Shocks Of Mighty: An Upsetting Biography (Part 4)

The Black Ark had ceased to function by 1979. Burned out physically, mentally, and spiritually, Perry and his studio fell apart. Unable to take the strain, Perry's common law wife Pauline walked out on him, taking the children with her. Perry was walking a tighrope between fantasy and reality, and the departure of his family seemed to push him further into chaos. A new and disturbing persona emerged, and while Perry claimed that it was all an elaborate act to clean house, to rid himself of the people he no longer wanted around him, the Upsetter's mood was clearly cause for concern. Visitors and journalists arrived at Perry's home to find him worshipping bananas, vandalizing the Black Ark, and spouting long, violent diatribes. Reels of master tapes lay strewn on the floor, and the recording equipment was next to useless due to water damage from a leaky roof. The once mighty studio was now little more than a junkyard.

In April 1979, Perry received a visit from Henk Targowski, an impresario and owner of Black Star Liner distribution, a record company based out of Holland. Targowski wanted to distribute Perry's material, but was not prepared for the madness he would encounter at the Black Ark. Along with some associates, Targowski decided to attempt a salvage operation, trying to refurbish and restore the studio to working order. Financed by Black Star Liner, contruction work progressed throughout 1980, and new equipment was ordered and installed. By the spring of 1980, however, the restoration project was abandoned, and Black Star Liner's crew left Jamaica for good. What had been painstakingly rebuilt in the past year was vandalized, dismantled and destroyed by Perry.

In 1981, with his life and studio in ruins, the Upsetter left Jamaica and spent time in New York, performing live with American reggae bands. A series of high-profile performances took place, most notably supporting The Clash in New York in June 1982. Perry then returned to Jamaica, and soon after started recording an new album, Mystic Miracle Star. It seemed that after two years of confusion, Perry was getting back into shape. However, disaster was just around the corner.

One morning in 1983, the Black Ark was destroyed.

Fire raged through the concrete structure, the temperature inside becoming so intense that it eventually blew the roof off. The studio, the source of some of the most powerful music ever recorded, lay in smouldering ruins.

"The Black Ark was too black and too dread," Perry explained later. "Even though I am black, I have to burn it down, to save my brain. It was too black. It want to eat me up!"

The fiery destruction of the Black Ark has become a focal point in the lore surrounding Lee Perry. Although Perry has claimed many times that he burned the Ark himself in a fit of frustration, in reality the Black Ark went out not with a bang, but a series of whimpers. It is unlikely we will ever know the exact cause of the fire -- whether it was done by Perry's own hand or caused by an electrical problem -- but the destruction of the Black Ark was complete.

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