It was a national wake but the mood was somehow upbeat.
Raggae king Bob Marley's body lay in state yesterday in the National Arena in Kingston, his right hand clutching a copy of the King James version of the Bible, his left hand atop the strings of a Fender Stratocaster electric guitar. He wore a denim shirt and his dreadlocks spilled out of a red, gold and green cap. An estimated 150,000 Jamaicans passed by his glass-enclosed coffin in single file during the course of the day.
Outside, Kingston's sweating constabulary conducted a tense shoving match with files of eager mourners, most of whom had waited three hours or more to pass one at a time through a checkpoint at the arena's entrance. Nearby, officers armed with semiautomatic rifles and submachine guns stood and waited. The police reportedly used "chemical agents" to control a small, unruly portion of the crowd at one point, but the day passed without any bloodshed. The only incident noted was by a Kingston tabloid, The Star, which claimed that a photographer from the newspaper The Gleaner was "manhandled" by Marley's wife Rita while attempting to photograph the arrival of the body at the airport. A family spokesman called the incident "a misunderstanding."
Throughout the procession there were smiles instead of tears. "Most of these people," said Wailers keyboardist Tyrone Downie, "have never seen him that close."
Marley's lying in state was the prelude to today's funeral procession by car to his home parrish. After his burial at Nine Miles, the mourners will return to the National Arena where the Wailers (including Rita Marley's vocal trio the I-Threes) are scheduled to perform a brief concert. Marley's mother, Cedella Booker, will also sing.
Last night in the cramped, smokey recording studio known as Tuff Gong, Booker, 54, rehearsed her song -- an original composition called "Hail" -- while friends and fans sang, as they had throughout the day, their favorite Bob Marley tunes. "I thought you were going to do 'Redemption Song' [an acoustic ballad from Marley's latest album, 'Uprising']," Rita Marley said to her mother-in-law. Booker agreed as the Wailers rehearsed their part in the tribute and spliffs of "ganja" [marijuana -- which the Rastafarians use for religious purposes] were passed into the night.
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Edward Seaga called Marley "no ordinary man. . . a son of the ghetto who by hard work, creativity and self-discipline became a superstar. It is comforting to know that Bob Marley, Joseph of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, saw this life as but one stage in evolution of the soul.
"Bob recently wrote a song called 'I Know.' Mrs. Rita Marley has asked me to share with you a verse from this song: 'When the race is hard to run, and you just can't stand the pace, All I know is that Jah will be waiting there, I know.'"
Marley is the posthumous recipient of the Jamaica Order of Merit.
Jamaica's People's National Party -- Seaga's opposition -- called Marley "a champion and an apostle of justice. . . the musical heritage he left us is one of the treasures of this nation and his place in Jamaica's history is well assured of this. May he find the peace he so often invoked for his people."
A spokesman for Island Records (Marley's label) in London said that worldwide sales of Marley's albums exceeded $190 million, or one-tenth of Jamaica's gross national product.
Downie, who was a close friend of Marley's talked about the future of the Wailers without their leader: "Everyone in the group is talented -- we'll evolve into whatever we can. It's so intense right now that our whole future is based on this moment."
There was no summing up the living Marley. The difficulty was not just his creed of Rastafarianism, which boasts some of the most tangled dogma any figure of such worldwide popularity ever sought to espouse. If his public had ever sorted out what this 36-year-old son of a white British Army major and a black woman had wanted, they would have tried to give it to him.
He didn't want idolatry, although he exulted in working his magnetic presence on a crowd of 18,000 in Madison Square Garden. He didn't want money; possessions embarrassed him. Perhaps he wanted most what he said he wanted most -- "for the waters of righteousness to cover the face of the earth."
Marley was neither as exotic nor as understandable as we wanted him to be. When I interviewed him in Nantes, France, last summer, the lengthiest interview he would give in the year before his death, he sounded sometimes bitter and sometimes hopeful. As he had begun to do months before, he brought Downie along.
