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When Ken Met the Legend
Bob Marley: One Love is the No. 1 movie in America and around the world for the second consecutive week. Fans should know, it’s not the life story of the superstar singer who rose from the squalor of Trenchtown in Jamaica to bring reggae music to international popularity. Rather it’s a disappointingly brief look at Marley’s career, already in full music bloom, from an assassination attempt on his life in 1976, through a European tour, to his triumphant return to Jamaica and performance at the One Love Peace Concert in Jamaica in 1978.
I love Bob Marley and I couldn’t wait for this movie. But I left the theater wishing for more. I had read the excellent Marley autobiography Catch a Fire so I expected a full story of this controversial, complicated, and inspiring figure. That wasn’t to be. The first red flag: Bob Marley: One Love is produced by his son Ziggy Marley. While the film touches on some difficult, unheroic moments in his father’s life, Ziggy Marley’s film still is a tribute to dad, an early Father’s Day card. Unless a celebrity biopic is produced by the subject’s son, whose name is Oedipus, this is what you’re going to get.
The film is reduced to a jukebox musical, and that’s okay because the buttons produce amazing Marley hits like "I Shot the Sheriff," "One Love," "No Woman, No Cry," "Get Up, Stand Up," and a touching solo acoustic rendition of "Redemption Song" to his children. Marley had 11 children, some of them with his wife Rita, played by Lashana Lynch.
Actor Kingsley Ben-Adir makes a solid effort to capture the intensity and charisma of Marley, but still doesn’t compare to the real deal you can see on a current Netflix documentary called Marley or by jumping on YouTube. The most captivating moments of Bob Marley: One Love come at the end when the film shows actual footage of the reggae giant dancing across the stage like a supernatural wizard.
Even better, just buy the records. His greatest hits album, Legend: the Best of Bob Marley and the Wailers, has been No. 1 on Billboard’s reggae chart for 214 consecutive weeks. Gather some friends, press play, and “let’s get together and feel alright.”
Ken Meets Marley
That’s the movie. Now let me tell you about the day I met Bob Marley. I had just started my rookie new job writing for a real newspaper in South Florida. I was covering library board meetings, parks and rec meetings, etc. I was intimidated and worried that I wouldn’t make it. I didn’t know anybody.
One day, I brought my tennis racket to a public park and waited around hoping to find someone to hit with. That’s when I met Larry Tarnofsky, who promoted concerts throughout the south. Tarnofsky was a character, a tough business guy from New York casting. He could perform in a stage production of The Producers with no makeup, no rehearsal. We played a fun tennis match. It was the first and only time I saw someone light up a cigarette between sets. Tarnofsky mostly produced shows starring Sammy Davis Jr., Vic Damone, Dean Martin, big bands, etc. at mid-sized venues.
I told him that I worked for a newspaper. He asked me, “Ever hear of Bob Marley?” “I love Bob Marley.” Tarnofsky said he was promoting Bob Marley and the Wailers that weekend. He could use some help moving tickets. If he could arrange an interview with Marley, would I do it? "Absolutely.”
Of course since then I’ve interviewed hundreds of celebrities, on the phone, online, and in person. But the day I met Bob Marley still is the strangest, oddest, scariest, most-fun-to-tell interview of my life. Tarnofsky gave Marley’s people my address. They would pick me up, bring me to meet the reggae superstar, and take me back home.
I did my research, had my questions ready, and waited out front of my apartment building. A Volkswagen van pulled up and two extremely large men with dreadlocks pulled open the side door and helped me in. One of them took out a bandana from his pocket and blindfolded me. “You understand we don’t want people to know where Bob is these days, okay?” Sure. Not normal but okay. I was sworn to secrecy.
For the next 30 minutes — it seemed longer — I sat in a bumpy van listening to Bob Marley’s security people talk in a Jamaican patois that I could barely pick out a word or two. I would have felt like a kidnap victim, except I was excited that I would be meeting one of my favorite entertainers whom I respected and loved for many reasons. Marley was more than a singer. He was a social icon for change.
When the van stopped, I was helped out and took off my blindfold. I was in a long dirt driveway outside a big, beaten house with a gate behind us. I saw several military-style Jeeps and about a dozen men in dreads wearing Army jackets and smoking grass. The driveway smelled like someone lit off a marijuana smoke bomb. Which one of these things is unlike the others? Answer: me.
Bob Marley was sitting on the hood of a Jeep, smoking a joint. I was introduced to him and we shook hands. He jumped off the Jeep. His bio says he was 5-foot-6 and 3/4 inches and 140 pounds. He seemed smaller. I thought, I can dunk on this guy.
I took out the piece of paper with my questions. When Marley did interviews with American or European journalists, he typically slowed down his speech or spoke more clearly. He didn’t with me. He was speaking English, in a Jamaican patois, and I didn’t understand most of what he was saying. He was friendly and laughing.
I asked him about the significance of his dreadlocks, which were very long at this stage. He reached toward me and tugged on my hair. It was a moment for sure. Someone took a photo of him touching my hair, but I’ve lost it over the years. I was ushered back into the van. His security person blindfolded me and we drove back to my apartment house. That was the day I met and talked with the great Bob Marley — although I don’t know where or what he said.