My first job right out of college was at a now defunct magazine for the music business called "Cashbox," which ruined me for all subsequent jobs. I worked in the charts department — as in the "Top 100 Singles" — and basically spent my days compiling research by calling radio stations and record stores.
I realize that almost everything in the preceding paragraph sounds like ancient history and, frankly, it has little to do with the story I'm about to tell you, except for one significant fact. Among the best fringe benefits (and there were many in those epic days of sex, drugs and rock and roll) for those of us who worked on the charts was how we spent our nights: being wined and dined and taken to concerts by record-biz promotion men — and, more often than not, sitting in the best seats in the house.
The whole situation was absolutely ridiculous and more fun than I've had at any job since. I saw the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame most every night, but my favorite concert of all time was Bob Marley at New York's Beacon Theater in 1976.
Another Bob, this one named Speisman, was one of the four guys I worked with in the charts department, and he was first to fall in love with reggae. He quickly converted the rest of us into loyal fans, mainly by blasting "Natty Dread" on an endless loop in our office. Bob's nickname was "Woodstock," which was really just code for that fact that he smoked a lot of pot.
We all did — and so did Bob Marley, which is why we initially fell in love with him. But what really got to me was "No Woman No Cry." I had no idea at the time about the social issues in Jamaica or what a Rastafarian was (or for that matter, anything about women) — it was purely the way the song made me feel. "No Woman No Cry" was like a shot to my heart and it affects me the same way to this day.
All of this is the circuitous way of saying that when we heard that Marley was coming to the States and playing the Beacon for three nights at the end of April, we were so there.
Speis and I sat together in the second row (thank you, Herb Corsack of Island Records!) and Bob actually had somebody braid his long hair to look like dreadlocks for the occasion. I'm sure we were also very, very stoned, but other than the birth of my kids, I can't remember a happier moment. When the I-Three's, Marley's backup singers, took the stage, Speis and I started high-fiving each other.
Then Bob Marley appeared and launched into "Are You Ready?" All I really recall about the set was that he played almost all of my favorites, including "Lively Up Yourself," "Bend Down Low" and a transcendent "No Woman, No Cry."
We were totally blissed out and became more and more hypnotized as the night wore on. Most of the crowd were on their feet for the entire show, but we just sat in our second-row seats, like golden gods, mesmerized.
Until the encore. Marley was singing "Get Up, Stand Up," another fave. Right after he delivered the lines, "Get up, stand up: stand up for your rights / Get up, stand up, don't give up the fight," he looked directly at Speis and me and gently mouthed, "Stand up!"
We did so immediately and started to dance and Marley smiled at us and we smiled right back at him. That unforgettable night was the first thing I flashed on when I heard, many years later, that Speis was on the plane that slammed into the Pentagon on 9/11.
To this day, I can't listen to a Bob Marley song without thinking of another Bob.