"This Is A Message To Michael Jackson"
Loaded (October 1998)
By Rowan Chernin
Lee "Scratch" Perry has just written a message for Loaded to deliver to Michael Jackson. We have ventured into the lush postcard mountains of Switzerland, the home of the cuckoo clock. A place where chocolate is shaped like road signs and Julie Andrews once declared "the hills are alive with the sound of music."
This is also the world of Pipecock Jackson, the Mighty Upsetter, rajah Perry ABC. In some interviews he appears as Peter Pan Kung Fu Man... Today his Swiss wife, Mireille, casually introduces him as Lee. He nods. Shakes our hands and gets back to the "mess", the name his wife affectionately gives to the Aladdin's cave of reggae jumble vibrating to a loud, soothing bass line. He calls this the "meditation room". In its former life, this was a posh garage with enough space for two and a half BMWs. "Don't touch anything," he says, dusting his technicolour keyboard with a scraggly feather. "Energy all around."
He's got pictures of himself everywhere. Customized with felt tip, ink, paint, feathers, mirrors. Pictures of a younger Lee Perry. Monotone documents from the tidal wave of reggae he created: the early sound of Bob Marley, the rhythms behind Junior Murvin and Max Romeo. He was a reggae scientist. A '60s ska man who moved on to wire his own studio with wobbly magic brainwaves, blew ganja across the tape heads, and formed a mystifying, ludicrous reggae chapter all his own. Between 1974 and 1979, Lee's own creation, the Black Ark studio, channelled the prolific fire of genius he credits to the "extra terrestrial squad". A signal transformed onto vinyl which he merely directed from the "master computer". Then, in 1979, he razed his world to ashes.
Endless reasons and rumours circulated. His wife had left him, the gangsters were taxing him endlessly...he just went crackers. He walked around backwards for awhile, stopping occasionally to hit the floor with a hammer. He supposedly worshipped bananas and bottled his own piss. But, at 62, rolling a big spliff in the luxury of his tropical roof-top conservatory, he certainly landed alright. But which way up is another question.
Right now he's standing on a chair holding his sword Excalibur towards the sun. His denim jacket of mirrors and CDs twinkles like a Christmas tree as he speaks into his microphone: "Jes-us Christ al-mighty...loud an' clear," he mutters. After stabbing Excalibur repeatedly around the roots of his ganja, Lee joins us in the conservatory with a bottle of Sprite and rolls himself a big spliff.
"Michael Jackson," begins his wife. "You hear what they say about he's going to die on his 40th? He don't want to get old. What is he scared of? Maybe he's bored? Lee want to meet him urgently." Why do you need to meet Michael Jackson? "He's working for us," states Lee. "But he don't know who he's working for. He imitating Jesus...he did a good job. We want to take him to show him who is Jesus."
How are you going to do that?
"Take him to Jesus."
"I wouldn't want to tell anybody. Last time he crucified," laughs Lee. "I want to show him in person. That the person he imitate is alive." Are you trying to tell us it's you? "I is here. I wouldn't be any place that Jesus isn't. You see, he's a child. If you do the job on a planet and you're too tired, you feel the job is boring and you want to leave the job, you have your rights to leave it. I get bored so much sometimes I want to do the same, but there's no one to replace I. So I know what he's feeling...we can arrange something."
Do you think he's going to get this invitation? "He just needs to get the message," stresses Mireille.
In your meditation room downstairs, you've got lots of messages to the flies. "ET send them. The flies are the good extra terrestrials. The interpretation for ET is Ethiopia. If you believe that ET exists then you know its the magic." Nothing to do with Steven Spielberg's ET, then? "You can think what you think, but ganja is ET. Ganja is a green energy that make changes and end to anything. Changes into a rubber ball. Bouncing. The police have a squad and the soldier an army, but ET only have the flies and the maggots and ashes to ashes, dust to dust, pass me another one and another one is born. One dead, one live. The order of King Arthur, death before the sun. You know about Merlin? I know about this Merlin as well." He's holding his stomach with laughter.
Do you practice a lot of voodoo? "Why am I wearing a voodoo cap if I don't know about the voodoo, hey? I am the voodoo captain. This called the battle of the Armageddon. The judgement is happening now as we speak. The only way fro Ethiopia and Africa to come back is to voodoo the Queen. I must get even with the Queen of England for what she has done to Diana."
Are you a big Diana fan?
"I make Diana out of my pi-ana. If you check the Lee 'Scratch' Perry file you find a record named 'Diana'. She killed one of my creations and I'm not even vexed. I am mad. Not simple mad, FUCKING MAD. Buckingham Palace is gonna feel it like it never feel before."
So is your music going to play a part in this doomsday scenario?
"Without music you are all dead; with music you are alive. There is nothing music can't do. Music can fly, have wings, the magic to make you dance, to make a magician walk on the wire. Eternal thunder. Haile Selassie, they say he die, but he can't die. He disappears and comes back as ganja everywhere - tsssst!" Lee points a finger at a fly drinking from his glass. It falls off dead. A look of wonder blooms across his face. "Magic! You see the fly. I don't tell you nothing yet. You think about the fly and me and you know where we stand. He know how much I like a fly on my glass - tsssst! ET slew the fly. The fly knew he shouldn't go on my glass."
After looking at the rabbits in the garden, Derek Ridgers, the Loaded photographer, returns with a question: "Lee, when you go to town shopping, what do people think of your hats?" "They go crazy for it, mental crazy," Lee exclaims. "Wow! That's all you can hear everywhere is 'wow'! I plan to make them healing caps for all their headaches."
What is going to happen to the people who don't listen to your music?
"All people who love my music will be fully supported. They will be protected by my UFO spaceship. Do you remember the time in Egypt when I stretched my arm across the Red Sea? The sea opened, we take the slave, then the jealous Pharoah didn't want to see them free. Jealous bitch. Them that don't love my music shall surely perish. They won't have any food, won't have any mood, won't have any good feeling, won't get any healing. Some will be deaf, some will be blind, some will be crab, some will be scorpion, some will be paralysed, some will have one leg, some will have one hand, some will lose their noise, their ears, their wife, some will lose their family, some will die in the famine. Go into the gutter and suffer, won't have any bread or butter, can't find a job, no earning, no money, no honey, no lover. It will be kaput."
"Lee," says Derek, "Would I qualify as one of your fans? I bought one of your ska records in 1968. Would I be OK, or without a noise or no leg?" Lee hands Derek a leaf from his jungle. "When you have a leaf of life, you can learn from a leaf of life. You were sent here by King Arthur."
"The only sound that can make you happy on this planet is music. Music make you super, give you energy to work. Music plays the number one part in the brain. The only way the brain can send a telepathic message is through music. You have your own crystal ball. Mine is the sea and the rivers. If I want to make a crystal ball I fill the bath with water, go inside and meditate."
"This area reminds me of that film, The Sound Of Music," says Derek.
"You got it!"