The Wisdom Of Lee “Scratch” Perry

Win Tickets To See The Artist Formerly Known As Pipecock Jaxson in NYC This Thursday

Long before Lil Wayne started proclaiming that he was “not a human being,” Lee “Scratch” Perry had the whole self-mythologizing thing down to a science. Unfortunately Scratch the character—order your limited edition vinyl… action figure before midnight tonight!—has very nearly eclipsed Lee “Scratch” Perry the man, who just happens to be a bonafide musical genius. His influence on legendary artists ranging from Bob Marley to The Beastie Boys has been well documented, still the cult of personality persists. But when Scratch takes the stage to perform live tonight in Washington D.C., he might just remind a few people what all the fuss is about. (Check the tour dates below.) If you happen to be in New York City tomorrow night, answer our million-dollar question for a chance to win tickets to the May 17th show at NYC’s Gramercy Theatre. And even if you can’t make it to any of these gigs, read on to pick up some pearls of Perry wisdom, as reported by the man called Emch, whose Subatomic Sound System has toured the world with Scratch.

Transcending Oneself

During the 1970s Scratch became one of the first producers who really transcended the role of a technician and advisor to become known as an artist—even while working behind the mixing board and in the studio. Over the last decade or two this phenomenon has become commonplace, but at the time it was revolutionary. Scratch could sing too, but he’s mostly known for his productions and his personality. But after spending extended stretches of time with him, I notice other things, like his sense of humor.  Lee Perry always puts a smile on people’s faces. Even when he’s talking about serious philosophical, spiritual, or political matters, he always finds a way to throw in jokes. You can hear it in Bob Marley’s lyrics too, that same combination of mysticism, social commentary, and joy. But then again, some people just assume that he’s nuts.

Sacred Rituals

A lot of people ask me if Scratch is crazy. They always cite his outlandish appearance—the multicolored hair, the wacky wardrobe—as well as his fondness for rituals and other outrageous behaviour (like the time he burned down his studio, The Black Ark, at the height of his success.) Scratch himself has often told people that he’s not crazy, and that acting crazy is his way of scaring bad people away from him. There may be some truth to that, but at the same time, I’ve noticed that some of his rituals seem to be more for his own satisfaction rather than to impress others.

Scratch always starts every show backstage and he walks to the stage singing. He does this by using a 100-foot mic cable, and before every performance he waves a torch over the mic cable to purify it before plugging it into the mic that he carries with him, which is encrusted with jewels and various art objects. Once I was hanging backstage before a show in East Germany, in what I think was an old Soviet military warehouse. No one else was back there except Scratch, standing in the corner of a massive black room performing the fire ritual for no one but himself. Draw your own conclusions.

During our weeks on the road I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to reason with Scratch on a number of topics of interest—such as the link between marital arts and music…

Scratch on Kung Fu

“An important part of music is fitness. You kick. You think fast. I am a fan of Bruce Lee. The music itself is exercise, it has lots of things to do with kung fu martial arts. Balance. Perfect positive thinking. Spiritual self defense. What you are going to use to knock out your opponent. Envision their next move and what you can do to counter their next move. Me don’t want to stay at one level. What’s next? It’s easy for me to get bored. Me want to hear new ideas, new things. Everything is reality, not a joke.”


Scratch on Superheroes

“Superman is my favorite. Superman, Batman, Robin, Iron Man, The Hulk. You know Hulk? Yes. And Hercules. They are an inspiration for how to fight the villains. Justice. Legions of justice. That’s my music. You fight for right and you fight for win. It’s not a joke. A real martial art that. Make yourself a champion.”


Scratch on The Jungle

“The jungle provides all the songs. It is the magic yard and the magic field. It supplies the sense, the healing, and everything. Most of the songs are in the jungle because the animals are our ancestors, the inheritants of the jungle. They know many things that you don’t know.”


Scratch on Animals

“Some people kill them to eat them to get the animal power but you don’t have to kill them to get the animal power. Take what the animal eat. If you eat what the animal eat you will be great as the animals themselves and become a great scientist. The animal have wild, massive power. They are very special, very special to God. They were here before we. Take your camera and watch what the animal eat and eat it too. Then you will be wise as the animals themselves.”


Scratch on Nature

“The trees have the medicine. There will be a time when this pollution end and we will need to get away from the gas, the virus, and fungus, and we’ll have to go back to the trees to get the medicine. The trees, some are scientists and some are shaman. They have things that cure disease and everything.”


Scratch on Songwriting

“It’s like a book open in the air and sometimes me hear new words coming from nowhere. Same words get boring sometimes. Sometimes you hear a song you know and instead of the same words all the time, it’s new words—new riddim but the same song. You must be free to extend yourself, to extend your vision. There is no mistake in music. The game is making the impossible possible. Music itself is magic. You mix the magic with nature and good feelings. If you make the music sexy, the girls start to dance sexy. It’s bed business.”


Scratch on The Economy

(We spoke about economics back in 2011 before Occupy Wall Street and many of the other grassroots global resistance movements began.) “The flowing of money will change. Things can’t continue like that. People will rebel. They will go back to nature. What happened in ancient Egypt was supposed to be a creation of knowledge to show to the world but people started to use it to enchant, to the darkside, to grant their wishes. (Pulls out a US Dollar and starts drawing on the Egyption pyramin with a pen) See the diamond (on the top of the pyramid)? The eye? You can transfer good things and evil things through the vision of that eye. It’s the four corners of the universe. Not even America owns it. The government doesn’t even own it, the press. You have to be a slave if you don’t have the energy. You have to work with someone who has the energy or you will be a slave. The money is going to disappear then they will have to go back to the jungle. [Laughs] That will be the end of the world they are talking about. A few people will end up learning knowledge for the next generation. The next generation doesn’t want to be slaves either, because of money. They will rebel and mash up whole lots of guys. The children are the future. It won’t be easy for them to be controlled by some old fucking bastard. They want to be a soldier.


Scratch on Computers

“The laptop is part of me right now. It keeps me happy because those 26 letters start to talk to me. Those letters play in your brain. They send telepathic messages to your brain and tell you what to write. I used to carry two suitcases full of words. I think fast so it’s easy to get bored, so that laptop keeps me from getting bored. Words are the genie, forever have protection. Magic words. Miracle words. Make things happen.”

CONTEST QUESTION: Name three songs or albums by Lee Perry that include “jungle” in the title. (Hint: one is with Subatomic Sound System) The first person to leave a comment on this post with the correct answer will win two free tickets to tomorrow’s Scratch show.

5 Responses

  1. “Concrete Jungle” – Bob Marley & The Wailers
    “Blackboard Jungle Vol. 1: Respect the Foundation” – Subatomic Sound System & Dubblestandart
    “Super Ape inna Jungle” – Mad Professor

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