He sang me Happy Birthday and we said a prayer for our shit.
Lee Scratch Perry in New York City in 2013. (Photos by Liz Peace)
No one can outdo Lee "Scratch" Perry. At 78-years-old, the "godfather of dub" is still sitting at the top of the dub and reggae game—a game he pioneered in the early 70s, when a DIY studio in his backyard in Kingston, Jamaica became known as the "Black Ark," the site of early experimentations from future legends like Bob Marley and the Wailers, the Heptones, and Junior Marvin.
The Black Ark was an extention of Perry's genius—and his eccentricity; the equipment was scrappy, and Perry often used production techniques that still baffle the ordinary imagination. Crying babies, ghostly echoes, broken glass and the sound of marijuana smoke being blown into a microphone were all woven together into his distinctively surreal sound; he even created drum effects from burying microphones at the base of a palm tree.
Much of Perry's creative genius comes from his sense of mischief—one gets the sense that in music, as in life, absolutely nothing (and yet, everything) is sacred. A conversation with this man is like nothing else on earth; in a heavy patois, he dances from allusion to allusion, rhyming words on-the-fly like a mystical poet and erupting into cheeky giggles. I decided not to ask him the same tired questions that are always posed to living legends, instead playing along with wherever he wanted to go. The results, which include an impromptu Happy Birthday song and an unholy prayer dedicated to his shit, are reproduced in their glory below.
Hey Lee, how are you feeling today?
I'm feeling super. I feel like superman today. I'm feeling good, the way I should, in my neighborhood.
You're living in Jamaica now. What have you been doing?
I've been trying to put my concert back together. Jamaica is mine. I inherit Jamaica. And I have good music so I'm trying to put my music and my country back together with my musical inheritance.
Have you been recording new music?
Not yet. When people who love me want to do it I will start. When people love me I should love them. When people respect me I should respect them. And that's it. Love who love you. And love who hate you.
You started smoking ganja again, right? Why?
No! I promise not to smoke marijuana anymore. I promised my lungs. My baby loves this heart. I will not pollute it with alcohol. Nicotine. Cigarette. Tobacco. Wine. Alcohol. And red meat anymore.
I thought you started smoking again.
No! I stopped completely this time. I discovered my lungs are crying out for help. My breath is crying out for help. Exercise is better. So I stopped smoking and started exercise. Sexercise. In bed. I started sexercising in bed, and more exercising in my head.
Is that your secret to staying so energetic—lots of sexercise?
If you over-sexercise then you will lose a lot of energy. So I'm happy because I push up my exercise. Push up, push up, push up.
How many push-ups do you do?
I do 22.
22 pushups. If I do push up then I cannot be push down. If my dick gets stiff, please don't bother me, because I am busy. I am pushing up and if my dick gets a different idea, then I tell it to be patient, I am just doing exercise.
You've said before that when you listen to music, that the bass sounds like a woman's vagina.
The bass is the brain. And the first thing you think about is the vagina. So the bass is repeating what the man thinking about: poom poom. So poom poom is a big symbol. Poom poom has unique power! Poom poom manifests life! Poom-poom. Makes baby. Poom-poom. Another baby. Without poom-poom you don't have nothing. No sexy poom-poom. If you don't have poom poom, then you don't have life.
You understand? You overstand! You cannot understand. My little children why should we understand when we should be be overstand. I wish the government to understand. I wish the council churches, the popes, will understand. And I wish the American goverment understand that I overstand in the jungle. From Jamaica we put down the fire. A-hoo. We make people happy.
And say Happy birthday. Happy birthday. To you my human fans. I love you. And you love me. We should be. Happy birthday. To you my fans. I'm loving you and you loving me. We should be.
You've been making a lot of music recently about the jungle. What's the power of the jungle to you?
Oh! The power?! The spirits speak from the jungle. And when the spirits speak from the jungle, the spirit of god speaks from the jungle, all the evil spirits get weak and start to shake. Then the spirit of god roll thunder from the jungle and say kahoo-naaaa. Jahoona speak. And the evil get weak. Bip bip bip! That's the power of the jungle. My real name is Pip.
Where did you get that name?
From my pee-pee below. When my pee-pee pee pee, my pee-pee goes pip pip. And my pee-pee said to me, I think you should name pip pip. My pee-pee is pip pip. And I am pip pip.
Your nickname "Scratch" comes from the chicken scratch dance. How do you dance the chicken scratch?
You are a chicken and you go to the zoo. The chicken scratch the earth to find a worm. You scratch the earth. Plant the ganja seed. Plant the herb seed. Scratch the earth and plant any type of seed. And it will grow for you. The chicken is here to teach you what to do. Whatever you plant is going to grow. And when it grow that mean you reap what you sow.
Are you a good dancer?
Super. I dance funny. Real funny. I dance like I'm walking in piss. Walking until you jump on a ship. I do finger like butterfly wings. You write on your computer keys, right? That's text-ercise. That is controlling the world now. Like butterfly.
You have a song with Subatomic Sound System called "Respect My Shit." Why do you think shit and piss are worthy of respect?
The holy shit is the holy eat. That is godliness and that is righteousness. Curse the earth that feed you. You think that you're eating. And the food sinks to anther vibration then you understand food. Love your shit and your shit will love you. Bless your shit and your shit will bless you. Bless your piss and your piss will bless you.
But how do you worship them?
My shit, god bless you for making me happy. Give me strength to walk and strength to talk. And god bless you while you go back to the pip. In Jesus' name. Amen. [laughs]
Why did you burn down the Black Ark Studio?
The devil was there and very much. The devil wanted to eat my own shit. In my bathroom. In my front room in the back. [Editor's note: the Black Ark Studio was in Scratch's backyard.] He tried to trap me but I travelled back and trapped the devil. I trapped the devil in my back yard. So far down. And I say all right. Shazam. Trenchtown Rock. Hit the devil in my front yard. I am little baby who slew the Devil Goliath.
Why did have to burn it down? Why couldn't you exorcise the devil?
The devil was there. You can't get rid of evil without fire. Fire burns up the souls. You have to use fire to burn out evil spirit. You have to use fire to burn out evil souls. You have to use fire to burn out evil flesh. You have to burn out the ghosts and evil duppies. You will never get rid of the duppies if you don't burn up the duppies. [Editor's note: Lee wrote the song "Duppy Conquerer" to free him from evil spirits]
Have you ever seen the devil?
The devil is a cocky! I see the devil because I am a naughty naughty devil. We can't survive without the devil. The people who control the money are the devils. The bank, in the tank, you see them devil's skank. The devil business. It start in Egypt. Rappers are devils. The presidents and their wives are devils. Devil god and devil goddess. God almighty. Evil inheritence. So I leave the devil for my ransom. Bob Marley and the devil kill him.
What do you think of all the modern electronic music that's coming out these days?
The music is good and the electronic good because electronic power is pure. Music is a comforter. And my wife is complaining now because we have to do to the hairdresser.
Okay let me ask you the last question. What is your advice to everyone to be happy?
My advice to be happy is to find a partner, the right partner, to find a wife who can think like you. If your wife is not spiritual, try to find a spiritual wife. If your man is not spiritual, try to find a spiritual man. If you don't try you can't be perfect. If you try you can be perfect.
Michelle Lhooq is a professional textexerciser - @MichelleLhooq