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THE BEST...THE BEAUTIFUL...AND THE BIZARRE | Collector's
Corner | SO SOCAL

Rastafarian Antiquarian

November 29, 1998|Emory Holmes II

"I don't think I'm truly obsessed," actor-collector Roger Steffens insists. "If I were, I wouldn't do anything but reggae." Indeed, his euphonious baritone is recognizable, in recorded voice-over, as a narrator at the Museum of Tolerance. And, yes, he is an actor, writer-lecturer and a founding editor of the reggae/world music bimonthly magazine The Beat. But there is evidence, on the bottom floor of his Echo Park house, that Steffens is, quite obviously, a born and driven collector. There, pampered and indexed and boxed and stacked in six rambling, interlocking rooms, incubates the rarest and most comprehensive archive of Bob Marley memorabilia and Jamaican pop culture in the world.

Its heart is the voluminous Marley collection: 3,000 hours of videotape; more than 2,000 CDs; 11,000 cassettes; 1,600 hours of unreleased Marley materials, including rehearsals, composing sessions, sound checks, live shows, interviews and demos; 10,000 posters; more than 2,000 coconut-shell, tin, wood and plastic buttons, hats, banners and commemorative coins; a Jamaican Barbie doll featuring Marley on the box; rare home-movie footage of Marley, including the earliest known footage of him, jamming in Hollywood with musical pals Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh; and a video of the final rehearsal before the singer's death in 1981, from cancer, at 36.

The collection, not surprisingly, is coveted. Marley's widow, Rita Marley, "just bought a mansion in the Bahamas in Nassau," Steffens says, "and she's seriously interested in absorbing my entire archive and making it the Bob Marley Reggae Archives." The Queen Mary has also offered him a 9,000-square-foot gallery adjacent to the ship, "with full artistic control, to build a museum of reggae and honor Bob Marley." Though he is mulling both prospects, he doesn't plan to sell for fears that the redoubtable collection will be broken up and bootlegged--despite offers from a Japanese businessman, Steffens reports, of more than $1 million for the whole thing.

"I didn't spend half my life, 25 years, putting this together to have it dissipate," Steffens says. "In order to understand Bob Marley's remarkable accomplishment, you have to understand the context in which he created it. He was the ideal combination of poet, melodist and martyr. My dream is to find someone who understands the centuries-to-come potential of what I've assembled here. These are the new psalms."

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