By Ken Ficara
Everyone is crying out for peace, yes
None is crying out for justice
I don't want no peace
I want equal rights, and justice.
--Peter Tosh, "Equal Rights," 1977
The murder of reggae great Peter Tosh by bandits -- if you believe the story told by the Jamaican police -- was perhaps the most upsetting celebrity death since John Lennon's in 1980.
It's always bad when a great person dies. But it seems somehow less tragic when it's from natural causes at the end of a long and fruitful career, as in the case of Jackie Gleason or Fred Astaire earlier this year. And when it's a drug death (Elvis Presley, one of so many, comes to mind), the tragedy is muted by stupidity and squalor.
But when a great artist, still in his prime, still with much to do and say, is shot down senselessly, it seems such a waste, and a universal loss. And if it wasn't senseless, if it was a political assassination, a possibility that seems more and more likely the more I think about it, it's even worse.
Like Lennon, with whom he shared a birthday, Tosh was a seminal musician, one of the true giants of music. The Wailers, formed in the early '60's by Bob Marley, Tosh, and Bunny Livingstone (Wailer), exerted easily as much influence on world music as the Beatles did. Aside from practically inventing reggae, they were a strong influence on all sorts of music in the late '70's and '80's, from jazz to punk to R & B to rock.
The Wailers, and Tosh on his own, extended their influence beyond music to politics and culture in the same way the Beatles did, and became a part of more than just music history. After Tosh left the Wailers in the early '70's, he stood out as a fiery, deep-thinking protest singer, fighting for what he knew was right. He was certainly much more politically committed and serious than Lennon was, and no less an artist.
Tosh's death didn't hit me the same way Lennon's did; I didn't grow up with his music the way I did with Lennon's. I think he was underestimated by a lot of people, including myself -- he always seemed to get thought of as "the guy who used to be in the Wailers with Bob Marley." I don't know why something like this has to happen before we really appreciate someone.
What they did have in Saturday's paper, with a Jamaica dateline, was a big feature in the business section on the Jamaican tourist boom. One section, subtitled "A Strain of Violence," started, "For all its beauty, Jamaica is also plagued by ... a strain of violence unsurpassed in the Caribbean." This piece of irony went on to reassure us that "the resorts are well-protected," and finished up with a quote from ex-Prime Minister Michael Manley : "It would be unpatriotic to hold elections," which usually exacerbate the violence, "during the tourist season."