|Written by Stuart Wang|
|Wednesday, 14 January 2009|
Page 2 of 5
Miami's main mon
He is short and chunky with a thick neck and the disconcerting habit of never looking into the eyes of people when he talks to them. He talks away from them, at the floor, or the wall, until he senses they're no longer looking at him. Then he sneaks a quick glance, suspicious, as if this is a game of cat and mouse. And for him it is, because he views the most innocuous questions about his life as a potential trap that could ensnare him. Which is why he is never offguard.
He has a wispy mustache over thick lips, a scraggly goatee and soft, round features in a moon-like face. He is wearing a T-shirt, baggy shorts, high-cut sneakers and, incongruously, a fortune in gold chains around his neck and a $15,000 gold Rolex watch studded with diamonds on his wrist. He is a star linebacker for the University of Miami, a fourth-year junior ready to show again that he is more than a famous son.
Still looking away, Rohan Marley says softly, "It's the anniversary of Bob Marley's death," referring, oddly, to the man he calls his father. "Twelve years ago yesterday. I never forgot it a day in my life."
His father was lighter-skinned, leaner, with sharply defined abdominal muscles. His vanity. He had a long, angular face, high cheekbones, a thin nose, and his hair was braided in dreadlocks like strands of rope. (Those dreadlocks are much longer than the ones Rohan has sprouted since our conversation last year.) When Bob Marley sang, his gaunt features would be contorted in pain, his wild dreadlocks flung out behind him like a lion's mane. Often, he wore his shirt open so that his chiseled abdominal muscles stood out.
In the 1970s, Bob Marley was one of the most famous singers in the world. He was worshiped by fans as a prophet and a visionary. His band, "Bob Marley and the Wailers," was called "The Best Band of the Year" in 1976 by Rolling Stone magazine. It filled Madison Square Garden, the Lyceum in London, a theater in Paris and then drew more than 100,000 fans to an amphitheater in Milan, Italy. It did not matter that his European fans were mostly middle-class whites, who spoke a foreign language and couldn't even understand his lyrics. Even English-speaking whites couldn't understand his thick Caribbean patois that was a mix of African, English and Spanish. They worshiped him just the same. They called him "The First Third-World Superstar." Some critics called his music, "Jungle music," which infuriated him. "Dem hafta listen close to de music," he said. "Cause de message not de same....Noooo, mon, de reggae not de twist, mon."
Reggae music was "ragamuffin" music that came out of the shantytown slums of his native Kingston, Jamaica, in the early '60s. They were hard-bitten slums with names like Trenchtown and Ghost Town. People lived with poverty and the constant threat of violence. Even when Bob Marley's music made people in those slums happy, they showed their appreciation through violence. They fired their guns toward the ceiling, then bought him a Red Stripe beer.
As Bob Marley's fame began to spread beyond his small island, especially among white tourists who brought back stories to the United States about his haunting, sensual, black, reggae music, he softened his message even more. He began to write about the basic dignities of all peoples, white and black, and how they should all live "upful and right" in harmony with one another. It was a message perfectly in tune with the emotions of the time. White journalists often portrayed him not as an angry black with a blade, but rather as some kind of ethereal, blissedout mystic, sitting on a beach, surrounded by seagulls eating out of his hand, like Dr. Doolittle, while he smoked a marijuana spliff.
Bob Marley's black fans worshiped him because they listened to his lyrics extolling their basic human dignity. But his white fans -- and there were many more of them than blacks -- worshiped him because he fulfilled their own blissed-out visions. He represented to them everything the '60s and early '70s was about: peace, love, sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. Especially sex. Marley sold them the illusion of hot, Caribbean sex, interracial sex, something he knew a lot about. He fathered 11 children (some say as many as 22), with eight mothers (only one of whom he married) of various colors: white, high yellow, coffee, black. Rohan was Bob Marley's fourth child, by a woman Bob Marley never married. It was in 1972, the year Bob recorded his watershed album, "Catch a Fire."
