Bob Marley's Legend Let Me Know My Mom Loved Me
When I was in fourth grade my family lived in a small apartment a block from the ocean in Hermosa Beach. At night we kept the windows open and I would often fall asleep to the sound of the ocean crashing softly onshore. One night, however, some music from the living room kept me up, and the next morning my mother showed me the CD case: Bob Marley and The Wailer's Legend. She told me that Marley was a man from Jamaica who wanted everyone to be kinder to each other. From then on she played Legend for me every night while I fell asleep.
Legend is a compilation album released in 1984, three years after Marley's death and six years before my birth. Every one of its 14 songs has become a standard, from "Three Little Birds" to "Redemption Song."
It is probably Marley's best-known work, spending 992 weeks on the Billboard charts, a run only bested by Pink Floyd's Dark Side of The Moon. Legend brilliantly combined the pop and reggae elements of Marley's catalog, introducing him to a wider audience, including my young self.
But, really, the album is built around one core principle: love.
Listening to Legend laying in bed let me know, in a clear and concrete way that also filtered into my dreams, that my mother loved me. That sense of love made me accountable to her. It made me want to do good for her.
I needed that. By middle school I was hanging around kids who used the surf shops on the Hermosa Pier as Bowery-esque flophouses. We got older pier-rats to buy us 40s of malt liquor; we got kicked out the junior lifeguard program; we coughed through our first cigarettes. The pier's soundtrack was Black Flag and the Descendants. The only reggae in the mix was Sublime's cover of "Smoke Two Joints," which everyone thought was by Marley but is actually by The Toyes.
But the sense of responsibility I felt toward my mother kept my youthful shenanigans from snowballing into real trouble. Many of these boyhood cohorts of mine became alcoholics and drug addicts. While visiting Hermosa Beach this summer, one of them bagged my groceries. His face was gaunt and sallow, the cheeks sucked in where teeth should have filled them out. We barely made eye contact.
I'm not suggesting this boy's mother didn't love him -- I'm just saying my accountability toward mine pushed me through high school, the University of California at Santa Barbara, and now to Columbia University in New York where I am completing a master's degree.
Recently, my mother has begun playing Legend again at bedtime. But now it is for my four sisters who have been adopted from China...