Meticulously researched, and opening with the author meeting his subject in 1980, Chris Salewicz’s biography ‘Bob Marley: The Untold Story’ is about as exhaustive an account of the enigmatic singer’s life as you could hope to have. It’s a puzzling title, as the details of Marley’s life - from his poor upbringing, Rastafarian beliefs to his career with The Wailers – have been already been told, retold, repeated and documented a hundred times over. Although the story may be well known, the sheer volume of detail Salewicz manages to infuse to the narrative will both reward reggae purists and frustrate the casual reader in equal measures.
Born Robert Nesta Marley, Bob Marley was always a musical child. Leaving school at the age of 14, Marley began to combine music with what was his other great passion in life, Rastafarian ideology. These early chapters, in which Salewicz gives an in-depth analysis of the origins of both Rastas and Bob Marley - and their interlinking paths, make for fascinating reading and jump off the page.
From these promising beginnings, however, this biography quickly gets bogged down in the details, some of them so trivial the anoraks out there will be struggling to stay awake - what he had for breakfast, how many times he cut a particular song, to who played on it or happened to be walking past the studio at that time.
Marley’s life and career was fascinating on many levels – musically he almost single-handedly founded a genre and managed to bring it to worldwide acclaim as the first authentic 'Third World rockstar', while in his personal life he was attacked and harassed by police, shot by persons unknown, caught in the eye of the political hurricane that was Jamaica in the late 1970s, and managed to find the time to father dozens of children. It is a strange tribute to the author's dogged insistence on recounting, in minute detail every trivial tit-bit of information along the way that a biography of one of the most interesting lives of the 20th century reads, at times, like a record collector’s almanac.
That’s not to say the book is a complete loss, as anyone who devours information, or is already a devotee of the Tuff Gong, is sure to find ample sustenance in the facts, and to a first-time reader it is as comprehensive and thorough an introduction as you're likely to find. It is just a pity that the author couldn't see past some of the more minor details to deliver the enrapturing account the subject surely deserved.