"I always dreamed of playing music with my father," Rohan says. "But I only sing in the shower." So Rohan turned to sports, first soccer as a boy in Jamaica, and then football in Miami, where he went to live with his grandmother when he was 12, because, as Rohan puts it, "I was wild. In Jamaica, I stayed out late at night. I got into fights, then came home, took a beating from my mother and went out again. She couldn't control me. So my father sent me to Miami."
Rohan immediately fell in love with American football. It gave him a release for his aggressions, and he had a lot of aggression. He was an all-state linebacker at Palmetto High in South Dade, famous already for his ferocious hits, but he was considered too small -- he is now 5 feet 8 and 205 pounds -- to play major college football until he worked out one day for Hurricanes coaches.
"He made all the tackles," Miami linebackers coach Tommy Tuberville says. "It was his intensity, his heart that impressed me. He takes no pity on anyone. Not even his teammates in practice. No one wants to practice against him. Even though they know he's a clown at times, they respect him, because there's no reason in the world he should be playing major-college football. He's just very tough. It's how he was raised, in his dad's shadow. People challenged him because of his dad. Kids are cruel, you know."
Miami, which opens its season September 3 against Georgia Southern at the Orange Bowl, was the only school that recruited Marley. He was redshirted in 1991, and since then he has bucked the odds for a school that has been national champion four of the past 11 years. As a redshirt sophomore in 1993 -- an off-season by Miami's standards (9-3, No. 15 national ranking in both polls) -- Rohan was a starter and led the Hurricanes with 95 tackles. He broke a toe during the 29-0 Fiesta Bowl loss to Arizona, and it kept him out of spring drills. Sophomore James Burgess took advantage of that absence and probably will split time at weakside line-backer, but it is just another challenge to Bob Marley's son. Rohan is ranked as the Big East's best-hitting linebacker (and 11th-best in the nation) in THE SPORTING NEWS College Football Yearbook. In last year's season-opening victory against Boston College, Rohan hit Darnell Campbell so hard that the running back's helmet flew 10 feet in the air.
"Man, he made explosive hits," says former Miami and All-America linebacker Micheal Barrow, now with the Oilers. "I asked him how he did it. He said he just sees himself driving right through an opponent's chest and out the other side. We called him Rat-boy because he goes underneath people. He plays like a little kid. He never gets tired. I remember one practice, everyone was exhausted. We didn't even want to think about football till the next day. Two hours later Rohan was playing in an intramural game."
"I like hitting people," Rohan says. Curiously, he is smiling now. "Every time I hit someone I try to hurt them. To knock their head off. The best feeling in the world is when you hit someone so hard -- 'Pow!' -- that you get a jarring headache." He giggles, like a little boy. Often, when he talks to white adults about football, he is like a little boy. It disarms them. "Rohan makes it all worth-while," says Dave Maggard, a former Miami athletic director. Smiling, he throws his arm over Rohan's shoulder and hugs him. It is only when Rohan talks about his father that the player becomes serious, suspicious. "I don't have any fear," Rohan says, looking away. "Like my father."
His father caused him a lot of trouble at the university. "Players on the team teased him about Bob Marley," Barrow says. "Some things they said were very cruel."
Most of the Miami players who gave Rohan a hard time were black. Miami blacks are mostly Americans playing in a city that has a wide variety of blacks from Central and South America and the Caribbean. They don't get along. In fact, Miami may be the only American city where American blacks dislike blacks from Haiti and Jamaica even more than they do whites. Miami's blacks look down on their Third World counterparts as foreigners, interlopers who have come to steal their jobs and their hard-earned place in the fabric of American life. They have odd customs, strange languages and even stranger religious practices. Santerians cut up chickens for religious sacrifice. Haitians practice Voodoo. Jamaicans Rastafarianism. Miami blacks are realists, not spiritualists. Which was one reason why they ragged Rohan about his strange religion -- the dreadlocks, ganja and repatriation back to Africa. Miami's blacks wanted only to make it here, in America, which was why they also ragged Rohan about his expensive toys -- his BMW, his motorcycle, his cellular phone. They were toys they coveted. "They couldn't understand Rohan," Barrow says. "He already had his money. Football was something he just wanted to do. Most of our guys wouldn't even play the game if they had his money."
