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Flesh Of My Flesh

Interview

Genesis P-Orridge – Excuse me while I make myself a quick cocktail...I’ve had a stressful day, I was on the phone with Medicare [groans]. I’ve been around a long time!

 

Office – I first remember hearing your name when I was a teenager, when friends got into Throbbing Gristle. Music has clearly played an important role in your life, where did that start?

 

GP – With my father. Definitely. He would play drums, did some big band stuff, some jazz. So growing up it was always around. We were actually put on a set of drums at the age of four, at a wedding reception, and apparently managed to do a solo. My dad and I would get the knife and fork during Sunday lunch and start doing drum solos along to Buddy Rich on the radio, my mother used to hate it, she’d go “Stop it! I’ll make you eat your greens if you don’t stop it!” Later on, about ’61, we got sent to a school that had a music class. We ended up in the school choir, sang a lot of Latin plainchant, all kinds of fascinating old English music and stuff. We would parade down at Stockport Cathedral at Christmas in the white and red outfits, with the big collars and stuff. These pure little choirboys. I loved it at that school. But then my father moved in ’64 because of his job, and the scholarship was transferred to this other school that was a nightmare. Have you ever seen that film If.... with Malcolm McDowell? Where the students break into the armory for the CCF—you know, the cadets—and machine-gun everybody at Parents Day? My school was like the one in that film, but worse. [laughs] Suddenly your hair had to be above the top of your ear all the way round, you had to wear a gray, woolen, itchy suit and lace-up shoes and all this. We’d been there for about half an hour in this classroom, everybody was already teasing me because I had a Manchester accent, and then the bell went and they all vanished. We wandered around and finally met this teacher in one of the corridors and asked “Where am I supposed to be?” “Come with me,” he said, and took me by the ear. On the grounds they had their own fucking church, and he drags me down the aisle, in front of the whole school, the prep school, the baby ones, all the teachers—everyone’s in there, and the whole thing goes quiet. He says to me “What class are you in?” “Lower 5.2, sir.” “No, you’re much too small and pathetic, you must be in the first years.” So he made me sit with the six-year-olds. That basically gave people carte blanche to do what the hell they wanted to me. Which they did. They would beat me up every day, for my “accent.” I got beaten unconscious several times. But we figured it out eventually.

 

O – Jesus, how did you get out of there?

 

GP – By avoiding as many people as possible, and just doing the work. After a bit I started to suss things out. I became a librarian, so I didn’t have to go outside during lunch breaks, they couldn’t get me. Then I discovered one of the really brutal teachers—I remember his name, D.E.G.

 

Haines—was trying to find someone to be the secretary of the Christian discussion circle. Nobody wanted to do it of course, so we volunteered, and this brutal bastard suddenly loved me because I was helping him keep this thing going. Then I met two or three friends that wrote poetry, and the four freaks basically got together, four against everyone. We started our own magazine called Conscience, we would stand outside the gate and give them away free to students and parents. The magazine made a lot of points about the inequities at the school, you know, the fact that a sixteen- year-old could literally beat somebody younger with a cane, for anything. “I don’t like the way you’re hat looks.” Bang! In the end the headmaster of the school called me up and said “I think you have a lot of valid points in your complaints.” I was like, “What?!” I eventually got several school rules changed. The headmaster created this position for me as his student advisor. He’d get me up there and we’d have a cup of tea and he’d say “What’s going on that’s wrong with the school?”

 

O – Is the school still around?

 

GP – Oh yeah. It’s been around for hundreds of years. It was one of those schools, diplomats’ sons, politicians’ sons, rich people. They would say sincerely, “When you go out into the world, you are the new leaders of Britain.” Except me! A leader in a different way, perhaps. By the time we left we’d already discovered the beatniks and hash, OZ magazine and all that. That was that with school. It taught me who the enemy are, you know? People don’t realize how strong the class system still is in Britain. It’s a really fucked up place. To this day, there is no bill of rights in Great Britain. That’s not a democracy. It’s a monarchy. The whole thing is just this edifice of fake democracy. And it pissed me off.

 

O – Is that what lead to your eventual move to America?

