Genesis Breyer P-Orridge: Interview – Part two
Yesterday we gave you Part one of our extensive interview with Genesis Breyer P-Orridge (of Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV and Coum Transmissions). Now it’s time for part two.
In this section Genesis talks about Thee Temple of Psychic Youth, animals, Nepal, children and the possibility of Genesis Breyer P-Orridge coming to the UK in the near future.
Louder Than War: Another aspect of Psychic TV that I’s like to talk about is Thee Temple of Psychic Youth. In the interview you did with Mark Paytress at the beginning of the book (see our review if Genesis’ new book here) you explain the reasons why, after ten years, you dumped the Temple due to constant misinterpretation etc.
Genesis Breyer P-Orridge: We didn’t want to have a guru at the top, someone who had all the answers. We didn’t want to do that.
Do you think that feels like it’s been a negative legacy?
Hang on, looking after two children is difficult enough, but to have sort of several thousand looking to you as a mummy / daddy as well, that’s the last thing we would want. We can’t look after everybody else’s lives, it’s hard enough doing mine. The idea of being a guru was of no importance or interest to us and that was a sort of a constant pressure, not from everybody, but from a certain percentage of people who kept wanting it to be a pyramid structure with someone at the top and it trickling down you know. We were saying, no this is an anti-cult, you know, you get a number and you all have the same name which stops the elitism and people would start doing “well I’m number 41 and you’re number 117” so then we jumbled the numbers up, changed everyone so they couldn’t do that and every time people tried to set some kind of series of importance within it, any hierarchy, we would just fuck with it again. Then suddenly, instead of it being the boys having one name and the girls having another, we jumbled up the genders so they could never force this structure onto us, but after 10 years we had done everything we could find from that project so we stopped.
It was about learning to take care of yourself, learning to analyse yourself and by doing that, by actually digging deeper than your daily way of behaving, seeing if you were capable of change. Isolating habitual things you did whether it be responses to people who insulted you or how you dealt with the breakup of a relationship or an inability to focus on a project and getting finished, whatever it was. It was people finding that through the repetition of coming up with ‘what is it I really DO want? What is it I really desire? What’s the being we want to be at the end of the story?’ and look back and go THIS is what we really wanted to be’.
A lot of people didn’t get that we did the Sigils and they were supposed to, we did it for 23 months and then it got to the point where people were writing in saying “I’ve done my 23 Sigils, now what?” and nothing.
You mention that bit in the book.
If you haven’t figured it out now, you never will. But anything like that that has an element of being fashionable or attractive or a way to get back at your parents, or the system will attract some people who are more interested in it BEING something that they can be a bit mysterious about, “oh yes, I’m TOPY, but I CAN’T tell you about it” um so…
…coming back to…
Those people are attracted to any idea, I mean, it’s ultimately self responsibility. They’re obviously not bothering to think and the whole point was to help you think um so, on the plus side there are still lots of people who were involved with TOPY who are doing amazing things, Justin of Cold Spring (records) he ran Northampton to Carl Abrahamson who first of all did Scandinavia then TOPY Europe, he has this amazing book publishing company and it goes on like that, there’s a lot of people it really did maximize their potential for. And all of them are still around and all of them are still in touch and it’s almost like that’s the graduating class that got it. Completely autonomous and doing things differently to what we do yet, that’s what makes us happy. They understood it was for them.
Well that’s what I’m coming to in my next question, I was coming back to COUM and TG basically. You were really holding a mirror to Britain at the time and showing the truth, something a lot of people didn’t want to acknowledge. What I loved about the book was that even though some of the content (COUM Transmissions and TG lyrics) was controversial, the way you explain it shows the true aims behind the projects. Again, was the book your way of saying ‘Look, this is what we were really doing, forget all they hype and the Daily Mail headlines, this is what we were doing’?
