Rule #1: Be a fan. Lee “Scratch” Perry is a 70-plus-year-old reggae icon. He is not some Williamsburg douchebag who just graduated from Vassar and made one catchy world/house 12-inch that got a lot of MySpace hits and a cover story in The Fader—-he’s from Jamaica. He didn’t hear about reggae by listening to Jamiroquai or the Clash or by studying the music of former British colonies in a nine-week seminar at an elite liberal arts institution—-he helped invent it. He didn’t read about Bob Marley in Rolling Stone or catch some kind of Rasta fashion wave—-he produced the Wailers. So don’t go trying to, somehow, ironically interview Lee “Scratch” Perry like you might ironically interview, like, Britney Spears or Black Dice. This man is not a bumbaclot. He is a genius. And ironic interviews are worthwhile only when the interviewer and interviewee have shared experiences that makes the irony palpable and humorous. But, in the case of Mr. Lee “Scratch” Perry… Rule #2: Don’t expect “shared” experiences. Unless you’re from Trenchtown, have dreadlocks, and were a pioneering reggae producer who, after allegedly and inexplicably burning down your studio, equally inexplicably live in Switzerland, you probably don’t have much in common with Lee “Scratch” Perry. So, just because you yourself happen to be in a band and have a studio of your own, and have a hard-earned appreciation for reverb and tape delay (two effects essential to the production of dub music), don’t naively expect Lee “Scratch” Perry to respond to a question like “Why are you so fascinated with tape delay?” or “What’s the deal with all the reverb?” which much enthusiasm. Because, even though this is an honest question (“honest” = a question that you sincerely yearn to know the answer to) and you ask it because you yourself have often wondered why musicians are so obsessed with reverb and delay in recordings and live settings that don’t seem to warrant such effects, Lee “Scratch” Perry is not conflicted about his use of reverb and tape delay and, just because you might fancy yourself an engineer, Lee “Scratch” Perry doesn’t necessarily want to talk about reverb and tape delay with you. Because…..
Rule #3: The stereotypes are true. Rastafarians talk about ganja, and Babylon, and Jah, and “I.” Now, I’m not sure if Lee “Scratch” Perry is Rastafarian—since, like many Rastafarians (or, at least, Bad Brains) his relationship to his presumed faith seems cursory or opaque (though, as a lapsed Catholic, I know that’s true for me as well)—-but I do know that Lee “Scratch” Perry is from Jamacia and, as a pioneering reggae producer, certainly spent a lot of time with Rastafarians and certainly has spent a lot of time smoking marijuana. Now, I went to an elite liberal arts college and spent a lot of time reading Karl Marx and Thomas Pynchon. For these reasons, I think and talk a lot about Marxism and have a Thomas Pynchon tattoo, just as one might expect me to. So, just as the stereotype of a “wealthy elite liberal arts graduate” fits me, so does the stereotype “he talks about ganja, Bablylon, Jah, and ‘I’ all the time” fit Mr. Lee “Scratch” Perry. Now, I don’t only talk about Karl Marx and get Thomas Pynchon tattoos. Sometimes, I watch Summer School starring Mark Harmon and lose money playing 1-3 Texas Hold ‘Em. So, I’m sure Lee “Scratch” Perry just doesn’t want to talk about ganja, and Babylon, and Jah, and “I” all the time. Maybe he wants watch Summer School, or play 1-3 Texas Hold ‘Em, or talk about the Brady Bunch or the tragedy of the commons. However, when I attempted to interview Lee “Scratch” Perry, he did not raise these subjects but seemed focused on ganja, Bablyon, Jah, and “I.” However, I’m not quite sure if that’s true, because I…
Rule #4: Don’t expect to understand Lee “Scratch” Perry. Now, when I say, “Don’t expect to understand Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry,” I don’t mean that you shouldn’t expect to understand—-in a philosophical, political, or musical sense—-where Lee “Scratch” Perry is coming from, or what he’s been through, or where he is now, or where he’s going. Instead, when I say, “Don’t expect to understand Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry,” I mean “Don’t expect to understand the words that are coming out of Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s mouth” in the Chris Tucker sense, at least not in a telephone interview conducted from your home in, say, Washington, D.C., on a cheap T-Mobile cell phone tenuously connecting you to a musical visionary who just got off a plane in Switzerland. Because Lee “Scratch” Perry has an accent, and boy…it really is an accent. Instead, expect an interview that produces notes that look a lot like this:
introduce myself just got in from france…into switzerland… how are things very cold 2 degrees. do you mis jammacia we go to jammacia all the time. i ‘m bored and want to see my house….i will own it forever. where record now in switzerland…in amacia…with michelle in the congo. black ark… I’ve got my own studio at home in switzerland…not every day and every night black ark after jammacia…. has your music changed? the music changed because of sampling. when i was ijammacia, i ahd black musicians. in switzerland, i have white musicians. what’s the difference most of my fans are white. there is no difference. why. whatever suit the children suit me. I’ll be a child forever. whatever makes them happy that what’s makes me happy. what’s if you r fascination with delay? i had a special sound. internationally. i had a sound that the tree of knowledge…more knowledge than
And then expect to, in a moment of panic, invent a problem with your cell phone so that you can get off the phone with the unintelligible Lee “Scratch” Perry and e-mail his publicist to request an in-person interview in the hope of understanding the pearls of wisdom that drop daily from Mr. Lee “Scratch” Perry’s mouth—-an interview that will never be scheduled.
Lee “Scratch” Perry plays at the 9:30 club tonight.