 

GP – In the end it did, in the end I couldn’t go home. In 1975 we were at home in Hackney, living in a squat. There’s a knock on the door, it’s these two detectives, and they show me these souvenir postcards that we’d done of the Queen with soft core porn added in around her, so she’s sort of like “hmm” [strikes a proper regal pose] while there are people all writhing around her. We thought they were funny. “Did you make these?” “ Yeah!” “ Ah, good, well now you’re under arrest for sending indecent mail through the post.” It got really heavy, they actually sentenced me to a year in prison, and the maximum possible fine. In the end, William Burroughs, Bridget Riley, Allen Jones, all these artists and critics, they got together and paid my fines. We had to promise to not make any more postcards of the Queen for three years. 

 

** Genesis recounted another story that she asked remain off the record. It involved an unaired interview with the BBC, details of the scandalous Profumo Affair of the 1960s, and revelations about the rumored sexual proclivities of certain members of the royal family. The result of the ordeal, which gave further reason for self- imposed exile from England, is best summed up by Genesis – “She was pissed, Queenie.” 

 

GP – Anyway, we end up in America. My then wife had gone off with somebody else, so we were in the middle of a not amicable divorce. We went to New York to burn off my frustrations and be decadent for a couple of days, and we stayed with a friend of mine, Terence Sellers, who writes incredible books, particularly on sadomasochism. That particular night we’d taken pharmaceutical Ecstasy from MI T, and we’d been awake for three days. We didn’t want to wake her up, so we went into the dungeon and fell asleep amongst all the torture things. The next morning we woke up and heard voices, and in the doorway we saw this tall, slim, very beautiful woman walking back and forth with a cigarette, in a ‘60s outfit. And out of theblue we said “Dear universe,if we can be with that person for the rest of my life, that’s all I want.” And while we’re saying this I think ‘ Why am I saying this out loud? What the fuck?’ But we said it. She was talking to somebody, getting undressed and putting on all this fetish clothing, and we’re thinking ‘This is a great spot to be right now, wow!’ Somebody we couldn’t see was saying to Jaye, “Don’t go in there! It’s one of Terence’s friends, this English artist. He’s really weird, he’s bad news.” And so of course her first thought is ‘I have to meet this person.’ That’s how we met Jaye. She took me out that night, she arrived in a skintight leather catsuit, five inch leather heels, and this amazing blonde wig, and took me to Paddles, an S&M club at the time. It was the slave auction, so people were bidding to have a slave they could do anything they wanted to for twenty-four hours. We’re standing together, and we happen to look down and there was this naked guy on the floor, prostrate, and her heel was in the middle of his hand, she was grinding it while she’s talking to me as if nothing is out of the ordinary. And we just thought ‘Ah, this is my kind of Woman.’ That was it, we were together from that day. As we got to know each other we learned that she’d done a lot of performance art at Jackie 60, which was a legendary club in New York. She was a dominatrix, and a registered nurse. So she was pretty obsessed with the human body. 

 

 

“We’re standing together, and we happen to look down and there was this naked guy on the floor, prostrate, and her heel was in the middle of his hand, she was grinding it while she’s talking to me as if nothing is out of the ordinary. And we just thought ‘Ah, this is my kind of woman.’”

O – Good cop and bad cop. 

 

GP – Yeah, she was every cop. Instantly we were saying “I just want to be completely swallowed up in you. I don’t want to be a separate person, I just want to become one amazing amoeboid version of the two of us.” You hear it’s really bad to be codependent—we loved to be codependent, we wanted to be 100% codependent. We became this incredible love affair, and we started thinking it through – Why do we want to be absorbed? Why do we have this urge to merge? Does it mean we want to change gender? No, absolutely not. But would we like both genders? Yes, absolutely. It’s about more, getting more. But ultimately we just started to think the real point of existence is to unify the separation in the world. The world is Male/Female, it’s binary. Black/White, Muslim/Jew, all these Either/Or’s that cause friction and paranoia and fear, because people are afraid of things that are different, and what do they do? They attack them. So perhaps if there were no differences, we could get on with doing something better than attacking each other. That just kept developing, through doing rituals together, and psychedelics together, and just talking an awful lot, we came to those conclusions. William Burroughs in 1971 said to me, Gen, your quest is how do you short-circuit control. So where is control? Well the body’s control system is in DNA, which dictates to a very large degree how you will look physically, so if we don’t want to have DN A control who we are, then we have to break DNA. How do we do that? By not having the body it wants us to have. So let’s change the bodies, symbolically at least. That’s how we came to the conclusion that on Valentine’s Day 2003, we’d get matching breast implants. Not to change gender, which is how people often think of it, but to refute gender altogether, and say she is my other half. The complete being is the two becoming one. So we pursued that, inexorably, together.