Not initially conscientiously, that’s what we’ve always said, it just never got put into articles. You know, the number of times we’ve told people about that, we were in Katmandu when the police raided and we were running a soup kitchen for lepers, beggars, and Tibetan refugees, for three months, twice a day, feeding anyone who came, rice and dhal and clean water, and giving beggar kids warm clothes for winter. You know, we were in Katmandu saving lives at our own expense and simultaneously to that one the Daily Mirror wrote we should be put in a cage and the key thrown away because of being such a satanic sadistic animal and you think, hang on, how does that work?
Why didn’t you argue the point at the time then?
We did, they just ignored it. It’s not a good story, ‘actually everything we’ve said so far was lies, the truth is that Gen’s really nice’.
Well that’s the thing I got from the book actually. Obviously I know you from your music and art, and was very intimidated about doing this interview, but as I read the book I realized what a warm person you are, and … human, and that’s what I think this book achieves, in it you come across as a beautiful person with a point to prove and something you want to do.
Well that’s good. It’s not as if it was that conscious a decision, it was intuitive, the book, and we have to do a shout-out to Leah Mason who’s an artist in New York, a young artist in her mid-twenties, who’s really talented and is also the kind of person we would have wanted to attract to TOPY in the 80s. She’s really driven and she’s very clear about what she wants to do and become and even though she’s been homeless most of the time we’ve known her, we’ve given her keys to the apartment so she can live here whenever she wants, even when we’re away. She was the one who edited the photos down to what’s in the book, mostly. When we got to about 1000 page,s then we all started voting for which ones had to go and if three people said ‘that one doesn’t add to the story’ then it went, so it was much more intuitive once the editing was in process. We didn’t sit and think ‘oh this book is to vindicate or rehabilitate our image’ we just thought we want this to be as honest as possible.
Ok because there seems to be a lot of artists in the music and art world citing COUM and TG in particular as influences, do you see a lot of that influence yourself and do you appreciate the nod, or do you see people using you as a cache or a way to seem edgy? Because I know a lot of bands like Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson (who used the lightning bolt) and it’s all, you know, everything comes back to you guys.
He also had the fake breasts and the fake gold teeth.
That’s correct yeah, so do you appreciate the nod or do you think “they’re riding on my coattails”?
We don’t think about it. Honestly. I mean, as you may know, we just did a remix with Trent.
Yes, yes I do.
…and, god, he’s a very sincere, very smart, but very open emotionally and he’s a very heartfelt person and that’s why we did the remix, because his e-mail was so touching and friendly and respectful and so he sent this track and when we got the track we loved it anyway. It sounded like Nick Drake … but now. Perfect, we love Nick Drake and we love this song so that’s one to work on. We work in a weird way. After the trial where we sued the insurance company, a few weeks later we got a letter in the post, this package and inside was this really really beautiful letter and it was from this woman Diane Koskey and she said ‘you don’t realize who I am, but I was one of the jurors in your court case and we wanted to let you know that we all really really appreciated meeting you. We felt as if we were meeting you in the court case. We really, dug (cos I can’t think of the right word) you, we really liked what you were saying, why you do things and, oh by the way, I work in the LA zoo and I look after the Howler monkeys so here’s a tape of the Howler monkeys waking up, then if you want to use it in your music it’s good for you’
That sounds amazing.
Yeah, the jury said thank you to me (Louder Than War laughs). That’s amazing. And so we had that from 1996, the tape, but we didn’t use it until we did the remix with Trent Reznor, and that’s the weird sound in the background. The engineer Shaun said, ‘is it true you’ve got a really old, antique Tibetan thigh bone trumpet?’ and we said yes it is actually. It’s over 300 years old, it belonged to Drukpa Kunley who was the original Buddhist monk who started The Crazy Path and so he said ‘Ah I’ve always wanted to play one of those, do you think you could bring it in so I could try playing it’ (because he plays trumpet) so we said yeah, sure, we’ll bring it in. So we brought it in the next day and he played it and it sounded really good so we added that to the Trent Reznor remix. He’s now on a Trent Reznor record.
That’s how art should be though isn’t it?
