The Natural Mystics: Marley, Tosh, and Wailer

The Natural Mystics: Marley, Tosh, and Wailer

by Colin Grant
     
 

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The definitive group biography of the Wailers—Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and Bunny Livingston—chronicling their rise to fame and power.
Over one dramatic decade, a trio of Trenchtown R&B crooners swapped their 1960s Brylcreem hairdos and two-tone suits for 1970s battle fatigues and dreadlocks to become the Wailers—one of the most influential groups

Overview

The definitive group biography of the Wailers—Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and Bunny Livingston—chronicling their rise to fame and power.
Over one dramatic decade, a trio of Trenchtown R&B crooners swapped their 1960s Brylcreem hairdos and two-tone suits for 1970s battle fatigues and dreadlocks to become the Wailers—one of the most influential groups in popular music. Colin Grant presents a lively history of this remarkable band from their upbringing in the brutal slums of Kingston to their first recordings and then international superstardom. With energetic prose and stunning, original research, Grant argues that these reggae stars offered three models for black men in the second half of the twentieth century: accommodate and succeed (Marley), fight and die (Tosh), or retreat and live (Livingston). Grant meets with Rastafarian elders, Obeah men (witch doctors), and other folk authorities as he attempts to unravel the mysteries of Jamaica's famously impenetrable culture. Much more than a top-flight music biography, The Natural Mystics offers a sophisticated understanding of Jamaican politics, heritage, race, and religion—a portrait of a seminal group during a period of exuberant cultural evolution.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this well-researched biography, Grant takes a fascinating journey through Jamaican history with a focus on the lives of the three young men who would become the reggae sensation, The Wailers. The story begins with the Frome Rebellion of 1938 and ends with the death of Bob Marley to cancer in 1981 and the murder of Peter Tosh just a few years later. Historic moments in Jamaican history are recounted vividly, including the burial of Marcus Garvey, the focus of Grant's first book (Negro with a Hat) and the man who helped inspire Marley's "Redemption Song," as well as the 1966 visit of Ethiopia's Haile Selassie I. Grant assembles a wide cast of interesting characters, including Mortimo Planno, credited with " the seed of Rastafari in the souls of young men and women," and record producer Chris Blackwell of Island Records. Grant completely captures the personalities of his three main players, both within the group and later as they moved into solo projects. In addition to the many sources consulted, Grant also traveled to Kingston and interviewed important figures like Professor Frederick Hickling and producer Lee "Scratch" Perry. The epilogue features a brief and nearly impossible to procure interview with the only surviving band member, Bunny Wailer. (June)
BookForum
“As Grant plots out [The Wailers’] biographical arcs, he skillfully conveys how tightly bonded the three were—-not just as a creative team but as a band of brothers….By the time we get to the part where the trio dissolves in 1974, we feel the pain of their divorce because we’ve learned so much about their decade-long struggle to make it”
Library Journal
Unlike the myriad superficial Bob Marley biographies available, this book offers an absorbing, in-depth look at the early years of the lives of Marley and his two famous partners in the original Wailers, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer. Grant, an independent historian and son of Jamaican immigrants to England, presents a knowledgeable account of Jamaican society and the forces that shaped the lives and nascent careers of reggae stars. Grant has a wonderful way with words, and his descriptions come to life: "Journalists were seduced by the Wailers' cool, and failed to disguise their thrill in being so close to it....it was a cool of another order. One that came naturally, an enigmatic, black, Miles Davis kind of cool—chilled but dangerous." He traces the lives of Marley and Tosh up to their untimely deaths, and he tracked down Bunny Wailer for a brief interview. VERDICT This book will appeal to people who love golden-age reggae and want to understand it better. Grant ties it all together—society, personalities, Rastafarianism, politics, and race. Recommended.—Bill Walker, Stockton-San Joaquin Cty. P.L., Stockton, CA
Kirkus Reviews

Awide-ranging look at the cultural, political and religious forces that inspired the pioneering reggae group.

This history of the Wailers, among the first acts to bring reggae to a worldwide audience in the 1970s, doesn't function like most music biographies. Grant (Negro With a Hat: The Rise and Fall of Marcus Garvey, 2008) resists assembling detailed family trees for the band's prime movers, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer. Nor does he obsess over discography or even dwell much on the musical shifts the trio made as it evolved from playful, syncopated ska to emotionally intense Rastafarian reggae. Instead of writing from a critical remove, Grant freely injects the story with first-person asides about his experiences with interviewees. All these tactics are assets, because they help the author avoid stock band-history patter and instead drill into the broader cultural life of 20th-century Jamaica. Looking at Trench Town, the slum from which the trio emerged, Grant explores British colonialism, violence, race relations and sexual mores that defined life on the island. He offers a pocket history of Ethiopian leader Haile Selassie (aka Ras Tafari) and his messianic following, and those passages go a long way toward de-glorifying the mythology of marijuana and Rastafarianism that wafts around the Wailers. The book never feels digressive or off-point, though the three musicians occasionally seem to get lost in the shuffle. Some of the interviews—as with Island Records chief Chris Blackwell, who popularized theWailers' musicin the United States—feel perfunctory. (Grant seems more engaged with a West Indies scholar who specializes in Jamaican slave life.) Still, the book clarifies the band's impact in its home country, which collectively mourned when Marley succumbed to cancer in 1981 and Tosh was murdered in 1987.

A lively, informed study of the Wailers,though not a straightforward introduction to them.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393081176
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
06/20/2011
Edition description:
New Edition
Pages:
305
Sales rank:
867,907
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.50(h) x 1.20(d)

Meet the Author

The author of Negro with a Hat, a biography of Marcus Garvey, Colin Grant is an independent historian who works for BBC Radio. The son of Jamaican immigrants, he lives in London.

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