#126: The Wailers, "Catch a Fire" (1973)

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Envision is a professional office environment located in West Austin. Featuring a serene, furnished interior atrium, this property provides quality, affordable office environments with free space planning, primarily covered parking, and proximity to major thoroughfares. Expansions available at any time. You will try to remember what it was like when you were one of a hundred employees; they still had everyone introduce themselves at the monthly all-hands. The sales rep who rattled off your bio points mentioned, at your request, that you wrote for Stereogum. No one gave a shit. Did you expect them to?

Frequent nighttime security checks are conducted, but how will that stop the man in Building II who got fired and emailed a bomb threat the next day? As soon as your CEO gave everyone the option to go home, you booked it for the convenient, prominent emergency exit. But your manager intercepted you: she was making you the team lead. You stood in her office, looking over the gorgeous, expertly maintained natural landscape visible on three sides. Is there an increase, you asked. It’s classified as a lateral move, she replied. You drive home knowing you’ll be back tomorrow, and perhaps the weekend. You often take advantage of the twenty-four-hour programmable access: first to catch up on your caseload, then to file album reviews you always forget to invoice, then to give your son a well-lit space (cleaned, Monday through Friday, by our full-time maintenance crew) to toddle around with a dry erase marker.


Make your family a part of the vibrant community at Riverview! Conveniently situated minutes from downtown Wilmington, Riverview is a hidden jewel in a park-like setting featuring acres of lush hills. Select units offer private entrances, and all apartments have modern kitchens, central heating and air and washer/dryer connections. Step out onto your spacious wood-floor balcony for a smoke and imagine you can hear the whirs and clanks from the long-dead Chrysler plant in nearby Newark. On a factual level, you understand that Marley—following his mother, who had remarried—did stints at Chrysler and DuPont. But it still feels like learning that Jesus Christ worked at a Damascus convenience store in between healing lepers.

Bat back death with a session in our brand new exercise and fitness center; after you cool off in the year-round indoor pool, think about your thin resume, how you’re seven months away from your arbitrary deadline to decide whether you can bluff your way into an engineering career. Imagine it’s 1972. The Wailers, the toast of Jamaica, are unable to put together enough scratch to follow their tourmate Johnny Nash out of England. Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer: they are nobility within a nigh-impenetrable lineage of misspelled credits, on-demand knockoffs, hobbyist labels, and sound system clashes, and their best bet to return to the concrete jungle is to finesse some white Englishman. He’s no fool; the Wailers’ wattage dazzles; he remembers they bore themselves as princes. He gives them 4,000 pounds; as is proper, he does not care if this payment will ever return.

History’s greatest songwriter labored in our plants, and he does not have a statue here. Still, Riverview offers easy access to all areas of New Castle County, as well as Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland. Bob could have easily taken one of these nearby state routes in 1969; he had a friend who wanted to sell his jewelry at Woodstock. The night before the festival, his friend spent hours pleading for Bob to go, but he remained in Delaware. His legacy is honored every year with the People’s Festival, just a quick jaunt downtown. Wilmington’s status as Delaware’s largest city and economic engine gives us a big city feel, while our scale and walkability preserve that small-town charm. It’s a fantastic place to raise a family. Bob’s son Stephen was born in Wilmington on a cool April day in 1972—the first of three children born to him that year. The next month, flush with Chris Blackwell’s money, Bob and the Wailers began work on Catch a Fire.


Sunset Bluffs is a full-service off-campus housing environment located just minutes from both Texas A&M and Blinn College. Partake in our best-of-class student living alongside a community of like-minded students. Enjoy our resort-style pool with volleyball, water basketball, and tanning pool. iMacs & HP touch screens available and always up to date. You will not live here: your girlfriend will. You will room with youth-group friends, the best people you know. At no point—not here, not at your campus radio station, not in the freshman dorms, not at rented houses with perpetual beer pong in the garagewill you recall ever seeing a Bob Marley poster. Should you wish to listen to the Wailersand you won’t—you can do so accompanied by a resident in a private room within our quiet study area. Complimentary printing offered.


Hell—a dread expanse offering infinite square footage and easy access to the transfer stations of all condemned soulsis the ideal solution for the perpetual mortification needs of any belief system. This fully-staffed extradimensional locus of unending anguish allows for mass misery, or one-on-one consultations. Though the title of Catch a Fire may conjure thoughts of the Rastafarian faith, or the massive spliff Bob lifts to his lips on the cover of certain reissuesa condemnable offense we are equipped to punish, depending on the religion—it’s actually taken from a line in “Slave Driver.” The Wailers knew their Mayfield, and they plunge the knife so cleanly that the twin oppressors of capitalism and white supremacy barely get to lock eyes before bleeding out. Our credentialed and licensed staff is well versed both in immediate extermination and prolonged excruciating.

