When The Going Gets Tough the Tuff Get Gong
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Sure, that stands to reason. But if you nearly died from a gunshot wound, you’d be entitled to take some time off, y’know, life to get patched up and recover.
Not so Bob Marley, as we learn in exhaustive, exuberant new documentary Marley directed by Kevin Mcdonald and featuring talking heads like Lee “Scratch” Perry, Jimmy Cliff, Ziggy Marley and many more.
We’ll get to the near death experience in a moment but first must point out a few other topics one could devote 600 words to after watching Marley. Rita Marley: Guardian Angel to the Kaya Casanova, Who Invented Reggae? Three Beats then the Heartbeat, Big Tree, Small Axe: How Bob Marley and The Wailers Chopped Down The Music Industry, Stevie Wonders What Bob Looks Like and Bob’s Babies: 11 Wailing Children to 7 Ladies.
But today class, we’re going to hone in on What Bob Did Next: When The Going Gets Tough the Tuff Get Gong.
In 1976, 31 year old lionhearted reggae champion Bob Marley, survived an assassination attempt in Kingston when gunmen came to a recording studio and unloaded a flurry of bullets.
Some context, Bob Marley and The Wailers had agreed to put on a free concert, Smile Jamaica, on December 5th, 1976. Jamaica was having its share of problems at the time, gangs were killing each other and despite the positive, emancipatory power of reggae music, political tensions were taut like a rubber band pulled within a splinter of breaking.
As the Smile Jamaica concert approached, rumours spread there would be violence, people were going to “shoot up the concert’” and Marley himself may be targeted. Naively, Bob aligned himself with Michael Manley’s People’s National Party (PNP), affiliated to Castro and Russia and a direct opponent to the Jamaican Labour Party (JLP), headed by Edward Seaga and backed by nefarious types at the CIA.
You couldn’t blame Bob.
He just wanted to put on a concert that embodied the words he sang: “One love, One heart, Let’s get together and feel all right.” He wanted to cause irie, not ire. But Manley used Marley’s inadvertent endorsement to call an early election.
The rubber band snapped.
Leading up to the concert, Marley and his band rehearsed every night at 56 Hope Road, Trench Town, a sanctuary where nobody was anybody’s enemy and everybody just played soccer and made music.
Each evening, two secret service agents had been guarding the place, ensuring it was safe haven. But on December 3, just two days before the show, the guards didn’t turn up. So much ganga was being smoked it’s unlikely anyone noticed.
Late in the evening, three intruders (and one outside) burst into the kitchen, firing rounds that hit Marley, his street-smart manager Don Taylor and Marley’s wife and guardian angel Rita.
Blood flowed “like ketchup,” according to Rita. She felt claret trickling down her chin. One gunman shouted to another ``Everybody dead?’’ “Ja mun, everybody dead.’’ It wasn’t a professional hit, but as The Wailers Artistic Director Neville Garrick says gruffly, it was “As professional as (a hit gets in) Jamaica.”
Amazingly, nobody actually died. They were rushed off to hospital as the news filtered through Trench Town and beyond that Jamaica’s hero, a man who was becoming more powerful than the government, was lucky to be alive.
The Smile Jamaica concert was in doubt though and two days later crowds were still waiting, hot, bothered and a little disillusioned five hours after Bob Marley and The Wailers were due on stage.
As night fell, the red, green and black flags did too. People were starting to accept that Marley was recovering from the brazen attack and he wouldn’t be able to make the show.
But the man dubbed Tuff Gong lived up to his name.
Flanked by friends and family, he arrived on stage looking pale and saturated in emotion, not so much fighting back tears as welcoming their cleansing properties.
80,000 people roared.
Marley showed the crowd where the bullet had entered his body and where the lead would stay, inside his left arm for the rest of his life. He looked like he could topple at any moment but refused to let “the evil spirits” win.
He swung his Rastafari dreadlocks around, gathered himself, sung out “Cast away that evil spirit YO!” just as his band struck up and played a scorching, defiant set that included No More Trouble, Get Up Stand Up and Rebel Music.
By proving whatever didn’t kill him made him stronger, Marley showed Jamaicans their strength was limitless. As Rita remarked “He not afraid.”
Marley (Roadshow) now showing at Cinema Nova, Carlton, Dendy Newtown, Palace Chauvel, Luna, Leederville, Fremantle Luna on S.X and Hobart State.
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