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.