Opening line; “Woman hold her head and cry, ‘cause her son had been shot down in the street and died, from a stray bullet…”
This song sums up the pain and travail of humanity. Our feelings of powerlessness towards injustice and social inequality.
What is a life worth? Is the life of a wealthy man more important than that of a poorer man? Is an “educated man” more important than a less educated man? Why was Johnny hit by a stray bullet? Why not one of the oppressors, or perhaps evil person?
These questions can be asked after every demonstration or protest that has taken place around the world where people have subsequently been arrested, tortured, killed, kidnapped, assassinated, murdered…
Martyrs, prisoners of conscience, prisoners of ideology, political prisoners, prisoners of love — call them what you like. People at the end of the day – humankind.
The songwriter then tries to find meaning from the Bible with the line; “And she knows that the wages of sin is death, but the gift of Jah is life…”. However this left him even more confused when he took to account that Johnny was in fact a good man.
Somethings are hard to comprehend — reminding us that we are mere mortals. We are finite; with a beginning and an end. We are very limited in our knowledge and understanding of these matters.
I chose this album as part of a collection of 3 albums when I was 14. This came about after a discussion with my Dad one lovely evening on the need to rejuvenate his record collection. Impressed with my taste, it later became a regular ritual. I bought albums of newer artists and Dad kept track with new releases of older artists and we listened to them over the weekend while discussing politics, history, sports or movies.
Bob Marley went on to close this song, with a very potent question again from the Bible, “Can a woman’s tender care seize towards the child she bear?”. Taken from the book of Isaiah, with Jehovah using the same words to assure Israel of his undying love for them even though they had turned their backs towards Him.
From a human perspective it also brings to light the pain of a loss. The death of Johnnys around the world would never be forgotten even as a woman’s tender care would not seize towards the child she bears.
This is definitely one of my favourite songs!