I was an early teen, fooling around in the basement with my mother’s old Technic, belt drive turntable. The dusty player had been sitting in a corner for as long as I could remember, and I had never seen anyone ever use it, mainly because by the time I was able to comprehend, technology had already moved to double tape decks, red, yellow, and green EQ lights jumping with every pound of the bass drum.
The speakers, the receiver, the double deck, were all stacked like some kind of audio totem pole, with the turntable at the head.
I asked my mother if it worked.
“Boy, that thing ain’t worked since before you were born. And aint no need to fix it up these days. I mean, it cuts on, but the damn thing don’t spin,” she said in her usual sweet, but snappy way. “We got all the records and whatnot in the garage. Feel free to look through them.”
So I did. Isley Brothers. Barry White. Al Green. Prince. Nina Simone.
Toward the back of the row of records stuffed into a cardboard box, was a white and black record cover. I wiggled it out. KAYA, by Bob Marley.
Now, of course I knew who Bob Marley was. My father played him all the time in the house, when he was cutting my hair, or even in the car, when he was taking me to school. But I didn’t know him for myself.
So I turned all the switches and knobs on. The receiver, the decks, the turntables. The soft yellow glow, came from behind the knobs. The buzzing of the speakers excited me. I put the record on the turntable. It crackled a bit. I fiddled with it a little. Mom was right, it didn’t spin.
So I dropped the needle on a random groove, and started to spin the record myself, with my hand. And in a slow distorted voice, I heard “Is This Love.”
We’ll share the same room, ’cause Jah provides the bread. Is this love, is this love, is this love, is this love that I’m feeling?
Bob Marley, like Fela Kuti and a few others, are musicians you kind of have to discover, or allow them to discover you, in time. You can be put on, but it’s nothing like listening this kind of music when you are ready to take it in. When you are ready to stop listening to it, and start experiencing it. And that day in the basement, with his voice sluggish and low, I was caught up in some sort of musical rapture. One that I would, thankfully, never return from.
Happy Birthday Robert Nesta Marley