During his 36 years on planet earth, Robert Nesta Marley became one of the most photographed human beings in history. And judging by the brisk sales of Bob T-shirts, CDs, and rolling papers, nobody’s has yet grown “Tired fi see me face,” as he put it in his prophetic tune “Bad Card.”

"From the very first time I rest my eyes on you..."

The Gong and his customized guitar.

Now, just in time for the Tuff Gong’s 64th birthday, comes a new view of the man behind the Legend. David Burnett was sent to Jamaica by TIME magazine in 1976 to document the roots reggae phenomenon. The following year Rolling Stone sent him on the Exodus tour. But for some reason it never occurred to him to do anything with the outtakes until now…. in a dazzling new book SOUL REBEL. Here’s a sneak preview for the Boomshots massive. (You’ve got to love the pictures of H.I.M. and Mama Africa scotch-taped onto Bob’s guitar.)

“I was surprised when my daughter, then a college sophomore, took me to one of her friend’s dorm rooms to show me a poster on the wall, made from a photograph I’d done of Bob at home, at Tuff Gong, in Kingston,” says Burnett. “That a whole generation, born years after Bob’s death, could be so drawn to him and his music really touched me. That’s when I realized it might be time to share my pictures.”

"Excuse me while I light my spliff"

"Excuse me while I light my spliff"

After covering the Vietnam War, presidents, and Olympic athletes—back when they were seldom photographed puffing on bongs—Burnett found Marley to be a most agreeable photographic subject. “We sat for a couple of hours speaking about everything from politics, to music, and the whole scene in Jamaica, and why it would give birth to a movement like reggae,” recalls the photographer, who also snapped definitive shots of Tosh, Scratch, and Spear during his first trip to JA. “His suspicion of politicians kind of mirrored by own, though his view was colored by the hard times he’d known growing up in Trenchtown.In a way, that is the beauty of his music, that from such harsh beginnings came such spiritual understanding and musical poetry.” Burnett’s work approaches visual poetry.

For much more about the aforementioned hard times, check out John Masouri’s 500-page opus WAILING BLUES… Stay tuned for a review (as soon as I finish reading the thing.)

Photography excerpted from SOUL REBEL: An Intimate Portrait of Bob Marley © 2009 by David Burnett. All rights reserved. Published by Insight Editions. Used with permission. www.InsightEditions.com

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