With a face that overlaid maps of Africa and Europe, dreadlocked glamour, and blunt yet ravishing accounts of the sufferer’s plight, Bob Marley transcended cultural divides, and his death at 36 ensured he would become the stuff of myth. Thirty-five years later, his music sells more than it did in his lifetime, and the glut of Marley bios rivals even the number of his human progeny.
You would think it’s all been said already, but fantasy and reality are often impossible to untangle in the lives of legends, and that’s where The Book of Exodus has the advantage. Unlike other journalists’ Bob bios, Vivien Goldman’s vivid account rings with the credibility of an actual witness. Other authors were also there, but Goldman—who was briefly Marley’s PR person and one of the first music scribes to introduce him to the world—was on the tour bus, in the studio, and even a guest in his home. She writes from the ideal perch of an outsider with an insider’s backstage pass, taking it all in and writing it down—always aware that history was being made.
The first third zips through Marley’s early years, gives a course in Rastafari 101, and untangles the web of politricks, drugs, and music industry connections that still ensnares Jamaica’s talent today. It’s familiar but necessary backstory to Goldman’s real focus—Marley’s own 14-month exile/exodus after the 1976 attempt on his life at his Kingston home. She follows him to London, where he records Exodus (decreed “Album of the Century” by Time magazine in 1999), then returns with him to Jamaica for the fabled 1978 Peace Concert.
Along the way, Goldman expands her Exodus theme to signify anyone’s journey toward greater awareness by drawing on such disparate material as the Bible, classical composer Schuman’s struggles, her family’s Holocaust survival, and the life of any “sufferer . . . who hears Exodus [and] knows it as his or her own.” By book’s end, Marley’s story takes on universal thrust, and it’s become clear why, for many, his words scan not as lyrics but prophecy.