But mostly, Miami players made fun of Rohan's father. "They teased him about his father's ladies," Barrow says. "They said he slept around. Rohan took it personal. He'd get depressed. His dad meant a lot to him."
"Yeh, they talked trash about my father," Rohan says. "I wanted to fight them all, all the time."
"What really bothered Rohan the most," Barrow says, "what was really cruel, was when the players said he wasn't really Bob Marley's son."
It is a charge Rohan has been fighting most of his life, and it's what fuels his anger and turns it to aggression on the football field, and off. In June, Rohan was arrested in Miami Beach for trying to run down a police officer with his truck. The officer ordered Rohan not to make a turn but to proceed straight ahead at an intersection. Rohan ignored him, turned anyway, and, according to the officer, he had to jump out of the way of Rohan's truck out of "fear for his life." The trial date is set for September 12, but already the prosecutor is hinting he'd like to plea bargain the case down to probation and community service.
Bob Marley died of cancer May 11, 1981, in a hospital in Miami. He was 36. His once superbly conditioned body, which he'd kept in shape playing soccer and doing hundreds of sit-ups daily, was wasted. His dreadlocks had been shaved off. He looked like a boy again, said Chris Blackwell, a Jamaican promoter who had discovered Marley as a musician.
On his deathbed, Bob Marley was surrounded by his wife, Rita; his mother, Cedella Marley Booker; and his children by Rita. Rohan was back in Kingston with his mother, Janet Hunt. He was playing soccer when he heard the news. "I laughed," he says. "I didn't believe it. I didn't know he was that sick."
Rohan couldn't be with his father, "and my brothers," he says, "because I didn't have a passport." In fact, while Bob Marley was alive, Rohan was rarely with him. "I was alone all the time," Rohan says, "while my father traveled on tour. He never lived with my mother. When he came home to Kingston he'd send for me. But mostly, I wasn't used to a father around. That's why I don't know what I missed."
Will Maloney, a Jamaican businessman, says Rastas, Bob Marley and reggae don't have much significance in the lives of Jamaicans today. Most reggae bands have evolved into what they call dance-hall music, which is closer to American rap music, often glorifying sex and guns more than brotherhood. "Even Bob's son, by Rita, Ziggy, who has a reggae band called The Melody Makers, couldn't fill an arena in Jamaica if they gave away tickets," Maloney says.
Bob Marley may not mean much to Jamaicans today, but he means a lot to his son Rohan. "Being Bob Marley's son has been a blessing from the sky," Rohan says.
Giacamo and Piero, two Italians from Rome, are showing Rohan, his half-brother Robert and a friend their $40,000 worth of security devices on a red Porsche in the showroom of .007 Technologies in Pompano, Fla. Rohan has made the hour drive north from Miami to buy a stereo system and a burglar alarm system for his black GMC Typhoon truck. He just got his truck back from the body shop. Someone stole it, then set it on fire, which is a strange occurrence in Miami. Not that the truck was stolen, but that it was burned, rather than stripped and sold for parts.
Giacamo points a radar gun at Rohan and tells him to walk toward him. Rohan does. "See, you are going two mph," Giacamo says in his thick accent. Then Piero shows Rohan a device in the car that allows the driver to set any speed he wants, and that speed will be picked up by police radar.
"You could be going 90 mph," Piero says, "but the police radar will only register what you want it to." Rohan laughs at this gadget. He seems amused by this car that can emit smoke screens through its rear end, and metal spikes, and has a voice activated alarm system that can open and close doors, windows, and even start the car. Finally, Rohan asks Piero about a more conventional alarm system.
"Is too much?" Piero says.
Annoyed, Rohan says, "I never had any money problems."
Piero shrugs, and shows Rohan a catalogue of other burglar alarm systems. While Rohan studies the catalogue, Piero's wife enters the room, blusing. She hands Rohan a CD of his father's music. "Can you sign, please?" she asks. Rohan, grinning now, signs the CD album. Then Giacamo takes out the disk and slips it into the car stereo. Bob Marley's voice fills the room. Everyone is smiling now, especially the three Italians, who, via Rome to Pompano, Fla., are fans of a black man who was born in the slums of Kingston, Jamaica, and has been dead for 12 years.
