Late last year, the Jamaican author Marlon James published the absolutely stunning novel A Brief History Of Seven Killings, a panoramic image of Jamaica in the late ’70s and early ’80s with a cast of characters that included gang members, CIA agents, and one Lester Bangs-esque rock critic. Last week, James won the prestigious Man Booker Prize for the book. Bob Marley was one of the book’s main characters, but the other characters never refer to him by name, calling him only “The Singer.” There’s lots of great stuff about music in the book, especially on the mystical power that Marley’s music could wield. But in a new piece for The Wall Street Journal, James writes that he didn’t really listen to reggae growing up. Instead, the song that meant the most to him was the Smiths’ 1986 The Queen Is Dead album track “I Know It’s Over.”
By way of context, James writes, “Many middle-class nerds in Jamaica like me didn’t really listen to reggae in the ’80s. We listened to alt bands like the Cure, the Smiths, New Order, Skinny Puppy and pretty much anything on MTV.” And he goes on to describe the way this particular Smiths song ripped his whole soul open: “The song took everything I had built up about myself and tore it all to shreds. It was the first time I had gotten real about how empty my life was. When you’re 15 and a reject, you’re looking for communion, even if you would never admit it. I wanted a painting of myself, but I got a mirror instead.” Read the whole piece here, and then go read A Brief History Of Seven Killings.