Eighty this week (20 March), pioneering dub producer Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry is the subject of documentary Vision Of Paradise. Created over a 15 years by director Volker Schaner, and filmed between Jamaica, Ethiopia, Switzerland and London, the spiritual and geographical journey is currently been shown across the UK at special screenings ahead of its release on 8 April on DVD and on demand video. In a guest column for Q, Schaner explains how the film came about.
I first heard the music of Lee Perry when I was 14 years-old. In fact, it was Bob Marley who caught my ears and with the help of my cousin, a music enthusiast who had an amazing vinyl collection of 10,000 records, I found out that there was another man behind Bob Marley, and that was Lee Perry. I also found out that Bob Marley re-recorded the classics Soul Rebel, Don’t Rock My Boat and Small Axe with Chris Blackwell, not even mentioning Lee Perry again. So I felt a drama had happened there.
To work with the artist you admire for such a long time is an amazing experience. You arrive with a lot of strange expectations and when you finally meet the man you learn about the inner and outer view of things. I always wanted to get behind his facade, to find out what really moves him, maybe just to learn from him, but I found out that he doesn’t have a facade. He is like this all the time. It is like he decided to stay in a role he has chosen years ago: to represent the mystical Haile Selassie, the eternal force of good over evil.
It took a while to understand these things. I became a student and kind of assistant to him in many ways, and the movie idea itself went into the background somehow. I met Lee every 3-4 months to do all kinds of things: scenes, music, photos, and writing. He was mostly explaining to me that all he was doing was witnessing his permanent contact to the spiritual world: he was taking a lot of videos and photos with his cameras, that usually didn’t survive for long, or he was burying the remains of his Black Ark Studio in Jamaica, as they come from the earth and have to be returned again. I used to back-up the files or no one would ever see this amazing, magical material.
Lee Perry today spends most of his time writing on his computer. He gets words into his mind from the spirit, and he then enjoys finding out what these words mean in his reality. The same with the rain and clouds; they deliver certain messages to him with their form, colour and timing. After a while with him, you learn this language and you take care about everything that happens around you. The form of a tree, a cloud, a sound; all those small things can show you that you’re never alone. Kids understand this much easier than adults.
There are two songs that are very important to him: Punky Reggae Party and Jah Live. All the time I saw him singing versions and versions of those. The line from Punky Reggae Party is always: “He will be there, the other won’t be there” – to the party, after the final battle, in the new reign of Rastafari: “My people will be there, George Bush won’t be there.” He raves this through hours and hours in a ritual. Same with Jah Live: “Jah Live, children yeah, Satan lost, children yeah, the Upsetter live, children yeah, all his enemies lost, children yeah.” This is something where again you understand how he wrote these songs with Bob Marley. They sang about the future they invented, about their vision of paradise on earth.
To be with him is like you’re finally coming home; you don’t have to be afraid of anything. You’re doing something beautiful all the time, everything makes sense and you’ll never get bored. And you’ll learn how beautiful life can be if you learn to read the signs that the world and your surroundings are sending out. I am immensely grateful that I could share 15 years with this genius and that I can share this to the world with the movie Lee Scratch Perry’s Vision Of Paradise.
For more head to Visionofparadise.de.