The recent death of reggae producer and artist Lee Perry was covered by two sources in my media diet: Pitchfork and Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution. I like reggae/Jamaican/dub/Caribbean sounds as much as the next person but my knowledge does not go far past Bob Marley. Lee Perry was a regrettable blind spot for me.
Over the last couple days I have dived into his work and now understand a bit better why his passing received so much attention. In addition to listening to songs like People Funny Boy I would strongly recommend this five minute mini-doc: Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry at Work. It is a great example of a person with a process producing some magical.
It was fun to look in the Marginal Revolution archives at some older Lee Perry coverage. Why was Tyler so plugged into Lee Perry in 2005?:
- Oct 2005: It looks like Tyler was as much a fan of Roast Fish and Cornbread 15 years ago as he is today
- Jun 2005: Did Tyler make a rare miss in not asking Richard Prum about Lee Perry?
- May 2005: From the post ‘Why satellite radio doesn’t make me happier’ – “I would rather have… a station: “For people who are convinced that James Brown, Sun Ra, Fela Kuti, Lee Perry, and Pierre Boulez are seminal musical figures of our time.”
Would May 2005 Tyler be happy with the music curation services available today? I am both grateful for today’s music discovery choices but also feel I am lacking a way to really grow my familiarity with different sounds and genres not already in or adjacent to my wheelhouse.
I liked this line from this interview: Lee “Scratch” Perry: ‘I gave Bob Marley reggae as a present’ (1:45, transcription errors mine)
I don’t believe God is normal. God is not normal. God is mad, I am sure God is mad… if God who takes all these people and makes them, I find that he made a mistake but he says it is no mistake, it is an experiment.
These were some parts from Pitchfork piece I enjoyed as well: https://pitchfork.com/features/afterword/lee-scratch-perry-obituary/
he remained committed to music as a process synonymous with life itself—alive and always changing. “The studio must be like a living thing,” he once said. “Then I put my mind into the machine and the machine perform reality.”
For those who believe in sound, Perry’s backyard studio, the Black Ark, was the center of the world from 1973 until the producer allegedly burned it down himself a decade later, in order to, he claimed, rid it of demons.
Simone Bertuzzi of the Italian multimedia art duo Invernomuto, who filmed Perry performing for a 2016 conceptual documentary called Negus, told me: “He was almost 80 years old, and after a five hour drive he jumped in front of the camera for another five hours. At the end we asked, ‘Lee are you OK, are you hungry, do you want to stop?’ He said, ‘I’m a robot, I can go on forever. Whatever is fine for you is fine for me.’” Negus took as its starting point Perry’s notion that the right vibrations—played back over a properly loud soundsystem—can alter the past as well as the future. Countless artists received this type of unbridled, possibility-expanding inspiration from the Upsetter.
So while Perry has phase-shifted to another realm of existence, his body of work continues to echo, feedback, and grow. “As long as me live, I am taking the music to a higher level,” he said this past March. “Because my music has no end, and it make you feel happy, turn you on, and put you to bed.” His recordings captured magic. Now, our task is to dub that magic back into motion.