 

O – Experimenting with your DNA, with your body, is almost an extreme example of your interest in the art of improvisation, which is a big part of your philosophy, isn’t it—it’s at the core. 

 

GP – Yes, it’s the core. You know, what’s around? [scanning the room] Oh, there’s a dollhouse we made with the kids, let’s turn it into a sculpture. What could it be called? Home Is Where The Art Is. Boom. It’s got a room that’s the gallery, and of course it’s full of mirrors and coins, because art is about ego and money. We’re getting different friends to do artworks, so there will actually be rotating exhibitions in that room. Upstairs is inspiration, which is nature and so on, and the pink part, that’s where people have sex. It’s all stuff that was here already. We didn’t run out and get anything, we thought, ‘What’s lying around? How can we say something with it?’ That’s how most of the stuff we do happens. The trick is to keep interesting things around. [disappearing into a closet, returning with a Veuve Cliquot box full of trinkets and voodoo totems from a recent trip to Benin] We went to Africa, and found these things they use when they make their fetishes and sculptures, you know? Penises, and pythons and so on. We don’t know when they’ll come in useful. But they will.

 

O – I know you have a pretty profound interest in these types of things, fringe religions, the occult, the supernatural. Where does that interest come from? 

 

GP – We went there because we were trying to discover how people get power, who has power, how does it work, is it possible to destroy power? We came across Crowley early on in my teens, as we did Burroughs and Kerouac and everyone. My English teacher, who’s a hero of mine, tipped me off to On the Road, and my father found me a copy of it in a motorway café, in the bargain bin. We read that, and immediately wanted to find out more about the people in the book, which meant Burroughs and so on. In ’67, with a friend from school, we hitchhiked to London and went to Soho, the porno area. In the sex shops, they had Henry Miller, Jean Genet, William Burroughs. That was the only place we could find those books, since they’d been branded indecent and obscene. We’d bring them back and we’d all share, pass them around, read them out loud. So that was a massive influence on our approach to the idea of power and control. Burroughs really was the one that set me on to the deeper levels of control. For me to just get a single book by a beatnik, we had to lie to our parents, scrounge money, hitchhike sometimes for twelve, fifteen hours to London, go to Piccadilly Circus, under the statue of Eros, because that’s where the hippies and junkies were, that’s where you could find somewhere to crash, get up and walk around Soho, if you didn’t have the money then steal the books. But on the way down you’ve met truck drivers, old couples in their car, you’ve talked to several people you wouldn’t otherwise meet, heard their life stories, their issues. Or you can click on Amazon. Which is more enriching? 

 

O – It’s almost like the less accessible it is, the more you stand to gain by seeking it out. You seem to go to great lengths to satisfy your curiosity, what is it that inspires you to be so adventurous? 

 

