Genesis P. Orridge Pt. II
by D. House
August 12, 2009
Genesis Breyer P-Orridge is a performer, musician, writer and artist whose work with pioneering performance art group COUM Transmissions and industrial band Throbbing Gristle, have become the stuff of legend. Later musical work with Psychic TV was far more prolific and received a much broader exposure. This interview took place on a clear Saturday morning. S/he (Genesis) spoke about love, life, art, music, pandrogyny, and Lady Jaye. This is the second part of a two part interview.
To start at the beginning of the interview, go to Part I.
Let’s talk about the current Psychic TV for a moment. Correct me if I’m wrong, but PTV3 is the newest version of Psychic TV with new members. How do you think that this current group of people carry on with the same musical and artistic ideologies compared to earlier versions, or is it an ongoing, evolving process in the same way that one’s philosophy or way of thinking about things also changes?
PTV3 has been the same since 2003. All the people who are in PTV3, as we gradually collected ourselves together, were told that PTV3 would not just be a rock band. The propaganda of pandrogyny that we wanted to maintain, the visual aspect and the idea of content that was not just straight-forward, “I’m in love, I’m not in love; I’m happy, I’m not happy.” It would also evolve propaganda that would primarily be in the video-light show rather than in the lyrics necessarily, although it could cross-over. Everyone had to understand what we were talking about, that we really believed in it, and that they felt comfortable with it. In fact, they’re so comfortable with it that they all got into cross-dressing, and their entire inherited idea of gender play and gender stereotypes has evolved with us. This particular version of PTV, in my opinion, is by far the most pure and is the band that we dreamed of having in 1967. So finally, we found the people who can execute the music in a way that’s exactly what we hear in our head, at the same time with joy and laughter and without being pompous, while understanding the dialectical issues as well. It’s been really exciting for me, certainly.
You say joy and laughter, is there more of an element of play than previously?
Absolutely. That’s one of the big differences. The most common thing we hear after a gig with someone who has never seen us before is, ‘you all look like you’re having such a great time on stage. You’re smiling and making jokes and doing silly dances. It’s so intoxicating and makes us feel excited and relaxed and want to join in.’ Hence, the slogan, ‘pleasure is a weapon.’ We were much more po-faced in the past.
I remember seeing Psychic TV at the Showbox in Seattle in the late 80s, and it was a fantastic show, a very bold and grand production. But I do remember there was a very stark sense of seriousness. Do you think that having that element of play, is that something that has come together because of the group of people, or is that something that you find yourself embracing as you get older? Where do you think this comes from?
It comes from Lady Jaye because she found Morrison Edley, the drummer. Edley would then present different people to us to pick. We would always default to Lady Jaye because she had great intuition. She very much brought in that element of ‘don’t be so serious and don’t get so pompous, it’s ok to laugh; be silly, in fact, it’s just as powerful.’ Having Lady Jaye there from the beginning very much altered the balance. She opened me up to whole other ways of tactics in a really positive way. For me, that’s made being in a band so much more fun. We actually look forward to it now. We rarely play less than two hours on stage, often three and a half.
How are you doing since the loss of Lady Jaye? I imagine it must have been really difficult. I also understand if it’s something you prefer not to talk about.
Oh no, we can try, but it still makes me feel very emotional. It’s horrible, just horrible. She did say, always, that the only thing she wants to be remembered for was being in one of the great love affairs. We think that’s going to happen. When we toured in Europe, last November (2008), it seems that everybody knew about it and they were being genuinely sympathetic in discreet ways. When she came on screen in videos, they would cheer as well and sometimes cry. There’s this incredible bond that has become possible, before with the fun and afterward with the emotional connection and people understanding the loss.
I think on some level, most people can certainly identify with deep, meaningful, transformative love, and as a result it’s hard not to be able to imagine the loss connected with a loss of that kind of love.
And of course she’s still present whenever we play, on the videos. At the moment, somebody called Hannah Haddix, who’s Marcus Aurelius’ girlfriend, stood in as the neo-Lady Jaye. Jaye had already worked out all the samples for the set list for the new album, so Hannah played them as Jaye would, on behalf of Jaye. The song “New York Story” seems to become Lady Jaye’s song in that it’s partly talking about finding somebody who’s died. It’s somewhat spooky because we did find her in the house dead. She died in my arms in fact. So whenever we sing that song, it’s a rare occurrence for me to get to the end without being in tears. It seems to be healing for me, and it’s also creating a whole new level of commitment in the audience towards the band. It’s not the straight-forward love affair either. I think people are aware of the pandrogyny idea, the fact that commitment was so deep that we were blending our bodies to become one, and that there’s a whole evolutionary story there.