Exactly, you should be generous. Generosity is an extremely potent and powerful tool for change.
Well, in regard to generosity, my favorite section of the book (which I wrote in my review) is the Childhood, Pets, Family, Nepal, Friends. I really feel that in this section your heart is on display. My favorite photo in the book is the one with you and Caresse.
I think it’s actually Genesse, they looked really similar when they were young.
But the one where you are looking into one and others face and you’re just smiling. Because I’ve just become a new parent myself, I really connected with that photo, it was just a beautiful photo. Do you feel, again, that with this book you have revealed more as, you know, ‘I’m a father’, and ‘I’m a human being’ and that’s why I think out of all the photos in the book it is my favourite.
It’s a beautiful photograph. We didn’t even remember it being taken. It was the same person who took the photos of me with my boa constrictor, whose name was Isabella Constrictor Or Not (both laugh). Sadly Scotland Yard took her away with all the other stuff and put her in a zoo, but she’s safe so that’s good. But they wouldn’t tell me where.
Did you ever feel that, I know you are what you are in regards to an artist, but did you ever worry your lifestyle or art would affect your daughters upbringing in a negative way? The way the establishment were always, you know you talk about the raids and everything, did you ever worry that, deep down, as a parent, this might affect my child?
Of course, and the only things that would have been hurtful to me, were the things that were in the press, cos they knew the real me from growing up.
As far as they were concerned it’s Papa and they still really adore me. I mean, Caresse is having her first child now in December.
Woo – you’re going to be a grandparent!
Granny Gen coming… (both laugh).
We still get on really well. We took them everywhere and when we went to Nepal for the first time we took the children. When we went into the jungles near Burma we took the children, and when we were hanging out with William Burroughs we took the children. I know we’ve got pictures of Caresse a few weeks old in Burroughs arms on a stage at the Final Academy while he’s blessing them.
That’s pretty incredible!
And we’ve got pictures of them with Derek Jarman and he adored them, so even though it might seem unusual to people who aren’t involved in creative activity, they met some of the leading thinkers of the age. They called William Granddad William.
Well that was my main point, and I hate to use the phrase ‘conventional’, you didn’t raise your children in a ‘conventional’ manner, but in the end you’re the same as any other parent. You raised them, you loved them, they flourished, and look what they’ve become. They’ve become great people. And I know a lot of people who would have LOVED to have grown up knowing William Burroughs, me especially.
…and we would have. That’s it see, you have to think back, my technique was, if it was me that was this child, what would we like? What would we remember more vividly in a positive way and if we felt that would be the case, that they would have a positive memory, like something like meeting Burroughs, then we would go ahead, if we thought it might not be a positive event, something we would’ve preferred not to happen to us, then we wouldn’t do it, and even though we lived this really unconventional life we treated the children very carefully. We always had a nanny if we were on tour that was dedicated just to taking care of them. They always had their own room in a hotel, so if they were tired they could go to bed and be safe, but they also, when we did sound checks, had their own microphone, so if they wanted to join in they could. It was just never keeping things in separate boxes, but allowing them the entire experience and believing that that’s a really healthy way of growing up, to a full, well rounded vision of what the world is really like. You know they helped at the soup kitchen so the age of 6 and 8. They were giving food and water to lepers who had no fingers etc and who couldn’t walk and they were fine. Those are happy memories for them, because these people would still smile and be so grateful and to children they had no preconceptions , ‘oh this must be disgusting’ it was just ‘oh he has no fingers but he seems nice’ and we did think, their mother and myself, that that was proof that we did raise them in a really positive way. They could not be freaked out ‘OH MY GOD WHAT’S THAT?’ it was more like ‘oh what’s that’ or ‘is that what it is – it’s an illness? What a shame’. Loving and compassionate .
A lot of people could learn from that. I know you have an appointment at half past 8 so this’ll be my last question.
What’s next for you then Genesis? Are you going to come to the UK again soon because I know the Louder Than War readers would love to see you whether it was art instillation or music we’d love to have you back here. We enjoyed the Rough Trade book launch.