GP – So, as a child, we were put on cortisone for severe asthma. It worked, but every few weeks we’d still have a really bad asthma attack. And as we got older, we started to realize that most of it was panic. You almost collude in creating the illness. We started to just focus on not panicking, until eventually we didn’t have the attacks anymore. So we went to my local doctor, who took me off the cortisone. That was on a Thursday evening. By Monday morning, we couldn’t walk. We were just sat on the edge of the bed rocking back and forth trying to breathe. We remember really distinctly the sensation of being drowned. It’s horrible. My sister, who was downstairs having breakfast, heard this big thud, ran upstairs and saw me on the floor, turning blue. Classic. As luck would have it, our doctor had just moved opposite us on the same street, and was late for work that morning. He was notified, ran from across the street and did the whole Pulp Fiction, you know Whammo! into my heart with a shot of adrenaline. They took me to the ER, came out and said to my parents “We’re very sorry, we couldn’t save him. Your son is dead. All you can do is pray.” We were floating in the air above this Gen body, thinking ‘I’m not dead!’ I could hear them discussing who’s going to tell the parents. The next thing we remember is waking up the next morning with all these tubes and oxygen, and the doctor came to visit me on his rounds. He said “You could live a normal life, or you could drop dead any day. We really don’t know.” To have it made that vivid actually made me lie back and think, ‘What is it I really want to do with this body and mind, right now?’ That made all the decisions so much easier thereafter. ‘Does this move me towards my dream self, or not?’ If it doesn’t, I don’t need it. There’s an old Sufi saying, ‘Live every day as if it’s your last, and that’s the day you will be judged upon.’ That’s how we live.

 

O – I feel like so many people have some form of that phrase on a bumper sticker or as their ‘About Me’ on the Internet, but barely live that in any way. It took that trauma for you to be able to truly embody it. Death probably has the greatest stigma of all, but it can be a positive influence if it’s making you value each of your days. 

 

GP – There would be no Genesis Breyer P-Orridge without that death. It’s funny you should bring that up, because we’ve been working with Hazel Hill McCarthy III and her husband on this documentary on voodoo in Africa. Hazel had shown me these incredible photographs of this voodoo celebration in Benin, and I’d never seen anything like it. The nearest thing would be Leigh Bowery on DM T. They’re that weird. So we go with some friends, and her husband, and the first night, it’s already dark, we’ve been traveling for twenty-odd hours, and we go to the town square in this small port town called Ouidah. It’s getting dark, you can’t drink the local water, so we’re sitting there with a beer—we is me, in this story—when we see this tall, slim figure in robes across the square who appears to be floating, rather than walking, and we blurt out “That must be a priest!” The next day our guide came to the little house we were renting, and that evening he invited us to meet his family. We go to his house, walk in, and there’s the tall floating man from before. It’s his father. Who is the head of all the voodoo in Benin and West Africa, and is head of the python cult. He looks at me and goes, “You had a twin, but she died. She wore gold earrings like the ones you’re wearing.” We went, “Uhhh, yes.” He said we needed to do a ceremony to create a joumou of Lady Jaye. So suddenly, within twenty-four hours... 

 

O – You’re in deep. 

 

GP – ...we’re doing a ceremony with chanting in the dark, blood being poured over things, praying prostrate on the floor. [producing a small, primitive doll decorated with beads and clothing] To create this. For all the twins that die, they create a joumou, to maintain their presence in the family, so they’ve physically died, but they haven’t because they’re still with you. You feed them, and talk to them, and change their clothes, and you share your life with them. There’s no paranoia about death, because people don’t really die. They’re still there. [patting the joumou] She’s still here. It seems so much more healthy, psychologically. To absorb so-called ‘death’ into a positive way of looking at everything. So we didn’t actually expect there to be a story to the film, but that became the story, this twin thing. We filmed a lot of things that were just stunning, things that boggle the mind. We were in this place called Grand-Popo, and the lord mayor welcomed us as sort of VIPs, with a big umbrella over us. There was this tiny town square, and he sits me next to him, Hazel’s there with her camera. All the other villagers come out and start chanting and drumming under this huge baobab tree. Then out come what we call the swirling haystacks, giant cones of what looks like straw, that spin. You assume that there are people in them, but because they’re spinning, any footprints are hidden. We realized it was very similar to a witch’s broom, or those things from Africa and Nepal, where you sweep or brush somebody down to get rid of bad energy. The chief turns to me and he goes, “Now you’ll see some miracles.” Eventually one of these things comes up, and it’s spinning in front of us and they hit it, it stops, and they tip it over. There’s no one inside. But there’s a little altar on the floor, with items on it. You look, and you think ‘Where are they hiding?’ It’s hollow. They tip it back up, and it spins off. The stuff isn’t knocked over, it’s just gone. Three times, with different things appearing under them each time. Freaky. Very freaky. The cynical Western head goes ‘It’s a trick. It’s a David Blaine.’ But you know what? It might not be. We tried really hard, as cynics, to figure it out, and we couldn’t. And how come we met the high priest that first night, you know? You start to think, which we already believed, that it is possible to maintain a friendly relationship with the mysterious energies of this universe. That what people call random chance or synchronicity is more than that. Where we were, it’s an integral part of daily life. There’s no separation between worship, and chanting, and strange phenomena, eating and drinking, giving birth. It’s some kind of extension of consciousness, that enables us to see things or experience things that go against all rational thought. Which is, to me, a very healthy thing. Also, on that visit we kept asking the locals what their creation story was, and they wouldn’t tell me. But when we were leaving, Hazel was given a little book in French. The first page said that in Benin, in voodoo, the divine being is Mawu-Lisa, comprised of the python and the chameleon. Mawu is female, Lisa is male. So their divine being is male and female—the Pandrogyne! Bang! This 10,000-plus-year- old religion, that has been continuous, agrees with us that the divine state must be Male/Female. In other words, the union. The reunion. 

