Genesis Breyer P-Orridge: Interview – part one
Last week, for Louder Than War, Simon Tucker interviewed the remarkable and fascinating Genesis Breyer P-Orridge. The interview stretched over an hour and covered many topics, hence we’ve taken the decision to split it over two pages. The first page is mainly about Genesis’ new book (see our review here), love and raves. Anyone with even the most vague interest in music should consider reading this essential. Part two will appear tomorrow.
Before we dive in with Simon’s interview here’s a quick potted biography of Genesis Breyer P-Orridge (courtesy of Last.fm) …
(Born Neil Andrew Megson 22nd February 1950) Genesis Breyer P-Orridge is an English singer-songwriter, musician, writer and artist. P-Orridge’s early confrontational performance work in Coum Transmissions in the late 1960s and early 1970s along with the industrial band Throbbing Gristle, which dealt with subjects such as prostitution, pornography, serial killers, occultism, and P-Orridge’s own exploration of gender issues, generated controversy. Later musical work with Psychic TV received wider exposure, including some chart-topping singles. P-Orridge is credited on over 200 releases.
P-Orridge has two daughters, Caresse and Genesse, with former wife Paula P-Orridge (born Paula Brooking). After marrying Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge in 1993, Genesis and Lady Jaye began a project to become Breyer P-Orridge, a single pandrogynous entity. Genesis Breyer P-Orridge continued this project after the death of Lady Jaye in 2007.
So it’s 7pm on a Tuesday night and I am anxiously awaiting a Skype interview with one of the most controversial, subversive, loved and loathed artists of our time. Someone hailed in reverence by some and deemed a ‘wrecker of civilization’ by others. Always interesting, ever evolving, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge has been a pain in the backside of conformist Britain for over forty years now, but with the release of their new photo book / autobiography, Genesis is challenging people’s perceptions of them.
Being a Genesis fan for many years now, this is making me even more anxious.
Then, all of a sudden, there they are, on screen and real. This is really happening…
Louder Than War: First of all, congratulations on the book. It’s getting great reviews. What made you decide to do this now?
Gen: The offer basically, initially. Fabric and his team got in touch and said they would like to discuss the idea of doing a book with me and they came to New York, visited me, showed me the Felt book and so on and he was also working with Sheila Rock who’s been a friend of mine since 1981 or something like that and so we thought, you know what, maybe this is a really good time to do something like that. Sounds like a great project and the quality of all of the works and the books is just so exceptional that we just thought, this could become a really precious combination of an art book and a sort of biography with photographs etc. really. So it was their idea, a great idea.
Yeah, so we thought, my feeling is, and it’s the same with Lady Jaye, was just um, we call it the ‘of-course factor’, of course somebody asks us to do the book now and therefore we should do it. So, we tend to think when a door opens, walk through.
Well that was what I was going to ask next actually, because a lot of what you do art wise, and musically, is visual.
Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV etc. a lot of it was visually strong, is this what led you to do a photographic type of book instead of a straight up memoir, because I know a lot of people must be interested in getting your memoirs, there must be a lot of offers?
To create an autobiography we say, we’d need enough money in the bank to be able to do nothing else but write that for two years because it’s a big life…
…you have led a big life.
No offence to anybody, it’s not being egocentric, it’s a lot. So for this wee book we had to go through a thousand plus photographs and try to reduce that down to a few hundred pages and that was really difficult. And ironically, as soon as it was done and at the printers we were clearing out a closet and we found this green, pre-war suitcase that was Lady Jaye’s, pulled it out and thought, I wonder what’s in there, it’s probably a load of old papers you know, so we opened it and it was full of photographs.
She’d been sifting all her favourites anyway, so there was all these treasures in it meaning that we need to do another one. So it’s an endless process if there’s that many photographs, bearing in mind that Scotland Yard destroyed every one they could find.
Of course, yeah I remember that.
Then trying to write that is going to be ten pages of photographs and you’re talking then thirty thousand pages or something that is huge, so what do you do? Do you do a *indecipherable* and do volumes, or do you pick subjects, like sex, do one about all your memories about sex? Or one about music? Or one about power and control and how to destroy it and so on. How do you do that? How do you construct something that covers everything?