Miles was great wasn’t he?
It was brilliant, it was a great event.
Who was there with me, Leah Mason that we mentioned and afterwards she said she’d seen me give lectures many times by this point, she said “that was the best talk I’ve ever heard you give”. She said, it must have been because you were with Miles who’s a really good friend from a long time, because she said you seemed so relaxed and natural and easy going but you were saying important things. So that was good to know.
For the future, Thursday, we’re going to Berlin and Friday there’s rehearsals. We’re going too be in a play about Cookie Mueller, it’s been organized by people in Berlin.
Bring Psychic TV to the UK please!
(Laughs) have you heard some of the music of the live version?
I’ve not yet no, I’ve not been able to.
(It’s at this point in the interview that Gen asks for my e-mail address.)
We’ll send you some of the music that we’ve been doing.
That would be amazing thanks!
And in projects, the next important one after Berlin is Caresse’s baby of course in December and then we go to Africa the 30th December to, Benin which is on the west coast of Africa near Nigeria, to the main city that’s called Contonou and that’s where more slave ships shipped from Africa, more than any other port, and it’s also the home of what’s become known as voodoo and they do this ritual every 7 years which is related to the Dogon who worshiped beings from Sirius every seven years, so we’re going to do a documentary of me interviewing different, they call them ghosts, we call them priests, but they call them ghosts and just discuss what are the roots of all of it, are there roots to every *indecipherable* system that is the same, you know, where are the common factors of all these different stories and mythologies and are they not mythologies are they actually the truth about what’s happened, because so many of these tribes, for example the Dogon when they were first studied for anthropology not that long ago, about 20-odd years ago, maybe 30, they knew not only the star Sirius, they knew it and give it a different name, they also knew it had two moons that had an egg-shaped orbit that lasted seven years, but we only found that out in the last twenty years with telescopes. How did they know that for hundreds of years? How?
It’s worth investigating.
One is an out-of-body experience which means you can travel through space and time and the other is that they had contact with people from there. There’s no other way.
So that’s always been one of our ongoing fascinations, the roots of culture, the roots of belief, and the stories, you know, trying to find the ultimate, the ultimate story. Where do we come from? Why did we suddenly become intelligent?
That’s what we’ve always admired about you Gen. That it’s not just about titillation, it’s about the root of things and long may you continue.
So we’re looking forward to that and then we go to Scandinavia in February as Psychic TV, but no one’s invited us to London in a while.
What about All Tomorrow’s Parties? They’d put a gig on for you wouldn’t they?
Who knows? We did one with TG but we didn’t particularly enjoy it.
We then discuss the photo of TG that greets me every time I’m in work and Gen shows me his hair which is cascading blond and very, very long.
Thanks you so much for your time.
You’re very welcome.
It’s been a real honor to speak to you, and we really do hope we see you in the UK very soon.
We’re trying to bring the art exhibition to England, at least some of it anyway.
Well, it’s all down to these people in bureaucratic jobs really, the Warhol museum were shocked by how many visitors they had, it was packed, standing room only, so there is interest.
Thank you Genesis, speak soon.
Thank you, take care.
British promoters: Get them here now!!!!
And then it was all over. Gen proved to be, like their book displays, a very loquacious, open, and friendly person.
They say ‘never meet your heroes’. Well sometimes that phrase proves itself to be nonsense.
Author’s footnote: two days after the interview I receive an e-mail from Gen with the aforementioned new Psychic TV tracks which are all sounding fantastic, with one being a long Doors-like trance blues, a country-ish ballad, a long and mesmerizing track that keeps repeating key phrases like “nothing matters but matter” which is sensational and a storming cover of Hawkwind’s Silver Machine which updates the original whilst keeping it’s spirit and sense of adventure.
For Genesis’ Website go here: genesisbreyerporridge.com.
The book referred to above can be purchased here: www.firstthirdbooks.com.