(Bob) Marley and Me
I was wandering around the Maine Mall with my wife about a week before Christmas. She was doing her “last minute” Christmas shopping. I was gawking around thinking that I should probably at least think about possibly starting my Christmas shopping sometime fairly soon.
I’ve actually improved in that department in recent years. There was a time, in the not-too-distant past, when I’d begin my shopping in earnest on Christmas Eve day. More recently, however, I’ve often gotten everything pretty much wrapped up (if not actually wrapped) by December 22nd or 23rd.
My wife, on the other hand, is one of these people who keeps an eye out for gifts all year long. She’s apt to purchase that just right bicycle handlebar mounted, combination GPS/heart rate monitor for Uncle Charley in June and tuck it away for later. The downside to that sort of level of advance planning is that by the time December rolls around she tends to forget where she put these gifts or even that she bought them at all. In some ways this policy means that she gets to experience the best of both worlds. She can shop early and often without really having to miss out on that “last minute” excitement either. In fact, you could say that she gets to do at least some of her Christmas shopping several times over. That’s OK. She really does love to shop and she’s darned good at it too. Since she eventually does manage to locate all the mislaid treasures, she’s a whiz at coming up with a perfect last minute housewarming or birthday gift. I’m sure the retirees who moved in next door will love that GPS gizmo almost as much as Uncle Charley would have. Plus, unlike a lot of husbands I like to watch her shop. So, it all works out.
So the week before Christmas, whilst my wife was browsing in Ye Olde Boofy Poofy High End Cosmetic Shoppe, I found myself standing around the mall with my arms full of shopping bags gawking about like the casting agent for a new reality TV show when I spied Bob Marley in one of his “Upta Camp” sweat-shirts doing the meet-and-greet with the holiday shoppers at his elaborate, new-product-bedecked, flat-screen-HD-TV-equipped kiosk.
Bob Marley and me. It’s an odd relationship. On a personal level we’ve met several times and I’ve been to a couple of Bob’s shows. For the record I think Bob is a nice fellow, very funny, sometimes brilliant and certainly a pro. So we know each other enough to say “Hi.” But the bulk of our “relationship” occurs in the minds of the public and is based solely on their perception of our respective public personae. Here’s a case in point. I was on my way to a show at Deertrees Theatre a couple of summers back. I was stopped for speeding by a county Sheriff and he obviously recognized me ( maybe it’s my Maine Humor license plate ). Luckily, he let me off with a warning but not before commenting: “So do all you Maine comedians speed or what?”
“Oh,” I replied. "Did you stop Bob Marley recently?”
It turns out he had.
So that’s Marley and Me, two Maine guys speeding through the night on the way to the next gig.
So, anyway, where were we? Oh yeah - the Maine Mall. I walked over and chatted with Bob. As always he was polite and seemed pleased to see me although I was acutely aware that he was “working”, having been there, done that myself. We talked a bit, exchanged current phone numbers, agreeing that we really, really, should find time to sit down and have a cup of coffee and talk sometime in the new year. While we were talking, one of Bob’s fans asked me to autograph Bob’s latest CD next to Bob’s autograph. There’s a collector’s item for you chummy!
We only spoke for a couple of minutes. But it was interesting. I told Bob that people frequently ask me whether I know Bob Marley. I tell them “I used to be Bob Marley.” He got it. Back in the late-80’s and early 90’s I was doing pretty much what Bob Marley is doing now. I’d do 100-125 shows a year, I hosted a weekly TV show on Maine PBS for three seasons, did 6-8 prime time TV specials and every Christmas for the better part of two decades I had at least one, sometimes two or three new products ( albums, books, videos etc. ) out in the bookstores. Back then I’d regularly make as many as 3-4 bookstore and shopping mall appearances per day in the weeks just before Christmas.
It strikes me that Bob Marley and I are like quarterbacks who’ve played on the same team in the same league a generation apart. We have a lot of the same experiences. We’ve played in the same games in the same arenas for at least some of the same fans but we've never played in the same game at the same time. As a matter of fact one of the topics we did cover during our brief meeting at the mall was New England venues we’ve both played; Claremont Opera House? Check! Lebanon Opera House? Check! Merrill Auditorium? Check! Nice dressing rooms at Pymouth State, huh?
Interestingly enough the age difference between Marley and me is almost exactly the same as the age difference between Marshall Dodge and me. In 1959, when Marshall was recording “ Maine Pot Hellion” featuring my Uncle Steve Graham, I was 8 years old. In 1981, when Marshall and I were touring the state of Maine as Sample and Dodge, Bob Marley would have been, what 10 or 11 years old? Bob was likely in Jr. High when my first album for the Bert and I label was released in 1982. The pond turns over.
So now Bob’s career is taking off like a rocket. He’s 42 and probably doing more shows than I ever did at any age. God bless Bob Marley. I wish him well. But, I don’t want to be Bob Marley. If somebody asked me to take over Bob’s 2010 performance schedule I’d most likely have to lay down and take a nap. Don’t get me wrong. I’m still plenty busy. I do 50-60 shows a year, write and /or illustrate the occasional book, do a bit of TV and radio. I write this blog semi-regularly and I’m working on a memoir tentatively titled Stories I Never Told You and I still have time to go “Upta Camp” and go motorcycling across America with my wife. It’s nice work if you can get it.
What I would like to do is sit down and compare notes over coffee with Bob. I’ve gained a lot of perspective over the years in one-on-one chats with my fellow Maine celebrities ( from Angus and Steve King to Dick Curless and Jud Strunk ) and I’d like to pass it on.
Like it or not Bob Marley and me are linked in the public imagination. Some people perceive us as rivals like they did with the Rolling Stones/Beatles (actually great pals offstage) back in the day. I see Bob having big adventures and getting big breaks and I smile. It’s a particular treat to have your dreams come true and it goes by in the blink of an eye. Go get ‘em Bob!
I’m probably enjoying my life and career more now than ever before and I hope that’s true for Mr. Marley. I've come to believe that time flies whether you’re having fun or not. So you’d better have some fun!
That’s my plan and I’m sticking to it!