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Don’t Sleep—The Stepping Razor Is Still Dangerous

“If you wanna live,” sang PETER TOSH beneath a full moon at Kingston, Jamaica’s National Stadium, “treat me good.” Standing firm as lightning flashed over the stage, the man called Stepping Razor spat bitter truths and ganja smoke in the faces of Prime Minister Michael Manley, opposition leader Edward Seaga, a gathering of their ghetto henchmen, and a large contingent of well-armed police—while thousands of Kingstonians bore witness.

Tribal war between gangs loyal to Manley’s socialist PNP and Seaga’s right-wing JLP had claimed too many lives since the 1976 general elections, so on April 22, 1978, a big reggae show was held with the explicit aim of easing the tension. That same night, Tosh’s former bandmate Bob Marley managed to bring Manley and Seaga onstage for a symbolic joining of hands that did not exactly bring an end to the violence. It did, however, become an iconic tableau within Marley mythology, thanks in part to the documentary, Heartland Reggae. Tosh, on the other hand, refused to allow any American “pirates” to film his hour-long set.

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Thankfully an audio recording survives, preserving the songs and speeches that nearly cost him his life. Story Continues After The Jump… Winston Hubert McIntosh would have celebrated his 72nd birthday last Wednesday, except for the fact that he was gunned down in his Kingston home on September 11, 1987, along with herbalist Wilton “Doc” Brown and disc jockey Jeff “Free I” Dixon. This week that same home on Trafalgar Road in New Kingston became the Peter Tosh Museum—which opened last week with a VIP reception including Tosh’s daughter Niambe, his son Andrew, as well as Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Minister of Culture Olivia “Babsy” Grange.

“One thing that was clear from Tosh’s music was the resistance,” said PM Holness. “Standing up for what you believe in and being a rebel, because, sometimes, being a rebel for the right cause is good.”

Exactly what Tosh would have thought about the pomp and circustance surrounding the museum’s opening has been the subject of much debate amongst his fans.

The Friday night concert featuring Luciano and Chronixx would probably have been more his speed. A complex character and profoundly gifted musician, Tosh also became an avid unicyclist and frequented toy stores when he toured the world as a signee to the Rolling Stones record label, presumably because he had missed out on these sorts of simple pleasures during his hardscrabble childhood in Trenchtown.

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