When another customer enters the store, the Italians grab him by the arm and lead him to Rohan.
"Do you know who this is?" Giacamo says. The man looks at Rohan, just another black dude with too much gold jewelry.
"Do you know who Bob Marley is?" Giacamo says.
"This is his son."
The man stares at Rohan suspiciously, then says, "No way."
Later that day, Robert says, "You don't ever tell 'em you're Bob Marley's son. You make friends first. But some people recognize the name." Robert is much darker than Rohan. He wears dreadlocks tucked under his Jamaican beret. He is a soft-spoken youth in his early 20s, an art major in Miami. When Rohan is asked if Robert is Janet Hunt's son too, he looks annoyed.
"No. Patricia Williams was his mother. But we all live like we have the same mother. Mothers are not an issue with us. We're all brothers. I love my brothers."
"An unconditional love," Robert says.
"And we're all like our father in every way," Rohan adds. "I've got my father's eyes, his nose. I have my father's no fear of death. When he was dying he told us not to cry. To be strong. He said his mission was over and it was time to move on."
Rohan claims he was born with his father's name. But Cedella Booker, Bob Marley's mother, says Rohan was born Hunt and his name wasn't changed to Marley until he was 9. In fact, Cedella did not even know of Rohan's existence until he was about 5.
"Bob brought Rohan to me when he was 5," she says. "He said, 'This is your grandson.' Rohan ran away. Bob said, 'Come here, boy, this is your grandmother,' and pulled Rohan to me. I hugged Rohan, and he started to smile. Oh, Rohan's so much like Bob. I call him Smiley, but he can be a little stronghead, too."
Growing up with his mother in Spanishtown, Rohan was, by his own admission, "horrible." He skipped school, stayed out late at night, got into fights and played pranks. He was so bad, at times, that Bob Marley would tell him, "You can't be my son." But as Bob Marley's son, he was better off than most of the kids he played with. He had a brand new, shiny, yellow bike his playmates called "the only one in the Island." But despite such occasional gifts from his father, Rohan still lived a less than advantaged life as a boy. He played poor kid's games in the street, like "dandy shanky" and "stuck in the mud," whose only equipment was an empty milk carton stuffed with socks. There was no organized football, with uniforms, such as kids in the States were accustomed to.
"I didn't live the lifestyles of the 'Rich and Famous,'" he says. "My diapers were this nappy cloth, and I didn't live in no big house." But his father did. A big house in an affluent section of Kingston, 56 Hope Road. Bob Marley never lived with Janet Hunt, nor did he ever visit his son in Spanishtown. He lived alone, on Hope Road, where he made his music and, on occasion, summoned his son Rohan to him.
"When he spoke, I'd shiver," Rohan says. "I never stayed out at night with him. I'd sleep in his studio while he recorded. Sometimes he took us all to the beach and made us run. We'd drink this mix of Irish moss, a weed from the ocean, blended with eggs and Guinness. My father said it was for men, to put fat on them. I loved being with my father. One time my mother wanted to take me home and I cried because I wanted to stay with my father because I hadn't seen him for a while. My sister Cedella (Bob and Rita's daughter) cried to my mother to let me stay. Cedella was like a mother to me."
Rohan says his father is the only person who ever disciplined him. He says this with a smile, as if those were the happiest moments of his life. "Once he went to hit me," Rohan says, "and Rita stopped him. I call her Mommy." In fact, Rohan calls a lot of women Mommy -- Rita, his half-sister Cedella and his grandmother, Cedella Booker.
About the only mother he doesn't like to talk about is the mother who gave him birth at 16. He says only, "She's like me. Young. She smiles a lot." His mother agreed to give him up for adoption to Cedella Booker so that, at 12, Rohan could lead a better life in Miami. Rohan had been incorrigible, forcing the adults to take the action he desperately wanted. It was something he accomplished by a sheer act of will, just as his father had succeeded in his music. It was ironic that, finally, after his father's death, Rohan became more completely a Marley. In fact, in the Miami media guide, Cedella Booker is listed as Rohan Marley's mother.
