Roger Steffens & Peter Simon's Reggae Scrapbook
First Appeared in The Music Box, August 2009, Volume 16, #8
Written by Douglas Heselgrave
Thu August 27, 2009, 06:05 AM CDT
There is something vaguely ironic about the production of a lavish coffee table book that is devoted to roots reggae. After all, the music originated in the ghettos of Jamaica where people had to struggle to survive. Books like this certainly wouldn’t be found anywhere in Trenchtown, the most notorious of Kingston’s inner city slums. Yet, reggae’s story is, at least in part, about how men like Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and Jimmy Cliff were able to beat the odds, arise from the shackles of poverty, and take their culture uptown. Reggae Scrapbook celebrates this journey for which Roger Steffens and Peter Simon serve as the perfect tour guides.
Both Steffens and Simon have chronicled the evolution of reggae since the mid-1970s, and over the years, each of them has written several books about the genre. Reggae Scrapbook is by no means an exhaustive history of the music and its culture. Instead, it offers a commemorative impression of both the art form and the people who spurred its growth. Not surprisingly, the book focuses on reggae’s golden age, and it showcases performers like Burning Spear, Bunny Wailer, and Culture rather than modern dance-hall singers like Capleton and Lady Saw. As such, Reggae Scrapbook primarily offers an anecdotal trip down memory lane, one that is replete with reproductions of old album covers, backstage passes, and other memorabilia from Steffen’s extensive archives.
For many, Simon’s evocative photographs of first-generation reggae artists like Bob Marley and Jacob Miller will be the main draw. His sensitive images of Trenchtown, Kingston, and the surrounding countryside place the music in perfect context. They wordlessly make sense of the cultural and political explosions that rocked Jamaica three decades ago.
Admittedly, Reggae Scrapbook has one notable weakness: Its text is sloppily written, which occasionally mars the book with inaccuracies. When Steffens describes Marley’s 1976 concert in Los Angeles, for example, he provides a list of celebrities who attended the show. Specifically, he mentions that Bob Dylan was there. Yet, in a recent interview, Dylan mentioned Marley as the performer he wished he had seen live. In addition, there is a certain breathless quality to Steffens’ hyperbole, which makes it seem as if he is trying to convince his readers of reggae’s significance. This approach is completely unnecessary because anyone who would be interested in reading Reggae Scrapbook probably already is a fan. There is no need to preach to the converted.
Despite these small qualifications, Reggae Scrapbook is as good at honoring reggae and its surrounding scene as one could have hoped. Its imaginative organization makes it an inviting book through which to browse. Much as its title suggests, the collection is designed to look like a scrapbook, and each page is filled with entertaining diversions such as stickers, envelopes full of facsimile newspaper clippings, old 45 sleeves, and reproductions of Jamaican postcards. A DVD featuring insightful interviews from Steffens’ groundbreaking radio show is also included.
Fans who are looking for a more academic history of reggae would perhaps be better off reading Lloyd Bradley’s exhaustive This Is Reggae Music or David Katz’s Solid Foundation: An Oral History of Reggae. For those who enjoy good photography and appealing design, however, Reggae Scrapbook offers a wonderfully entertaining journey through the history of Jamaican popular music.
Of Further Interest...
Roger Steffens and Peter Simon's Reggae Scrapbook is
available from Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2009 The Music Box