Europe, Asia, Africa , South Pacific and he left his legacy for the world to emulate. The man was merely a nomad, who came from a humble beginning and strived for what he believed and dreamed against all odds. Marley’s ability to overcome adversity,his passion towards his music and his songwriting talent makes him a great icon.



1). Marley, Rita with Jones Hettie. No Woman No Cry, My Life with Bob Marley. New York , NY : Hyperion Books, 2004.

2). Taylor, Don and Henry Mike. Marley and Me, the Real Bob Marley Story. Ft, Lee , NJ : Barricade Books Inc. 1995.

3). White, Timothy. Catch a Fire, The Life of Bob Marley. New York , NY : Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1983.


Author Unknown. World Celebration Marks Marley’s 61st b’day. The Caribbean Camera. 13 February, 2006: Pages 12-13.


The story of Bob Marley. Accessed on March 18, 2006.

Wikipedia, The free Encyclopedia. Robert Nesta Marley. March 2006.  Accessed on March 21, 2006