Of course yeah, because you’ve divided the book into sections, and the sections on you and Lady Jaye are probably the most visually stunning and texturally revealing, yet underneath all of the performance art and Pandrogyne and surgery, there’s a genuine couple in love, and that’s what I got from the book.
Was it important for you to show the world that, in the end, whatever perceptions people have of you, you were just like every other couple who fall deeply in love because I’m married and I know that feeling, you know John and Yoko are a big public thing which you mention in the foreword of the book, was it important for you in the book to reveal that, you know, underneath all the art and everything, you were just a couple purely in love with each other?
Totally, you know, with no boundaries to anything. You know Lady Jaye used to say, “see a cliff, jump off” and once, the very first time she was thinking about getting some therapy about her childhood, and after the first session, the woman psychiatrist, or psychologist whatever, therapist said, “oh, you know, you’ve got to be very careful about becoming co-dependent” and Jaye just turned around and said, “we want to be 100% co-dependent” (both laugh) you idiot, that’s the whole point.
Did you feel though that people often look at the thing with you and Lady Jaye as a new thing, yet there were people like John and Yoko doing it in the sixties, and it’s not a new thing, it’s just, like I’ve said, people purely in love with each other?
Yeah people missed that you know, it’s, uh, part of it is, I hate to say this, but the media, especially the newspapers in Britain, painted this completely bogus image of a scapegoat that they wanted to introduce to the media. Yeah, so we’re tarred with this completely twisted idea of what we’re like. You know people think they’re going to walk into the apartment and see people hanging off the walls, orgies in the corner (Louder Than War laughs), sacrosanct on the stove, and they walk in and it’s neat and tidy, and people go “you keep this place so clean” and it’s like, well yeah, we like it like that, we can’t work in a mess. And the first thing we usually say is, would you like a cup of tea? And they’re flawed, they think that’s so bizarre.
Yeah, bottom line was it’s just … Lady Jaye actually said not long before she dropped her body “all I ever want to be remembered for is being one of the great love affairs”.
She achieved that.
And it’s happening, you know with the documentary, and then this, people are really beginning to see that, so much so that when we do Psychic TV gigs, when her face comes up on the screen in all the video projections, and we sometimes say this song is for Lady Jaye, they all cheer. They know who she is now and that’s really important you know.
Another thing about the Lady Jaye stuff was that there was a deep sexuality running through it.
(Laughs) Penises nearly kissing. This is not your usual biography, get used to this right now (laughs).
Well, no, in a way I think it is a usual biography in that the fact that there are sections where the readers can feel the heat and the passion from the pair of you. Anyone who’s been in those first throes of passion knows that all that matters is you and that other person and it really comes across so well in the book.
Was that something important again for you, I mean you were SO into each other, not just on a psychological level or a mental level, it was physical, you were obsessed and it was good.
Oh yes there was nothing that, if something turned us on, then we would do it, you know. It was about giving each other absolute pleasure in every possible sense, whether it was mystically or spiritually or hilariously or sexually, whatever, it was about being totally dedicated to the other person’s desire, and that dedication to their desire being the most thrilling and rejuvenating and mind-bending really. Sort of, recognition of something that we discovered together which was that it’s true, the bottom line of everything is if you can’t give, if you can’t let go of the fear of loss, or the fear of things are not working out, if you hold back at all, then you lose so many things that were amazing that you could have had. You know, we’ve had people come up when we’ve given lectures and one of the most common remarks we get is “I’ve always been really afraid of completely committing to a relationship in case it doesn’t work”. And of course the answer is that, why it doesn’t work. But then they usually say, but now I’ve realized I’ve wasted so much and I’m not going to do that anymore, and you just think thank god you’re not going to do that anymore.
So, it was funny in Berlin, we gave a talk after the documentary got its prize, and this guy stood up in the front row, and said, you know in a German accent, “I’ve been following your music, your works for twenty years, and you always really scare me and I find the works so frightening” he said “but now I don’t and I’m confused” (both laugh).
