Thinking about Bob Marley (6 February 1945 – 11 May 1981)
on the anniversary of his death.
The first time I ever heard of this thing called ‘Reggae‘ was when I was in first year at Monash Uni, 1976. In those days communication with trends on the other side of the world was slow. An English guy arrived and made friends with our group, and he kept mentioning this music.
The first time I heard it was at a party at our share-house in Oakleigh; one of the many such impromptu parties that developed after drinking on a Friday night down at the Notting Hill Hotel. There was a woman who came along with a friend of ours – older than us, she was one of the batch of amazing ‘mature age’ students, mostly women in their early 30s, many with children and husbands or divorces, who I was privileged to share my uni days with, thanks to Gough Whitlam’s government’s NEAT scheme. And she kept taking off our Skyhooks, AC-DC, Rolling Stones or David Bowie records and putting on this strange slow-beat, completely different music.
Within ten seconds others would howl her down and descend on the record player and remove her vinyl and replace it with the white boy stuff we all knew and – most importantly – knew how to dance to.
It was quite a few years later before I heard an entire Reggae song, and understood how she was trying to open our minds and hearts and bodies.
Her name was Di Hussey, and she was in her late 20s and was outspoken and tough — she was often appalled at the treatment we accepted from the guys around us, how we allowed them to be bossy and talk down to us at times (I hadn’t even noticed until she pointed it out).
And she was extremely vulnerable, too, as I discovered one day when I was sitting in the Small Caf at Uni one morning and she came and sat with me and, over her second cup of coffee, started pouring out her heart about how upset and guilty she felt about an abortion she’d had, and about her failed love affair with a lecturer. I was 17, possibly still a virgin at the time, and I hardly knew this older more sophisticated woman, and I all I could do was listen.
That was the last time I saw her. About 3 months later I heard that she had patiently collected a range of sleeping pills from different doctors and one night took them all and was dead by the next morning when her flatmate found her.
So this is for Bob Marley, who died too young; and for Di Hussey, and all those who heard things the rest of us couldn’t yet hear, and were strong and tough and unsheltered.