A rich new oral biography called So Much Things to Say, by the reggae scholar Roger Steffens, narrates the life of Marley from cradle to grave through interviews Steffens has collected over the years from Marley, his mother, his wife, his last girlfriend, several of his children, his musical partners Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh, and many more. Steffens has been on the Marley case for decades, and he’s a crucial voice in this epic chorus ... The book digresses at times into trivia for the superfans — we learn that Marley’s favorite meal was Irish moss, a form of seaweed — but there’s a lot that’s illuminating.
There is an immediacy to related experience that casts rumor and exaggeration into distorted shadows. How many words have been written about 'No Woman, No Cry,' and how pale do those stories look when the actual circumstances of its composition are related? The outlines of Marley’s well-known life history are present in this book. But here, like in a historical novel, we discover new details. Marley is not a demigod here, but an unwanted boy who fell upon the gift of brightening the world ... So Much Things to Say reveals a Marley of flesh and blood who passed too young in a world that was never too old to learn. 'In the abundance of water, the fool is thirsty,' the singer said, and there is water aplenty here. Drink and be satisfied.
What emerges isn’t a different Marley so much as one who feels a bit more human, given to moments of diffidence and whim, whose every decision doesn’t feel freighted with potentially world-historical significance ... Steffens generally resists hagiography ... In contrast to other popular Marley books, in which every detail merely anticipates the singer’s eventual breakthrough, Steffens’s contribution is his nerdish monomania...Steffens is largely here to direct traffic. But his authority derives from exhausting every possibility.
Marley's gravitas and quest for dignity is a refrain we hear throughout this fascinating history. There is no shortage of biographies about him ... The book doesn't contain many quotes from Marley, yet his friends, lovers and fellow musicians paint a clear portrait of a shy, lonely man ... So Much Things To Say reaffirms Marley's standing as a determined activist for peace, justice and racial equality.
Roger Steffens, an LA reggae historian and archivist, offers a more grounded approach in this sprawling but absorbing 'oral history', drawing on interviews with 75 assorted relatives, band members, fellow travellers and lovers; a lifetime’s research ... Many of Steffens’s interviewees mention Marley’s generosity, along with his shyness and perfectionist attitude to music making. He was not one for the high life; his preoccupations were music, football, the Bible and beautiful women ... Marley’s passing in May 1981 coincided with a shift in Jamaica’s cultural and political firmament ... So Much Things to Say (the title of a Marley song) is a fitting tribute to the tumultuous life and complex character of the country’s favourite son.
In So Much Things to Say, a title taken from the anthemic Marley song, linking Jesus Christ to Marcus Garvey, Steffens identifies many more pieces of the man than have ever before been put together in one book … Steffens marshals his sources with skill, and we’re left with a complex representation. At the core of the book is the inimitable Wailers trio – Tosh, Marley and Bunny Livingston … Occasionally, Steffens ventures a critical assessment, employing words such as ‘disingenuous’ when introducing a fanciful tale; but he rarely adjudicates on the accounts presented. If Marley is at the celestial centre of reggae, then Livingston is the brightest satellite. He emerges as a rancorous, mystical and magisterial guardian of Marley’s reputation, as keen as ever to convey the spirit and greatness of his fallen brother. In that task he is aligned with Steffens, the consummate fan.
...presents a well-rounded portrait of the music legend, allowing for multiple, sometimes-conflicting, points of view ... There is a fullness to the collective weight of all these observations that is well-suited to the oral history format. What emerges is a not a clear picture of Marley the man but rather a true sense of how complicated his life was. His legend and impact, his work ethic, his abilities as a musician and leader—these are beyond question—but there are a lot of contrasting voices ... Steffens inserts himself as a voice like any of the others, offering structure and sometimes serving as a referee. If someone has told what has proven to be a lie, the author steps in and clarifies. But mostly, he lets his subjects speak for themselves. The author’s approach allows him to tell more of the story, and even without presenting Marley’s voice directly, this is an illuminating portrait of an extraordinary life.