Lee "Scratch" Perry

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When reggae emerged and blossomed at the beginning of the '70s, it seemed the simplest of musical forms, sweet conventional melody over economical rhythm. Lee "Scratch" Perry was the foremost pioneer who, in an act of extraordinary imagination and unprecedented sonic mischief, sucked it down a vortex into a surreal land of lurching cacophony—a world of echoes, rattles, bizarre exhortations, and perplexing silences where everyday rules and common sense no longer applied. As the music, so the man. Before the first part of this conversation, which takes place at a rural house on the border of New York and New Jersey where he has come to be photographed, Lee "Scratch" Perry, 73, carefully treads a path around a coiled garden hose, lifts his feet one by one against a nearby tree and photographs his shoes pressing against the bark, lights three candles on the table between us, and then refuses to speak until he has been brought his cap and it has been placed on his head. "Yeah, man," he says, once his red hair is covered. "What you want to talk about, man?"
A conversation with Perry is a conversation like no other. He speaks in obtuse ways which often seem driven not only by his own diverse and peculiar cosmology but also by the associations he makes between words—not just their meanings, but their rhymes and assonance: "The high priest give me the power to conquer all the priests, until all the priests decrease, like we conquer Greece—Greece was one of the beasts..." and so on.

GQ: What would you say your contribution has been to the world?
These, below, are the edited highlights. (The other bits are weirder, and make less sense.) At the very end, as he rises to leave, he will say: "Well, enjoying interview. But don't call it an interview. An outerview of Lee "Scratch" Perry."
Lee "Scratch" Perry: Happiness. There's a thing here called stress that's been sent here to test mankind - stress and distress, problem and trouble, and evil spirits. I have the power to chase the evil spirit away. I have the power to conquer the duppies. And I have the power to conquer evil. And I have the power to cast out stress, to cast out distress, destroy problems and destroy trouble. And destroy Satan and destroy the devil. I have the power to destroy everything that is evil. I can make the unhappy soul be a happy soul and I can make the unhappy spirit be a happy spirit. Start to clap. Start to drum and start to prance and start to dance. Give the power of happiness. The power of love. The power of fate. The power of truth. The power of the trees and the power of the root, the power of the jungle, the power of the animal. And I represent animal rights.
GQ: When you started making music, you were making music different from what anyone else was making...
Lee "Scratch" Perry:
Yeah. Because I am the grandson of the ancient high priestess—my great grandmother was the high priestess and my godfather was Melchizedek, the highest priest that ever lived. The high priest tell me everything, and the high priest showed me everything. The high priest music never fail me yet. The high priest music lead me to the valley of the shadow of death.
GQ: How would you describe what was different about your music?
Lee "Scratch" Perry:
The music I am making is for my spirit. The spirit tell me what to do.
GQ: So in the 1970s, say, what was the spirit telling you?
Lee "Scratch" Perry:
To bring some white people in the music, because white people love me more. That's what the spirit tell me—to bring the punk in, the Clash and those people, they were taking heavy drugs, they were listen to you and change and stop take heavy drugs.
GQ: How does the music you make counteract those desires?
Lee "Scratch" Perry:
Well, the music will never grown old. And it is not possible for the music to get old because the music is a baby, and the music refuse to grow old. The music refuse to get cold. And the music refuse to catch bacteria. And the music refuse to catch fungus. And all those type of thing. You want to work with me, you work with me, and when you start to deal with the things that I am not a part of, you shall surely die.
GQ: How different do you think reggae would have been if you hadn't existed?
Lee "Scratch" Perry:
It wouldn't reach anywhere. It would die. I create immortality—never grow old, never get cold, never tired, never weary.
GQ: Your music or you?
Lee "Scratch" Perry:
I am my music. My music refuse to die, my music refuse to be an adult, my music will be a baby for all the time.

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Bat shit crazy, yet entertaining.