Trenchtown is a neighborhood of Kingston, Jamaica's capital city. The neighborhood looms in world culture as the birthplace of reggae and rocksteady music. It's also the birthplace of Bob Marley.
Location can matter! Many greats have benefitted from being in the right place at the right time. Bob Marley grew up in the birthplace of reggae and rocksteady as they were gaining commercial force. Kurt Cobain grew up in Aberdeen, near the Seattle scene that would develop grunge music. Steve Jobs grew up in Cupertino, California, the epicenter of the Silicon Valley revolution. He used to bike over to Stanford University with his childhood buddy Steve Wozniak to play the world's first video game on a computer that could only be found on the Stanford and MIT campuses. Emily Dickinson barely left her house, but she happened to live in the midst of some of the greatest minds of early American Transcendentalism - with Ralph Waldo Emerson paying visits to members of her family.
All these people likely wouldn't have had the gusto to force themselves into these scenes if they hadn't been born within them.
And yet, even as local residents, all those people I listed were also outcasts or outside the norm. Marley was a cultural outcast due to his bi-racial background. Cobain was a small town kid who was consistently bullied in school. Jobs was an adopted orphan. Dickinson was an intelligent, ambitious woman in male-dominated Antebellum America. They all sought higher identities in work that allowed their talent to transcend their practical limitations. Location and motivation meet.
Bob Marley found music. He was so talented at it, it's hard for me to comprehend how naturally it came to him. I think we can get caught up in his image and miss the foundational artistry of his work. To say it came naturally to him is not to say he expended no effort. He liked to kind of cast himself as this primal person through whom music just flowed out perfectly. Maybe that's true on some level. But like Wolfgang Mozart before him, though he seemed to make music effortlessly, and its sublime joyfulness reinforces the feeling of no effort, the music he made wasn't just cheap and sentimental.
For as light and free as they sound, there are changes and nuances in Bob Marley's songs that require stubborn, detail-focused rehearsal. I've been in bands where people just want to have a good time and thus the details in many places are never hashed out with enough communication and negotiation to bring songs to their best potential. These bands were relaxed but the music suffered from the generosity.
So look at "Trenchtown Rock." Bob Marley used to open his shows with this song. It is just a goddamned luminous mission statement for the transcendent effect of music (and in his case, a vehicle of personal salvation).
When music hits, you feel no pain.
But that's when good music hits. To get to be good music, there is a good pain in making it.
You don't get there without figuring out how to start with those joyous major-key verses, soul-enlarging choruses, and anthemic post-choruses and then transition into the tough minor-key bridge. You don't get there without stopping and explaining and practicing in detail all the changes, all deviations from standard four beat throughout the song. You don't remove people's pain until you figure out those excellent little repetitions of "one good thing" as a way to pivot out of the minor key, back into the major-key verses. You definitely don't raise people to bliss without all the beautiful lead and background vocal variations that had to be dreamt up, prioritized, and then assembled into a final, radiant order.
This is the good pain of music. And then when you play it all back, it is medicinal sound for our damaged species.
Thanks to one kid who happened to grow up in Trenchtown.