Friday Morning Listen: Bob Marley, “Three Little Birds” (1977)

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by Tom Johnson

Our oldest daughter is preparing for her first days of first grade. Supplies have been bought, some in ridiculous quantities (seriously, 36 pencils for the first day alone?!) and just last night we all trundled off to the school’s orientation. She’s excited, to say the least. This is in sharp contrast to my experience of those first few days of school each year, which struck fear and loathing deep into me in ways I still will insist I tangibly feel today.

Not this one. This one is eager. She’s the type who finds ways to learn any way she can. She devours her National Geographic Kids magazine and a couple others that the relatives have bought subscriptions for her, and she can’t get enough of the TV shows like How It’s Made where they assemble, bit by bit, common, everyday products. She’s fascinated by dinosaurs, and then there are the elephants, and the unicorns … but I suppose those are all somewhat universal kid things.

She reads, oh does she read. I often look around for inappropriate things because I know she will read them and repeat them — if not to me, to someone else. And depending on who that someone else is, it can be very awkward. I might think it’s hilarious to hear her read a vulgar bumper sticker, but grandma and grandpa might not. She reads and, more often than not, understands the gist of what she’s reading. Enough to make you sometimes wish she couldn’t read so well, at least not quite yet.

Questions, never-ending questions. Not just “why is the sky blue” variety but “what’s inside your arm?” We even took her to Body Worlds, the exhibit where the bodies of people have been flayed and displayed in various ways to show how it all works. She suggested it, believe it or not. She went through the exhibit wide-eyed and amazed, gulping it down. She was the youngest, no surprise, and while a few uptight people seemed disturbed she was there, most seemed genuinely delighted to see someone so young be so curious about something so unusual. And now she knows what’s inside an arm.

I see some of these traits starting to emerge in her sister, almost 3 years younger, and it’s as exciting as it is daunting: We will have all those probing questions to answer again. But she is as curious and eager as her older sister, constantly looking for new ways around things, if not quite grasping the words to express it. The twinkle is there in her eyes, and I have no doubt we’re going to be just as exhausted by questions as we are now.

She has her own iPod. It was mommy’s iPod a few years ago, before a newer iPod replaced it and then an iPhone replaced that. She developed a deep love of classical music fueled at least in part from “The Little Einsteins,” and that iPod is full of her favorite music, most of which is classical. Not necessarily a bad thing, of course — it is beautiful, intelligent music. The alternatives are considerably worse. With two children, I’ve been heavily exposed to that stuff from their TV programming. Let me assure you, Barney the purple dinosaur was only a hint of the depths of badness that fills many of these shows.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: The aptly titled 2011 Bob Marley release ‘Live Forever’ doesn’t sound anything like a man just moments away from the end. Instead, it underscores his indominable spirit.]

She has shunned almost all other music for her love of classical, especially rock music, about which she will happily, and loudly, complain. As a great fan of rock, this of course bothers me. Rock is the people’s music, and it’s kids’ music too. She turns up her nose. But things sneak through — the occasional song here and there, usually something that’s been overexposed in the usual places. Happily for me, The Beatles, for whatever reason, slipped past and, for a time, anything that she liked but wouldn’t outright admit to liking would be approached with the question “Is this The Beatles?”

But most odd of all is Bob Marley, the ambassador of reggae to the rest of the world, who, for the most part, otherwise ignore the entire genre. His is a gentler, more all-encompassing approach to the music, with more rock in his sound than many others, and that makes it more approachable for many. But for my daughter, the anti-rock princess, to have latched onto Bob Marley, speaks volumes about the universal appeal of his music. She doesn’t even claim to care about rock and yet still can’t deny his music.

It’s not like I play it particularly often, either. Once in a while — here and there, and she happened to be present at one of those heres or theres. Something in Marley’s music spoke to her in special way that little else did; it seemed to be instant. She never asks “Is this Bob Marley?” She knows — she knows whether it’s him or not.

While she seems to like anything of his, it’s “Three Little Birds” that was the song that hooked her. To her mother and I, it’s now “her song.” When I hear it somewhere, it’s her I think of, locked in the backseat of my car with those volume-controlled, kid-safe headphones perched on her head, mouthing the words under her breath.

It’s her song, whether she knows it or not. There may come a time when this song will have been long forgotten by her, but it’ll never be separated from her in my memory. There will always be this perfect picture of her back there, at this age, a beautiful little girl lit by late day sunlight, comfortable and safe, tucked away as I drove her home, so smart, so curious, so eager.

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Mark Saleski will return to the ‘Friday Morning Listen’ series next week.

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