Let’s talk about pandrogyny for a moment.
Well, before we forget, let’s just talk quickly about how the album, [Mr. Alien Brain Vs. the Skinwalkers], came about. After Jaye, as she called it, ‘dropped her body,’ we didn’t play at all for six months. We couldn’t. In fact, we spent most of the time in bed with people looking after me. Then, National Public Radio got in touch and asked if we’d do a live concert for World Café in honor of Lady Jaye. We weren’t sure if we could, but we decided we would try. All we did was have one brief one-hour rehearsal the day before, and then went to Philly and recorded five songs live, straight to tape. There are no over-dubs on the album except for “Papal Breakdance” and “I Love You, I Know.” Everything else was played live. Oh, and “New York Story.” You can tell there are six or seven songs that are straight down. The performance is archived on World Café. When we got the recordings back, we were all stunned at the delicacy of how everyone had played. It really sounds as if it was arranged and that we had practiced and it was mixed and perfected in some way. In fact, they were just jams that we’d been trying out, mainly at sound check on the last tour with Jaye. She’d collected together samples ready to improve all of the tracks. It’s a stunning example of that ability of PTV3 to enter a communal trance state, where we’re so locked in, so aware of every detail of what each other’s doing that we pull away and stop and re-enter and, in my case, do vocals as sparingly as possible on this one, so that it sounds perfect. It’s come from somewhere unusual, somewhere outside our self. It’s a great testament to Lady Jaye because it’s so pure.
And this is the new record?
Yeah, Mr. Alien Brain. It’s honestly, in my opinion, the best album that we’ve ever done. We suspect that’s because Jaye was hovering in some form, making sure. There’s a track at the end called “I Love You, I Know,” which is a good example of the magical aspect of how we work. We thought the album was done, and we were using my friend Bryin Dall’s digital studio just to master it. We went over one evening to render all the tracks so they were the same levels and had the same technical detail. Just as we were going out of the door to the apartment, we banged into the stereo and a pile of CDs fell to the floor. On top was one that just had scrawled on it “Jackie’s Samples.” So we picked it up, put it in my bag, and thought, ‘that was strange, she must want me to listen to this.’ We went to the studio, and as all the tracks were being rendered we said to Bryin, ‘we found this CD, it fell on the floor as we were leaving the house; put it on, let’s see what’s on it, maybe there’s something we can use at the end.’ So he put it on, and it was these various rhythm loops that Jaye had been working on, and most of them were quite straight forward. Then there was this really odd one that was much more gratingly electronic and had this really peculiar syncopation. We both looked at each other and thought it was great, so we recorded three minutes to see what would happen. As we were doing that, unconsciously we were banging on an empty wine bottle with a big ring that was actually the first gift Jaye ever gave me, tapping a rhythm out without thinking. At the end, Bryin said, ‘Gen, could you play that again with the ring on that bottle, it sounded really good.’ Then he said, ‘it really needs bass,’ so we called up Alice Genese, who lives in Hoboken, and said, ‘would you mind very much getting dressed, getting your bass, and driving to Manhattan to play bass on this new track we just started?’ So off she came, sat down, listened, played once, and went home to bed. Bryin thought it still needed something. We were going to have this piece from a telephone message Jaye left where she said, “I love you, I love you so much,” so we tried that. We put it on, and it fitted the rhythm perfectly. Bryin then said it needed an answer and told me to go stand and say, “I know.” So that’s what we did, and that’s the track.
And that’s the final track on the record?
Yeah. So she even wrote a track from beyond, and it was perfect. That fluidity, that openness to what other people might think of as random chance, is always present in the way we work. We never take for granted that formal structures are enough. We always have a little door open for surprises, novelty, etc. Now, you were going to ask about pandrogyny?
Yes, I was interested in your thoughts about the human body being raw material for whatever you want to make it and how that relates to “standard” notions of body image and aesthetics in culture.