Downie: It's really funny, 'cause a lot of people think Bob just started singing revolutionary songs. This first single, he's telling about, "Simmer Down," was actually trying to tell the rude boys to simmer down, because there was too much fighting. . . Today for you, tomorrow for me, which is really the '60s, you know. So he's telling the youth, simmer down, don't let the system get you down. It was really talking to the youth, trying to cool them out.
Q: That's one thing about Jamaica -- a song can really sway this country, can't it?
Marley: Well, listen, Mon, I don't really say these things plenty, but most of our songs are prophecy. Songs reveal out, the more you see the truth, the more you have to be yourself.
Q: I see that, but what songs made that work?
Marley: Check a song like "Rude Boy."
Downie: A Rasta who acts a little crazy -- a frustrated youth.
Q: Did you ever act that way, ever carry a knife?
Marley: Me? I carry a knife some but where we come from we very rarely be violent with one another -- we have a higher mentality than that. If a man vexes me, I won't deal with him.If you're fighting, I just don't deal with you. We fight, somebody will have to die. Me couldn't fight a man except me want kill him. Understand. We will never beat up somebody. . .
Downie: I don't want to interrupt the conversation, but you know how the rude boy thing started in Jamaica? You know what happened in the '60s? Heavy influx of Western movies. That's where all the violent evil come from. Cause everyone ride a bike -- which is the horse -- carry a weapon, which is the gun, and wear a cap. Some of them even have scars like cowboys, a lot of people throught they were in the movies, you know? And that's the only thing they have to make them feel as if they were happening, as far as a culture.
Q: There has been so much shooting, dope dealing. Have you ever thought of specifically dealing with those communities?
Marley: The West Indians? Them too hep. Everybody want just a car and get this big sweetheart, ya know. They want to try and live with rich American. They go to England don't change so much Once them go to America, all change. It is a devil place because it divide us.
Q: There's a lot of restrictions on Rasta women. You wouldn't find them in a club -- would you?
Marley: Rasta woman free of their man. She do anything she want. Our conscience is our guide. But she belong to herself.
Q: I never understood, do Rastas think it's a good thing to marry and be faithful to one woman or not?
Marley: I don't think that faithful to a woman exists. That is just talking, it is something that do not exist. . .
Marley: . . . If Bob Dylan was my personal friend, I'd ask him which God him find. If it's a God from 1960 -- during the hippie times, him better be careful, him don't find the real God and his purpose not been really worth it, because the purpose is for the people to find God. God still the ripe palm tree. Haile Selassie's God. That the one to find.
Q: So if you were a personal friend of Dylan you'd be trying to convince him of that?
Marley: Not gonna convince him. It's just a truth. If him want proof, I can prove it.
Q: Through scripture?
Marley: Yeah.It was the musician who supposed to want to know more than the people cause he tend to talk to a lot of people.
Q: If you weren't a musician, would you still feel you had a duty to spread Rastafarianism?
Marley: If I was a musician?Well I couldn't tell you, ya know? Cause I don't know.
Q: Who are some people in Jamaica, well-known or not, whom you look to as spiritual leaders?
Marley: Spiritual leaders? I look to the Twelve Tribes, to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, and Nyabingi -- my spiritual connection.
Q: I mean people in the street, or . . .
Marley: All men God.
Q: Do Rastas have more influence in Jamaica now than five years ago? When Mike Manley was running for election and them came after you, what did you think about all that?
Marley: One thing first of all. I never support Michael Marley. I am a Rasta, not even concerned with politics. Understand?
Q: Those guys who came after you, though. . .?
Marley: Yeah, a lot of people try a lot of things, mon, but woe be unto the last days. See? I'm not afraid of people and what them try.
Q: You lived with your mother in Delaware for a while. What was that like, working in a plant?
Marley: Well, that was a good experience for me. Havin' a touch of what the people are going through.
Downie: He was always a worker, ya know.
Marley: No I was not, mon. I used to learn welding -- cars. Hard work, that.
Q: Was there a union? Do you think unions are a good thing?
Downie: We never had any experience except the musicians' union. We pay our dues. That's all.
Q: What was your father's trade?
Marley: My father? Never have one. Never have a father.