Few musicians loom as large over both rock and Jamaican music as reggae and dub pioneer Lee "Scratch" Perry, a man so shrouded in mysticism, urban legend and questionable faculties that it's hard, if not impossible, to separate myth from reality. Conventional wisdom says that Perry is a mad genius whose sanity left him years ago. But the first time I interviewed him in 2007, he admitted that he was "crazy like a fox." "If the people expect to see a madman, they'll buy a ticket," he said at the time. Or maybe that's just what a madman would say.
The vocalist/producer has influenced innumerable artists—basically anyone with a passing interest in Jamaican music or remixes—and at 76 is still touring and performing two-hour shows. For Perry, interviews are more free association than question-and-answer; his is an unfiltered, uncensored mind that's the antithesis of media-trained pop tarts. Maybe he'll answer your question. Maybe he'll say whatever he damn wants. As Perry relaxes in the basement of New York's Gramercy Theater post-show, he is, as usual, all about spiritual fulfillment. But now, he's also ready to become your next president.
Your shows routinely last more than two hours. Where does your energy come from?
It's 'cause I'm eternal life. It can't stop.
How are you feeling in general?
I never feel so good in all my life. I feel well-fit. Ready. I feel excellent and great but the way I am feeling now is that I'm feeling super-excellent. Super-perfect. And super-positive. I said to myself, "You better put away all the negativity and for anything, make it happen." If there's an explosion, I'm ready for the explosion. And if it's a sexplosion, I'm ready for the sexplosion. With Scratch they say, "Scratch is larger than life." I'm not ashamed to say that, but it's reality.
It's not easy to explain because I'm just working for someone else. But I have many character. I can change from personality to personality. Tonight, I was working with Superman. That's my favorite legend. He's my top man.
[My focus shifts to Perry's suitcase, which he brings onstage as part of his show. His does not.] What's in the suitcase?
[Ignoring question] Well, he come from a different planet above the Earth. But he's still connected with the water and the earth and the trees and the plants and the roses. So he have unlimited power to do anything. Power to heal people. Power to beat people. Power to kill people.
Okay. So 2012 marks the 50th anniversary of Jamaica's independence. Have you ever considered going into politics?
Well, if the politicians want to give me some billions, I'll take it. [Laughs] Not in the millions. Too small. Think about billions or trillions. Put my family on the highest mountain.
How would you describe a Lee Perry crowd?
This is a spiritual vibration to come to heal people who believe in God. So the people who believe in God, you don't have to ask them anything, they feel it already and I tell them, "Feel what them listening for." They're waiting for somebody to free them from their suffering.
Are you that person?
I did not say so.
But do you think you help them?
[Laughs] No, no, no, no, no. [Laughs] I don't want to be kidnapped.
How long do you want to keep touring for?
Well, if I did choose money, I would have no eternal life. I know that money is rubbish and vanity is stupidness. And all the stupid people are scum and sh-t. You're piss and you're sh-t and you're poop. "I love money. I love vanity." Then they die. I don't make any plan with vanity; I'd rather depend on insanity. I wish to heal people. But we have some people who don't believe in righteousness; they believe in vanity. I will kill the vanity and live.
Can you imagine ever retiring?
Well, the people who want to see me are the people who are vegetarian mostly. I have a spaceship looking for people to select to take off.
Wait. A spaceship? Who's on this ship?
Neptune. AD. BC. With AC. DC. And BB.
[A few minutes later]
So you do an interview for Canada?
No. New York.
Here's a message to United States of America people. I love you because you love me. And when I come to the United States of America, I'm feeling very good and pick up the energy. But they need a leader. They need a president. They need a government. They need a prophet. They need a teacher. They need a guru. And if you want to accept me, I can be your guru and your prophet. I don't need Obama. Obama need me.
Do you ever get nostalgic?
If I look back, I will go in reverse. I don't want to look back. I don't want to be distorted; me I don't wish to be retarded. So I just have to follow what is the secret of life.
Have you figured it out?