 

O – And you’ve spoken of Adam and Eve coming from the same body, and that there’s a connection there as well, so this reunification spans religions. 

 

GP – Exactly, so that was mind-bogglingly fabulous. 

 

O – It’s funny, because in recent months there has been a lot in the media about transsexual and transgender issues, with the Amazon series Transparent... 

 

GP – ...and the Kardashians! It’s fabulous. It’s symptomatic of a movement, inevitably, towards a new view. That’s what we both felt. We remember when we first came to New York in ’96, from California, in the Village Voice the sex ads were biological women offering sexual favors to heterosexual men. Not long after that, maybe three or four years, it was shemales offering sexual favors to heterosexual men. That is a massive shift. This confession of the heterosexual male to want more than just female. We saw that as a sign of the inevitability of our picture. Hollywood stars, instead of denying they’d had plastic surgery, would almost say “I’m about to get plastic surgery!” There’s gay marriage now, you know? To us, that’s all healthy, that’s a sign that we’re inevitably moving towards this next future. You can’t stop the inevitable expansion of potential futures. Why don’t you let go of the idea that the human body is sacred, and then you can really start talking about going into space, because then you can say, for argument’s sake, if you’re in weightlessness, instead of pedaling on a bicycle for three hours every day to keep your muscles, get rid of your legs! You don’t need legs in space, just float around as a blob, keep what you need. What if you could actually live coldblooded instead of warm? Once you let go of this entrenched, stereotypical template of a human, everything’s possible. You could grow fur. Personally, we’d like to have gills and be able to live under the sea. So it’s also just saying to people, you have the permission to let go of stereotypes, and archetypes. That’s really the message of pandrogeny. It’s not finished. But we are at a crisis point, and we should make a really big decision to work as a species, instead of all these little cabals of bigoted hypocrites. Like the people at my school at the beginning! It’s the same fucking picture. Bullies, people imposing their will because they have the power structure behind them. We’re fighting the same enemy as we did when we were fifteen, it’s just on a grander scale. The same battle. And the strategies and the dynamics are still the same. There are those that are ignorant, that have power inherited, and then there are those of us who want to change that and give everybody the power, for the greater good.

 

O – Sounds good to me. 

 

GP – Sounds good to me too, it makes a lot of sense to us. And we’re the ones who just said “Look, here we are. As a shining example. Fuck it! You know? Fuck ‘em all! Live that life that you would live if you knew that you could die any day. Take that to heart, and say, “What do I truly want to do today? Who could I love? Who could I give praise to, instead of criticizing them?” Each person is one universe, because they’re the only being that will experience every second of their life. No one else will. So we’re billions of universes, clustered together in this conundrum of materiality, and it’s not the end. When you’ve worked with people that have been reincarnated, and you cannot deny they were, you have to rewrite your idea of reality. If they can maintain a sense of individual consciousness, without a body, then in theory we all can. And if we all can, then we can all be anything we want. It’s a wonderful place really, it’s a great planet. And it’s a doll’s house all at the same time. – END