Lee “Scratch” Perry is not quite the anomaly I imagined him to be.
After years of listening to his albums and CDs and reading countless magazine interviews, the mythic dub reggae performer had reached nearly mythic proportions in my head. His illusiveness, the alleged burning of his own studio in protest of the music business, his outlandish costumes, his fantastical lyrics. His reputation and image were engrained in my head. As a reggae music fan, I had categorized him as a must-see many years ago.
At a recent show at the Independent in San Francisco, the Grammy award-winning Perry bounced around the stage carrying a staff with what looked like an animal’s head and feathers attached to the top. He managed to lyrically connect piss, shit and witches all in one song. Surrounded by wafting clouds of smoke in front of the stage, my friends and I looked at each other and laughed. Or maybe winced. Not sure.
We also couldn’t help but notice that Perry was surrounded by white folks, onstage and off. His band was a group of primarily young white males, hammering out dub and classic reggae tunes as if they had been playing these songs their whole lives. The crowd, as far as I could see, was a sea of fair skin. My friend called it “reggae fetish.” I’m not sure what to call it, I just know it felt odd.
And as the show went on, I was thinking two things: this performance is a great one, and I’m watching a legend in Jamaican music. And, he’s really not that weird. I think he’s just having some wicked fun. If I was in my 70s and I had pioneered dub music and helped create an entire genre of music and people thought I was crazy, I’d claim to be Jesus and act weird as hell and sing about completely unrelated subjects, too. Why not? Who’s going to tell him not to?