We found out afterwards that he was a famous splatter-film maker in Germany, so obviously he was confused if he was confronted with unconditional love. He didn’t get it, he had a completely sort of self invented idea of what we represented and that’s been part of this whole process, especially since Jaye dropped her body, being, um, what we feel is re-establishing a much more accurate picture of ourselves, both of us, that, even people who thought they were our fans would have these really warped ideas of what it was all about and just pick up on what they thought was sensational, second hand information that was sensational, thinking “oh, that’s gonna make me exciting and interesting”. Misses the point that, whatever you do, no matter how mundane, has to be done 100%.
After seeing the documentary and the book, I know a lot more people are now showing love and warmth to you as a person, thinking, “well hang on a minute, maybe we’ve got this wrong. This is not just an artist, this is a person in love.” That must be a good thing, to have people appreciate you, not just for what you’ve done throughout the years, and your influence, but as a person, a person who was in love and who lost their partner quite young.
It’s a real relief, it really is. And it’s as if people also let go of feeling that they need to mirror what they imagine what we are and they can relax and breathe out, “oh, it’s alright Gen’s like we are”. Gen gets upset about things, and loves people, and is very human. You have to, it’s hard for me, but you have to try to remember that a lot of people who see what we do now, we’ve always existed in their life from when they were a baby. There’s always been a Genesis.
The idea that there’s always been Industrial music, that if you tell them there wasn’t any once, they don’t believe you. It didn’t exist as a title of a genre before ’75, they go, “don’t be ridiculous”. They can’t imagine the world without certain things and so they tend to interpret it based on those preconceptions that they basically inherit from the culture. Just as they inherit moral standards from the culture they exist in, whether it be, you can have twenty wives or you can only have one, you can get divorced or you can’t, you can be gay or you can’t, so on. People come from all these different areas and zones with completely conflicting cultures, yet tend to assume that they are all the same, but they’re not, and it’s the same as how they view events or people and any image that’s in the public media, but they don’t realize that underneath that, under all the different variations, there must be something that we all have in common.
Of course, yeah.
We, just by meeting Jaye, she completely reinvigorated me and stripped away all the leftovers from the first 30-odd years, and that’s why we did the photograph with no hair.
Yeah yeah, and that’s what I was going to say about the honeymoon you had. There’s a great photo of you in nappies and you saying about the shaving off of hair and things, now a lot of people will read that and think, how unconventional, but in the end, it is unconventional, but it is just a couple on honeymoon, in love with each other, traveling and doing things. There’s nothing weird about it.
Hair takes whatever happens during its time of growing, it’s got the DNA record of the time it’s been growing so let’s just shave ALL of our hair off and be reborn ready to start our lives again with no history.
That was what that was all about, we become newborn babies and then pick our own culture, pick our own direction, our own narratives and live that and fuck ’em all. One of the last things she said was, “this year’s slogan should be just “fuck em all””, don’t ever be pressured or surrender to societal or cultural or religious pressure. Truly, look at yourself, decide what you want to be no matter how bizarre or ordinary and then truly live it. Don’t hold back, don’t have fear, don’t surrender to pressure from peer groups or fashion. Just find out who you really are, and then if you have the great fortune to meet someone else who has the same basic feelings then it just amplifies to an incredible degree.
In the book, I know a lot of people who will be eager to read the sections on Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV, maybe they’ll be hoping for a bit of mud-slinging and score-settling, which there’s not, there’s not any of it. Was it a conscience effort of yours NOT to use the book as a way of scoring points on your ex-bandmates, because like the bit it describes Sleazy leaving to do Coil etc and you’re on about him leaving the band, kicking him out of the band whatever, but you describe Coil as “phenomenal”. We all know that Coil were phenomenal. There are a lot of books out there that are full of mud-slinging, but you haven’t done that, the book is full of warmth.
Yeah, that’s me. I mean, we love Sleazy. It doesn’t matter if you disagree about certain aesthetics over some project when it all boils down to is it’s all just bonus stuff, luxury you know. What matters is true friendship and we were really fortunate. We decided we needed a break, we went to Katmandu which we always do when we need a break and then a friend of mine who went with me cos she was also getting over a relationship that had turned bad and then through a discussion she realized you could get your teeth fixed in Bangkok a lot cheaper than America so then we went to Bangkok to get her teeth done and stayed with Sleazy in his compound. And we were there for 10 days and it was great. We got on like we did when we first met, he told me how much he loved me and vice-versa and he said look we’ll never stop being friends and we said we know. You know, it’s one of those things, true friends are people who no matter what they’ve done, if they turn up on your door and knock, you always say come in.