As they largely believe that they currently live in hell, and are awaiting the relocation of black Africans to the promised land of Ethiopia, adherents of Rastafarianism are encouraged to call our office to discuss alternate rental arrangements. Catch a Fire is sequenced in such a way as to begin with Babylon’s geography, then its ethnography. The grunting clavinet and yearning guitar that intro “Concrete Jungle” suggest Stevie Wonder leading Television; Bob roams the tenement yards, shining a torch into unkind eyes. Then comes “Slave Driver,” and Peter Tosh’s “400 Years.” The Wailers cut the song for 1970’s Soul Rebel; they practically tripped over themselves trying to convert the ska rhythm into the spacious urgency of reggae. Here, finally, after discordant strumming, they find the tempo: a procession of protest. This and “Stop That Train” (Tosh’s other songwriting credit here) are essentially folk music. Only after breaking with Bob (but keeping the Wailers’ band) did he break from this mold to make the kind of fully-inhabited pop-reggae his old partner had already mastered, an irony you will be able to ponder in the eternity of separation from the divine that awaits you.


This restaurant and bar for sale has a beautiful buildout, including a fully equipped kitchen with 11’ exhaust hood, walk-in cooler and freezer, grease trap, and three fryers. Fantastic partially elevated and covered patio. Select furnishings (pool table, Metallica and Game of Thrones pinball machines, Big Buck Hunter HD) available for an additional fee. Convenient South Austin location, situated near two major thoroughfares. Sitting alone on a bench, half-ignoring tables of commiserating electricians and boisterous strip-club enthusiasts, everyone lit in the dull orange of nightlife, you will think of “Midnight Ravers,” the album’s final track. It’s a fantastically ambiguous tune, fidgeting in obsessive little circles. At the start, Marley turns up his nose at the androgynous dancers and their pollution. Then they’re in chariots, and he’s in their number. “Don’t let me down,” he pleads, riding this malign energy to an uncertain end. You never strike up conversations, and no one talks to you unless they want to trade tables. For hours, you pound pints of Lone Star and sit with your phone to your ear, tapping out searches for songs released in 1962, or 1973, or 1984, or 2003. You can watch your caralways secure in the on-site paved parking lot—through a couple slats. Then it’s about to be your son’s bathtime, or the time your wife goes to bed, and it’s time to ride on.


Great half duplex with lots of recent updates! Two bedrooms with one and a half baths. Opens to patio. Large, fenced, private backyard. Recent new countertops and tile in kitchen. Newer fencing. One car attached garage with washer and dryer hookups. Desirable South Austin location on nice, quiet cul-de-sac. Expansive Spanish-language church property with on-site health care clinic nearby. It will occur to you, reclining on a couch in the living room which you and your wife moved, years earlier, in front of the well-maintained fireplace, that Marley was perhaps peerless at capturing domestic joy. There is a sense in which his entire output is domestic: the sound of someone secure in his circumstances, offering words of caution and comfort in a strong house built with longtime friends. (It is no coincidence that his bassist and bandleader, Aston Barrett, was nicknamed “Family Man.” He once sued the Marley estate over $113 million in claimed writing credits and royalties; he lost, but afterward said he was still on good terms with Bob’s clan. "Everything is pause, like it's never happen,” he shrugged. “It's like secret service, secret society.")

The big tune here, pop-wise, is “Stir It Up,” a Top 20 hit for Johnny Nash in ‘73. (If there was any bad blood stemming from the Wailers being stranded in Britain, hopefully the royalties did something to clot it.) The wah has a low-simmering hunger; the Wailers do some soul daydreaming; Marley employs the classic Jamaican metaphor of pushing a log into the fire. There are many Marleys, all of them regal. But this one—the one chasing and being chased around the kitchen table—is your counsel. Once a week, you chuckle at the high guitar sting in “Is This Love”: the truest love cannot fear humiliation. You will spend a Saturday in May with your son, watching him grab and release endless handfuls of dirt into the afternoon breeze. He will plop onto the sidewalk and make chalk scrawls just like his walking paths: looping into themselves, halting and punctuated with pleas for you to finish them. Finally, you point across the street and say a single word. After eighteen months in your care, he understands what it means. As you collapse onto the other couch, resting on a carpet (laid on the recently-stained concrete floor), he will look around the room and he will repeat it: “home.”

—Brad Shoup