Suddenly, in Miami, Rohan became a good student in school, a successful athlete, and, according to Cedella Booker, no longer a troublemaker. "He never even told me when kids picked on him," she says, "because they didn't believe he was Bob Marley's son."
There was nothing about Rohan's singing voice that could prove them wrong. "Now, Rohan," Cedella says, her eyes rolling up toward the heavens, "his voice is so scratchy." She laughs. "It's in him, instead, to play sports." Suddenly, her face grows dark and brooding. "The Miami players are jealous of Rohan," she says. "I wonder why. It's the way life is. He had his truck stolen and someone burned it. I said, 'People who know you did this. They're your enemy. Why didn't they sell it?'"
Cedella says people are jealous of Rohan because of the money he has inherited from his father's estate. The millions are generated by music royalties since Bob died, and Rohan, 22, is one of the heirs who is 18 years or older and thus legally entitled to a share. Yet, none of the Marleys seem to know exactly how much money Bob's 11 recognized children receive each year.
Colin Henry, a Jamaican lawyer who represents Rohan, says at one time the estate was earning more than $2 million annually, which figures out to almost $200,000 per year for each child. But that money did not come easily to the Marley children. For almost 10 years, beginning in the early '80s, the estate was awash in a sea of lawsuits and counter lawsuits between the executives of the estate and the Marley children represented by Rita and Cedella Booker.
Rohan says his father was "an Angel," and in many ways Rohan is like him. Often there is a kind of charming sweetness about him, almost an innocence, when he is not defensive about his past. Also, he has a quality of his father's that is called "Blue-swee" in Jamaica. It's the ability to be elusive, wily and hard to nail down. Rohan claims he's a Rasta, too. He claims he doesn't smoke ganja. At other times, however, he claims he does smoke ganja when on the island. Blue-swee. As a Rasta, Rohan is dedicated to their beliefs that blacks are descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel. That's one reason he went recently with the Rev. Louis Farrakhan on a trip to Ghana. It was a pilgrimage to Africa his father had made, too. And like his father, Rohan quickly returned to Miami. There was no $6,000 stereo system for his $30,000 Typhoon truck in Ghana.
Rohan played with a shaved head last season, but now he tucks dreadlocks into his helmet. "It's a matter of coming into myself," he says. "It has nothing to do with hairdo or style. It has something to do with maturity and knowing who I am and coming into my own. I'm a Rasta, and people will look at me and know I'm a Rasta."
Rohan is like his father mostly in his devotion to his family. Rita, Cedella Booker, his half-brothers and half-sisters. He's as fanatic about keeping that family together as his father was about his children, because both men grew up without a father in their lives. And finally, Rohan is like his father because he, too, by a sheer act of will, escaped the slums of a small, Third World island to become famous and wealthy in a First World country.
About the only way Rohan is not much like his father is in his devotion to expensive toys. Although Bob did own a BMW, which he claimed stood for "Bob Marley and the Wailers," he didn't have much interest in the Rolexes and jewelry Rohan does. And another thing, Bob Marley was always very close to his mother, so close in fact that at times he seemed almost a mama's boy. Rohan treats his mother, his birth mother, Janet Hunt, as if she were an embarrassing accident he'd like to forget.
Occassionally, Rohan returns to Jamaica to stay with Rita. When asked if he ever makes the four-hour trip to his father's burial site, he says, "No, 'cause the winding mountain roads make me sick to my stomach."
Colin Henry, a neat, dapper, little man wearing dark sunglasses and a Boss shirt, sits under a ficus tree outside the University of Miami's law library and says, "Why shouldn't Rohan have nice things? After all, he's a Marley. As far as he's concerned he's living a normal life. You know, when Bob went to Ethiopia to live, he became a member of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. It just shows you how much he didn't know. It was an Eastern Rite Catholic church. Because blacks weren't treated as people, Bob had to go look for someone in Africa to call God." Henry smiles a thin, cynical smile, then says, "Bob never stayed in Africa anymore than Rohan would. He came back to Miami. After all, the First World is nice, eh? Filthy lucre, and all that. When Bob went to New York City he always stayed at the Waldorf."
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