That’s a great line and that leads us on nicely into what I have written here about Sleazy sadly passing in 2010 and the photos of the pair of you are given an added sense of melancholy, but there’s a real sense of friendship and mischief between the two of you. Do you think the humor in Psychic TV and TG is often overlooked in favor of the most shocking aspects, cos the two of you, there was a lot of humor there and mischief?
It’s always frustrated us both that they didn’t see how much, though sometimes very dark humor, or very ironic stuff, I mean we’re from Manchester and Manchester sarcasm is the highest form of conversation (laughs).
In Wales we love the Mancunian sense of humour.
Yeah we love them to (both laugh).
There are so many things that we throw in, little secret jokes or, um, twists on normal ways of perceiving things and lots of the time yes, it’s missed, I mean, a song called Hamburger Lady….(both laugh).
Sorry, but that’s my technical guy to the side of me’s favorite song of yours.
Well it was Jaye’s too, but then she was a nurse to. And that’s what’s interesting, we had a real vacuum cleaner in it. Imagine the picture of this woman who in an intensive care unit, the cleaners have come in to clean up (Louder Than War laughs), cos they do. Imagine that whole scene of them trying to avert their eyes while vacuuming so it was almost a Monty Python scene with this terrible pathos and sadness to it. How do you deal with that? One minute you’re like all the other people around you, then the next minute you can’t speak, can’t see, you can’t remember what happened properly and you’re in this black place, thinking with some sensations in terms of tactile, that’s all. Until you die.
It’s beyond our capability to take in and so, that’s when human beings usually do use humor and find a way inside the experience.
Do you find us Brits do it more than the Americans or cos us Brits do laugh at a lot of things that are.
Yeah we’ve had so many problems with people misinterpreting things we say. “we’ve just been to the hairdressers what do you think” and we go “is your hair naturally greasy or did you make it like that?” (laughs) they don’t laugh.
Speaking of Psychic TV, when it comes to influence, do you feel they get enough credit? Because, as an old school raver myself, when I see documentaries on acid-house culture, there’s never any mention of Jack The Tab or Tekno Acid Beat. Do you feel like you’ve been scrubbed out a bit? I saw Andrew Weatherall play live recently and I know he was part of the set up at some point.
Do you feel rubbed out a bit because you were a HUGE influence on British culture, not just Throbbing Gristle, but that acid-house scene.
It doesn’t bother us. We’re always looking to what’s next, or we did get some credit at the beginning when it was fresh and new, especially in America because we basically moved to the Bay Area originally and some of the Full Moon Party People did to, DJ’s we knew from then and we helped with, one of the first things we did in America were raves. We did a huge one in LA with Timothy Leary and all these different people and we did one in San Francisco that was amazing. It was called ‘Don’t Drink Thee Water’. We had all these embroidered patches that were made by Tibetan refugees in Katmandu that we left in shops, so people got these embroidered patches and we did bumper stickers, people had drawn loads of cubes of acid and so on and the first 12 hours were indoors and it ran from 11pm to 11am indoors. We got all the light shows that were working in the San Francisco area, both old style with oil and so on to the most technologically relevant at the time, so the entire inside of this building was like eight light shows going everywhere and there were big bottles everywhere that said “don’t drink thee water” and shot glasses and that were liquid LSD.
But we did have two, we had people who did um, sort of EMT’s you know, medics there all day, and they set up two big houses for people who didn’t cope, so we had set it all up properly. They’d always be warned before, there’d be someone there guarding it. They’d say “do you really want to drink the water?” “Sure you want to drink the water?” and uh that was an amazing evening (laughs). There were very few who could remember much except being really happy. But then after the first twelve hours we got a license to go into Golden Gate Park, and there we had an organic breakfast, and orange juice, and real water, and more music from DJ’s and so on. It was a 24 hour event. It was an epic rave. No one had really seen that before that point. And then, they just spread outwards sort of.
So ends part one of our Genesis Breyer P-Orridge interview. Check back tomorrow for part two.
For Genesis’ Website go here: genesisbreyerporridge.com.
The book referred to above can be purchased here: www.firstthirdbooks.com.