Photo and interview
by Stephen Cooper
High up in the Hollywood hills overlooking Babylon, on the cusp of Bob Marley’s 75th earthstrong, I interviewed his son, Julian Marley, the day before the Grammy Awards ceremony, where Julian’s fourth album “As I Am” was nominated for Best Reggae Album. What follows is a transcript of the interview, modified only slightly for clarity and space considerations.
Q: Greetings Julian, it’s an honor to meet you. Thank you for speaking with me on the eve of the Grammy Awards show here in Los Angeles where your fourth album “As I Am” has been nominated for Best Reggae Album. Congratulations on this nomination.
Julian Marley: Thank you very much.
Q: How does receiving this Grammy nomination compare to a little over ten years ago when you received your first Grammy nod for your third album, “Awake,” in 2009? What’s the same about the experience and what’s different about it?
Julian Marley: The thing that is the same about the experience is that we love music. And we keep on playing it, that never changes, you know? Differently, obviously it’s like, for me, it’s growth, you know? Every stage is a stage. You know so the album before this, we learn more on this album now just by the life experience.
Q: Growth in your personal life informs the growth in your music?
Julian Marley: Yes, true. Just growth as we would say, you know?
Q: Now it’s maybe a bit unorthodox, but I’m sure I can’t be the first or only person to feel compelled upon meeting you to tell you how much your father’s music has meant to me in my life – and the influence it has had on me. Even going back to when I was in college over twenty years ago, and got this tattoo of your dad’s image on my arm, it has been important for me to outwardly express the solidarity I feel with your dad’s views—as expressed in his music. [Also] whenever I interview veteran reggae musicians—and I’ve interviewed quite a few at this point—[but] especially when I’ve interviewed legends who actually played and recorded with your dad—like Sly Dunbar, Tony Chin, and most recently, Santa Davis, I have really probed them for their most enduring memories and images of your father—before they are forever lost for all of time. Now to sit here with you, one of Bob’s sons, and even though I know you were only five years old when your dad passed away, and even though I read in Billboard [magazine] that you have just one memory of your dad—seeing him in his dressing room after a 1980 concert at London’s Crystal Palace Bowl, [when] Bob was on his last tour, his Uprising Tour, I feel I would be derelict if I didn’t ask you a bit more [about this]. Especially as the world prepares to celebrate your dad’s 75th earthstrong next month [on February 6] –
Julian Marley: Truly.
Q: [- to try and press you a bit further] about anything you can remember about your dad. Or even about that one time you told Billboard [about], when you remember seeing him. The Billboard interview said you remember seeing your dad backstage wearing a Rasta-colored jacket –
Julian Marley: (Laughing) Yeah, yeah.
Q: – [and] shaking hands with fans and colleagues. Is that accurate, is that one memory the only personal memory that you have of your dad?
Julian Marley: Well it’s accurate, yes. Because I know that’s what I’ve said. But maybe it’s not – they say they were meeting fans, but when I went in there [into] the dressing room – which was a tent, an outside tent, you know? So when I went in there, obviously, I was a little kid, you know. Surrounded by adults. And all of a sudden, there’s that familiar face that we know. And there he was standing up in a red, green, and gold jacket, minutes before a show. So you know, I just remember going up [and] I shook his hand. I don’t remember the words [we exchanged].
Q: Wow that must have been a very electric, energizing experience.
Julian Marley: Yeah.
Q: Before that night in London, when you saw him backstage, had you met [your dad] before?
Julian Marley: Yeah I’d met him it’s just I can’t remember.
Q: How old were you when you first realized just how much of a legend your dad was [and is] around the world?
Julian Marley: Maybe when [I] started to reach ten or eleven. Or even twelve. We start really checking, you know?
Q: When you think about or remember your father, is it that image of him—[from] that one night in London in 1980 (backstage) that immediately comes to mind, that sticks with you most, or are there other images that come to mind when you think of your father?
Julian Marley: No, I would have to say that I don’t really have any images. I just have like a blanket of righteousness right across.
Julian Marley: So I don’t have a direct image, we have a vibration.
Q: Like a cloak that protects you probably?
Julian Marley: (Laughing) Yeah. Well by the almighty. It’s not really an image but it’s more of a – we can feel him. I want to feel his natural spiritual energy in today’s time, you know?
Q: When your father passed away in 1981, did you attend his funeral in Jamaica?
Julian Marley: Yeah.
Q: How did you learn that he had passed away?
Julian Marley: Well I think that even that I was a little bit older before we really understand what’s happening, you know? You know, but you don’t really know.
Q: Too young to really know what’s happening?
Julian Marley: Yeah. So probably when we reach 7, 8, 9, [I] kinda started learning more.
Q: Did the family – when you learned more about it, did you learn that he had passed away of cancer?
Julian Marley: Yeah.