Basically, again, it began because of Lady Jaye. The very first time we met, she dressed me in her clothes and put make-up on me. She sometimes would dress as the boyfriend with a moustache and so on. As we fell madly in love we got to this point, you know, when you’re falling in love and you feel it so passionately and deeply that you feel, ‘I wish I could just eat you up, I wish I could just get you and crush you inside me so that you could never ever be gone and I could always be with you.’ Or you could have that little tiny version of the person you love in your pocket so they would never have to go away. It began with that kind of sentimental cultivation that we just wanted to absolutely become each other. We both had a mutual vision one night. We were with our friends and suddenly we both went ‘ah!’ and looked at each other and said, ‘did you see what I saw? Just draw it without telling me what you see.’ We both drew what we were seeing, and we both drew one body with two heads. We actually both saw this with friends around. It was quite strange. That was our confirmation that that was our path. As we developed it and realized we wanted to take it further than people might think, not just dressing up like each other, not just doing our hair like each other, and so on, but actually physically trying to become as much like each other as we could as a commitment, we realized that we were really extending the Burroughs-Gysin idea of the third mind, where by cutting up literature or images and reassembling them, the two people involved in that process are no longer the artist or the author. Somehow it becomes the product of something they call the third mind, the two of them combined. So we thought that we’d do that, we’d make ourselves the cut-up and create a third being, the combination of our two bodies together. We began to actually do that. As you know, we both got breast implants on Valentine’s Day 2003 to state very clearly we’re really serious about this. We also started to realize that we were back in that thing of behavior, DNA. We were in a way rejecting the shape our body would normally have because of DNA. We were confounding the DNA by choosing our body shape and adjusting it. That meant that DNA was somehow involved in this process of being at the mercy of behavioral loops and patterns that weren’t necessarily ones we wanted to buy into. As we looked at DNA, we realized that we were trying to find ways to short-circuit control, to rest absolute control for our being cell-by-cell from DNA, to try and drag the human species into its own future, where instead of thinking for example that the human body is sacred or even that it’s finished evolutionarily, we are in fact still supposed to be evolving. To let the human body languish in a half-finished state is a tragedy and probably a recipe for more disaster. In fact, the human species must let go of the idea that the human body is meant to look like this and realize that we are now at the point where we take over evolutionary control from chance, climate, pressure and so on and actually take responsibility for what we will be, how we will function, how we will look. Especially if we’re going to go into space. It becomes about evolution in the end. Is the human species going to become a tragic by-line like the dinosaur, which is probably what’s going to happen if we carry on as we do, or are we suddenly going to wake-up, be inspired and think not about any kind of separation from the rest of the world but actually just see ourselves as the human species evolving in the most amazing incredible way in order to be proud of itself instead of ashamed of its behavior? Also, in order to populate the universe as we should. So that’s where it goes to.
Why do you feel that we should be populating the universe?
Brion Gysin had a whole book called Here to Go. Basically, with the long-term stresses that are inevitable for us as an intelligent species, once we take control of every aspect of the recording that is our species’ DNA, once we let go of any sense of guilt or sin or travesty, we can inevitably say ‘let’s go out there and look.’ How would that happen? One thing we can do is find out how to hibernate. Bears do it; frogs do it. Frogs aren’t all that bright, that we know of. It’s probably just a hormonal, chemical trick. The main issue with traveling in space is what to do in this tin can that’s going along for years. Hibernate. Another issue would be keeping warm. Let’s be cold-blooded, or grow fur, or have fish scales and live in a tank. Who knows? The minute you let go of thinking that this is the final version of humans, everything opens up into possibilities. Possibilities are what inspire our species to be brilliant. Our species bring brilliant is what’s so exciting about us. It would be so nice, wouldn’t it, to let go of being brutish and barbarian and finally live up to our promise. That’s what it’s really all about, that’s the message.
That’s a very interesting idea. It's fascinating imaging all this.
It would be great. ‘I’m thinking about moving to planet such-and-such, could I have gills please?’
I would like a prehensile tail myself.
That would be nice. We think we’d like gills, so we could swim under the water with dolphins.
That would be pretty fantastic. This seems like a good place to leave off.
It does. It feels like a good ending.
To start at the beginning of the interview, go to Part I.