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Q&A With Lee “Scratch” Perry

Scratching the Surface

At 73 years old, Lee “Scratch” Perry has walked a path bordering on genius and insanity, something he might call “god’s way.” During his career, Perry masterfully produced Bob Marley and many other reggae artists, collaborated with Keith Richards and wrote for The Clash. He’s considered by many as one of the creators of the founding fathers of reggae and dub music. Meanwhile, in the press his eccentricities have shined. In interviews, diatribes on spirituality were sometimes construed as ranting babbles. Once after being asked about his belief in Jesus Christ, he exposed himself to the journalist and said, “Here’s Jesus Christ.” Regardless, Perry remains at the top of his field with a 2009 Grammy nomination for “Best Reggae Album” for his latest release, Repentance. He is scheduled to perform at The Independent on December 18th. Perry spoke with SF Station during a phone interview from his home in Switzerland.

SF Station (SFS): Did you enjoy making the video for “Pum Pum”?

Lee “Scratch” Perry (LP): I liked it. We made it in Jamaica. Lot’s of pretty girls were there.

SFS): You’re a happily married man now. Would you make a pum, pum song about being a respected husband?

LP: If you listen good to the beat in Jamaican reggae music, the bass is saying pum-pum. Pum-pum-pum-pum. Pum-pum is just a sexy word we have. It doesn’t have anything to do with music except musical vibration. It’s not about sex. It’s about the music itself.

SFS: How do you feel about artists sampling or mimicking your work?

LP: Well, I feel admired. They’re very sensible and wise. My work is reality, and if you want to have a beautiful reality, you don’t need to pay me for it. I appreciate you. When you touch it, you have a reason, a dream to touch it. I have a dream that it will open some doors inside your brain. I want to hear what you have to say in it.

SFS: Do you think your music translates through your spirituality or is it the opposite, your spirituality translates through your music?

LP: Well my spirit represents my god. My god loves music. My god picked music to be a comforter — to comfort people who are sad, and to help people who are sad to clear their minds.

My mother told the doctor to fix her heart. The doctor used mental techniques with words and songs with feelings that make the people who come want to dance. That is what my music does; it makes the people dance. People who come to my shows, they come right up to front. You’ll see them reach out and they want you to reach. [He laughs]

SFS: At what point did you start collecting emblems and tokens of memories?

LP: Well the most important part of a human being is his memory. The other part that is important is the art. I love to collect art and put the art as a part of my memory. I believe in art and art culture. I believe in words. I believe in song. I believe in my crown. I believe in the sunshine.

SFS: What do you feel most blessed for in your career?

LP: What I feel the most blessed for is the word of god.

SFS: You told David Katz (author of Lee Perry’s biography “People Funny Boy”) that there are “no accidents, no mistakes — everything happens for a reason.” Where are you now, and why?

LP: Where am I? I’m in Switzerland.

SFS: And why?

LP: In Jamaica there were too much people to see. I left them all because they all try to use me. I was not working anymore and I was asked to tour. So this was God — I wasn’t supposed to support these people anymore. I had supported them enough and given them enough. God made that happen, that magical road to London. Then from London I went to Switzerland. God arranged that also.

SFS: A lot of people point to “People Funny Boy,” and “The Upsetter” as the framework for battle songs in hip hop and dancehall today. From your experience, do you think the battle songs today are more violent, more real, or different from these two songs of your work?

LP: There is more violence today because the people want it. I don’t know what they’re preaching. I don’t want to criticize them, but we need some more spirituality right now — something telling you what to do when you have trouble. What to say when you have problems. This is what we need to help the people who are in misery.

SFS: Have you followed the Gaza-Gully conflict involving dancehall artists Mavado and Vybz Kartel in Jamaica?

LP: I’m not on that level. I keep my temple as if I live in church. My church has nothing to do with ghetto. Nothing to do with Gully. Nothing to do with Gaza. I’m more about legalizing for culture — the herb, sensemilla and hashish.

SFS: But you don’t smoke anymore.

LP: I’m not smoking, but you can use marijuana in so many ways. It’s a spiritual drug. You can boil it, and make it into marijuana tea. You can make marijuana soup. You can make marijuana clothes.

SFS: What do you put in your soup?

LP: Vegetables. You don’t know me!

Lee “Scratch” Perry performs at The Independent on Dec 18th. Tickets are $25. Doors open at 8:30pm and the show starts at 9pm.