Bob Marley & The Wailers – “Uprising” (1980 / 1983)

Reggae is one of those all-purpose genres to me. Having some people over and want to have a good time? Put on some reggae. Want to sit around and chill and zone out? Put on some reggae. Reggae music is like the bird in the recurring Portlandia skit. No matter what the question is, the answer is “put a bird on it”. It goes with everything.

After a record-breaking rainy winter, the Seattle area is about to break another weather related record, this time the most consecutive days without any measurable precipitation – something like 51 straight days. I think well break the record next week. Plus it’s been been super hot by our standards, and most folks (including us) here don’t have air conditioning. So the other night when it got up to 84 degrees… inside our freaking house… Holly requested some reggae because it seemed to fit our sweaty moods. But you know what? We decided to crank the volume on Uprising, pour a couple of ice-filled cocktails, and go sit on the step right outside our sliding door to the backyard instead of sweltering in the living room. And it was pretty perfect (but still hot).

I’m no expert on the Bob Marley catalog. That being said, to my ears Uprising is a very spiritual album. It’s there in the lyrics with songs like “Coming In From the Cold,” “Zion Train,” “Forever Loving Jah,” and “Redemption Song,” (♠) but it’s there in the music as well. There’s a certain musical southern Christian spiritualism (and I’m talking something more raw and visceral, not more refined church music), but done with an island aesthetic and a Rastafarian sensibility. Was some of that driven by Marley’s cancer diagnosis in 1977? I don’t know… and cancer certainly didn’t seem to slow him down until 1980, the same year Uprising came out. It’s hard to believe we lost him when he was only 36.

“Redemption Song” is the zenith of the Marley catalog, the kind of song that transcends race and geography and gender and [insert something here]. Certainly the African slave experience is a cornerstone of the song, and I’m not trying to minimize that influence or co-opt it; but the message quickly expands to encompass everyone. Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery / None but ourselves can free our minds. And that’s why it resonates so strongly across so many lines – the concept of feeling lost and forsaken and needing to find hope to help carry you through is a universal one. Better advice and truer words have never been spoken, and Marley’s soulful delivery makes me tear up a little every time I hear it.

Exodus may be more highly regarded, but I’ll take Uprising every time.

(♠) Of course there’s also “Pimper’s Paradise,” though the lyrics are hardly pro-pimp nor do they paint a pretty picture of the lives of women who have pimps.