The Power of Crackpot #2: "Redemption Song"

Who doesn't love Bob Marley's "Redemption Song"? I would even guess that as the years go by, and the dust settles around his catalog, this might be his most loved and covered song, ahead of "No Woman No Cry," "Get Up, Stand Up," "I Shot the Sheriff," "Waiting in Vain," and classics of that stature. It was one of the last songs the too-soon-gone Joe Strummer recorded.

This solo acoustic version reveals the power and glory of the man and the song. Look at the expressions on the band's faces. What is spirituality in music? I would say this. But like all of his body of work, the song includes Rastafarian religious references that are crackpot. Think of "Get Up." "We know when we understand: Almighty god is a living man." This isn't a metaphor. For Rastas this means Haile Selassie, once the Emperor of Ethiopia. But the way it's phrased it could sound humanistic.

Let's look at the second verse from "Redemption Song," which illustrates the dichotomy in Marley's music.
Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery;
None but ourselves can free our minds.
Have no fear for atomic energy,
'Cause none of them can stop the time.
How long shall they kill our prophets,
While we stand aside and look,

Some say it's just a part of it:
We've got to fulfill the book.
The first half of each rhyming couplet contains sentiments the non-religious can get behind: Freeing our minds. Absolutely. Watch our prophets get killed. That could be JFK or MLK couldn't it? But the second half of each traffics in pure End Times claptrap. What happens is that the humanistic aspects enable us good secular progressives to cozy up to the doctrinaire theology. And many of us find that, having cozied up, it feels pretty good to be in close proximity to absolute faith and assurance, especially given secularism's embrace of qualities such as skepticism. I agree that skepticism is an essential virtue, but as a rallying cry, it's kind of, meh.

And, of course, it doesn't hurt that these religious nut jobs rock awesome dreadlocks, treat ganja as a sacrament, and talk with that wicked hip Jamaican patois that makes all their ideas sound really good, both when they are and when they aren't. Plus, when Bob sings "One love, one heart / let's get together and feel alright" we know we're in the orbit of hippies, not of Pat Robertson and his hard-hearted haters.

Read the Power of Crackpot #1: "Back on the Chain Gang."


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