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The Natural Mystics: Marley, Tosh, and Wailer Hardcover – June 20, 2011
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“As Grant plots out [The Wailers’] biographical arcs, he skillfully conveys how tightly bonded the three were---not just as a creative team but as a band of brothers….By the time we get to the part where the trio dissolves in 1974, we feel the pain of their divorce because we’ve learned so much about their decade-long struggle to make it”
“A wide-ranging look at the cultural, political and religious forces that inspired the pioneering reggae group.... A lively, informed study of the Wailers, though not a straightforward introduction to them.”
- Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
The author of Negro with a Hat, a biography of Marcus Garvey, Colin Grant is an independent historian who works for BBC Radio. The son of Jamaican immigrants, he lives in London.
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This relatively short book covers the life and times of these three, with particular emphasis on their early years. Both Marley and Tosh died relatively young, and Wailer has become a bit of a recluse, so the book covers mainly the 1960s and early 1970s.
Colin Grant is the son of Jamaican immigrants to Great Britain and a perfectly acceptable writer. The book reads like an extended magazine article, and Grant has a good sense of pacing. Returning to the land of his ancestors, he traces the parallel history of the Wailers and of Jamaican culture. Reading the book helps place many aspects of reggae music in historical and cultural context. I was disappointed however at the general lack of interest in the music--which is, after all, why many of us are interested in the Wailers. Grant seems more interested in them as crucial figures in Jamacian history, which is legitimate; however, I would not be bothering with the book if it was not for the music.
He does do an excellent job of placing the Wailers in the context of their time and creating sharp interesting portraits of crucial moments in their lifes. I valued the book for this. A fervant reggae nut case (hmmmm...we do exist you know, we are like the trainspotters of popular music) will be disappointed in the book for the lack of any in depth discussion of the music and even more disappointing, no attempt at a discography.
It is a fine book for all my caveats and a general reader with no particular interest in reggae or Jamaica would find this a diverting and entertaining read--and a reggae nut will learn a lot before he throws the book against the wall ranting about some obscure single that goes unmentioned.
I did feel that the author stretched a bit to make his points, molding the facts for effect. The most jarring of the discontinuities came when the book suggests that the lines from "Burning And Looting" ("This morning, I woke up in a curfew...") were inspired by a 1976 political crackdown. Not likely, when the song was available on the "Burnin'" album released in the US in 1973. Makes you wonder about other points in the book.
There is not much analysis of the music, or the music that came before.
Nevertheless, a microscope into the life that reggae grew out of.
Cons: I would be willing to bet that no more than 20% of the text is actually devoted to the Wailers in any form, and of that less than 5% is actually devoted to the music. So if you're looking for any insight into the music at all you'll want to find another book. Let me know if you do.