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Bob Marley's Journey of Love:

From Doubt to Devotion

By Geoffrey Philp Published 2 months ago 7 min read
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Something strange happened to me a few weeks ago while I was driving on the Florida Turnpike and listening to my Bob Marley playlist. Three songs – "Concrete Jungle," "Is This Love," and "Jamming" – played back-to-back revealed Marley's evolving contemplation of love. While not strictly following the chronological order of the release of his albums, this journey showcases Marley's deepening insight into the nature of love.

Nowhere does this paradoxical dynamic shine brighter than in the anguished erotic imagery of "Concrete Jungle," capturing the singer's all-too-human longings for connection. Here, Marley gives musical form to an eternal truth - that tension between flesh and spirit irreversibly marks the human condition, even for peace-spreading prophets.

Released in 1973, “Concrete Jungle," featured on the album Catch a Fire, serves as a poignant exploration of existential despair and yearning within the context of urban life. The song's lyrics delve into the harsh realities of inner-city existence, painting a vivid picture of a desolate and unforgiving environment.

No sun will shine in my day today

(No sun will shine)

The high yellow moon won't come out to play

(That high yellow moon won't come out to play)

I said darkness has covered my light (Darkness has covered my light)

And has changed my day into night, yeah (And has changed my day into night)

Where is the love to be found?

The narrator's longing and despair are encapsulated in lines like "Where is this love to be found?" and the statement, "I've never known happiness, And I've never known sweet caresses." These words reflect the narrator's relentless quest for meaning, connection, and tenderness amid the backdrop of the "concrete jungle." The urban landscape becomes a metaphor for the isolation and confinement felt by the narrator. “Concrete Jungle” captures the speaker's search for love, meaning, and connection in a world that often appears devoid of meaning.

However, this would change. Coming on the heels of Rastaman Vibration, the Kaya album in 1978 marked a pivotal moment as Bob stepped away from some of the more militant themes in Natty Dread’s “Talking Blues”: “Cause I feel like bombing a church/ now that you know that the preacher is lying.”

In "Is This Love," Bob explores the tender, almost innocent aspect of discovering new love. The song, characterized by its simplicity and directness, captures the essence of a man who, despite his tough exterior and experience with life's struggles, finds himself enamored and somewhat surprised by the depth of his feelings.

Is this love? Is this love? Is this love?

Is this love that I'm feeling?

Is this love? Is this love? Is this love?

Is this love that I'm feeling?

I wanna know, wanna know, wanna know now.

The repetitive question, "Is this love? Is this love that I'm feeling?" reflects a sense of awe and wonder. It suggests that despite his worldly experiences and role as a figure advocating for social and political change, Marley can still be moved and perhaps even caught off-guard and surprised by the power of romantic love. This questioning also implies a sense of vulnerability, a side of Marley that might not have been as visible in his more politically charged songs.

Oh, yes, I know, yes, I know, yes, I know now

Oh, yes, I know, yes, I know, yes, I know now

Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah, I'm willing and able

So I throw my cards on your table, see

I wanna love you

I wanna love and treat, yeah

Love and treat you right.

The simple yet profound lyrics depict Marley enraptured by romance, asking with wonder, "Is this love that I'm feeling?" Gone is the confrontational fighter who in “Revolution,” proclaimed, “It takes a revolution/ to create a solution.” Here emerges a softer man willing to be moved by affection. The unapologetic expression of love culminates in the promise to "share the shelter of my single bed," vividly encapsulating the delights of intimacy.

I wanna love you

Every day and every night

We'll be together

With the roof right over our heads

We'll share the shelter

Of my single bed

We'll share the same room, yeah

Jah provide the bread

We'll share the shelter

Of my single bed.

In this sanctuary of melody and harmony, rebellion and abandon coexist with righteousness and romance.

The ninth studio album released by Bob Marley & The Wailers, Exodus, celebrates the joy and communal spirit of music-making or 'jamming.' Released in 1977 following an assassination attempt on Marley's life, in which his chest was grazed and his arm struck, the album features the seminal track "Jamming."

No bullet can stop us now

We neither beg nor will bow

Neither can be bought nor sold

We all defend the right

Jah Jah children must unite

For life is worth much more than gold.

“Jamming” serves as a testament to the transformative power of music and the unity it can bring, and uses the technique of double entendre, which Bob perfected in “Stir it up,” to combine the togetherness of erotic love and musical collaboration.

We're jamming

To think that jamming was a thing of the past

We're jamming

And I hope this jam is gonna last.

While celebrating the communal joy of improvisational music-making, the song also subtly affirms the ecstasy of sensual connection, weaving together the earthly and the divine. However, the lyrics carry a deeper, more intimate message beneath the surface.

Jah knows how much I've tried

The truth I cannot hide

To keep you satisfied

True love I know exists

Is the love I can't resist

So jam by my side

Lines like "True love I know exists, is the love I can't resist, so jam by my side" extend beyond the celebration of music itself; and symbolize an irresistible and profound connection with another person. "Jamming" is a song that affirms love that unites the physical and the spiritual into a non-dualistic universe. In this context, “Jamming” becomes a metaphor for being in perfect harmony with a loved one musically and romantically.

Moreover, the repeated emphasis on 'jamming' throughout the track, as in "We're jamming, I want to jam it with you," reinforces the idea of a shared and joyous experience analogous to a harmonious and fulfilling romantic relationship existing within a divine connection.

We're jamming, jamming, jamming, jamming

And we're jamming in the name of the Lord

We're jamming, jamming, jamming, jamming

We're jamming right straight from yard

Singing Holy Mount Zion, Holy Mount Zion

Jah sitteth in Mount Zion and rules all creation.

"Jamming" by Bob Marley encapsulates the fusion of the earthly and the divine, proclaiming that earthly delights, such as sensual and romantic connections, hold a sacred place in the human experience. It crafts a gospel of freedom where erotic and collective liberation shines as guiding stars toward redemption, all within the medium of music and earthly love.

Through tracing Bob Marley's complex expressions of divine and earthly love across his rich catalog, a profound duality emerges in the man and his music. Songs like "One Love" cement his status as a peace-spreading prophet, uplifted by selfless spiritual devotion. At the same time, the sensual despair of "Concrete Jungle" roots him firmly in the all-too-human desire for fleshly connection. For Marley, the artist, navigating this charged continuum between agape and eros drives his continuous evolution as he voices oppression, unity, hopelessness, and redemption. Yet through it all, his lyrics reveal intricate layers of common ground between seemingly opposing forces – the heavenly and the sensual, the transcendent and the broken. Just as shadows depend on light, Marley suggests that the capacity for agape love depends on acknowledging the beauty and brokenness of human intimacy. His music ultimately channels the underlying truth that spirit and flesh reflect, complement, and fulfill one another in their highest forms. So in Marley the man, tension gives way to integration, wrestlings of body and soul coalescing into blessings for all people. As "One Love" promises to transmute divisiveness into solidarity, the prophet makes peace with himself by embracing all of who he is.

By embracing love’s complex expressions, Marley channels the truth that spirit and flesh reflect, complement, and fulfill one another. His wrestlings of body and soul merge into blessings as he sanctifies carnality with vulnerability and joy. Marley finds integrity by acknowledging love’s light and shadows (“Pimper’s Paradise’), the beauty of sensual intimacy, and its potential to isolate and confine. His example suggests spiritual maturity flowers by honestly exploring the spectrum of love.

Sources

Marley, Bob, and The Wailers. Catch a Fire. Island Records, 1973. CD..

—. Natty Dread. Island Records, 1974. CD.

—. Exodus. Island Records, 1977. CD.

—. Kaya. Island Records, 1978. CD.

love poems
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About the Creator

Geoffrey Philp

I am a Jamaican writer. I write poems (haiku & haibun), stories & essays about climate change, Marcus Garvey, music icons such as Bob Marley, and the craft of writing through personal reflection & societal engagement.

Reader insights

Nice work

Very well written. Keep up the good work!

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Comments (3)

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  • Kendall Defoe 2 months ago

    This intrigues me. I know his songs so well, but I have rarely thought about the evolution of his thoughts. Thank you, sir!

  • Anna 2 months ago

    Omg this was beautiful and very enjoyable to read😍

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