In Memoriam A Tribute to Genesis Breyer P-Orridge
Into a Time and Space of Wordship
Where to even begin? How to even express all of the emotions evoked by this one single yet highly complex being?
Well, why don’t we begin with the end? Genesis Breyer P-Orridge died on March 14th 2020. Although it was expected (having battled leukemia for several years), the actual moment you hear of the demise—that definitive, irreversible insight of mortality—is always downright horrible.
BAM! That’s it. It’s over. No more hugs, looks, conversations, dinners, drinks, spontaneous decisions, telepathic jokes or any of the millions of other facets that make human communication so endlessly fascinating. Gen was now gone; leaving behind a sense of very acute loss.
We were scheduled to host an evening together at the wonderful NYC bookstore Mast Books on March 19th, celebrating the release of Sacred Intent, a book that anthologizes all of our interview-conversations between 1986 and 2019. On March 11th, my wife and I decided to not go to the US (we live in Sweden) because of the increasing Coronavirus panic. I wrote to Gen that we should postpone the evening so that there was no risk of he/r getting infected, and s/he agreed. On Thursday the 12th our decision was (re)enforced by the official ban on traveling to America. So, a done deal!
Then, on the morning of March 14th, Gen died.
On the very last page of our book (a conversation from November 2019), Gen asked what I thought a world without he/r would be like. Hesitantly, I answered:
I’m trying not to think of it too much. But if I do, I’m just thinking of how blessed I’ve been. You know, we’ve worked together since 1986; we’ve never really had a disruption except for normal disruptions of time. It’s just been extremely valuable. We’ve made these three beautiful albums, and this book, and many other things, and it’s just a blessing. I don’t think I will have emotional problems with it. It’s just a matter of carrying on the work, like you did; you carried on the work. I will carry on the work, and then other people will carry on the work. It feels like a blessing to me.
This is what psychoanalysts call rationalization. I very rationally moved a potentially threatening emotional cluster to a sphere of thinking. This does not work out so well in reality, however, and that is where I’m at as I write this.
This remarkable artist changed things, thinking, people, movements, art, memories, perceptions, culture in general, and so many other things; I cannot think of any other punch-packer of similar stature in the western world of art and esotericism.
Neil Andrew Megson was born in 1950 in northwest England, and then morphed into the new identity of Genesis P-Orridge in the late 1960s. Communal and psychedelic experiments transformed themselves into a radical and ultra-creative view of performance art and industrial music and whatnot, via COUM Transmissions and Throbbing Gristle (TG); only to carry on in the magical and occultural network Thee Temple Ov Psychick Youth (TOPY) and the ever shapeshifting sounds and Gestalts of Psychic TV. Only to carry on with the much written about Pandrogyne Project together with Gen’s wife, Jackie “Lady Jaye” Breyer.
In the early 2000s, the couple morphed together into an artistic, alchemical “pandrogyne” simply called Breyer P-Orridge. They created gender-dissolving art and philosophy in theory and practice, while a new constellation of Psychic TV (called PTV3) traveled the world as psychedelic renegades of love and colorful illumination.
Always writing, always talking and giving interviews about ideas and projects… The P-Orridgean eloquence gave birth to not only the industrial culture of the mid 1970s (and onwards) but also to a new way of looking at occultism and its inevitable result: ”occulture” (a term Gen coined early on). These inherently essential areas of human culture were now suddenly no longer compartmentalized, arcane and dusty; garbed in pseudo-religious symbols and ensuing patriarchal power struggles.
As Throbbing Gristle changed the way music was perceived, so Psychic TV and TOPY changed the magical spectrum and catapulted it into a distinctly contemporary scenario in which individual liberation became a highly charged weapon against the draconian forces of control (a concept inherited from Gen’s friend and mentor William S. Burroughs).
Pandrogeny then did the same thing in and for the decidedly dysphorian identity culture of the 2010s. As new reactive positions were also on the verge of becoming too rigidly dualistic, then suddenly here came the magical Pandrogyne, saying that you don’t have to be either/or—either male or female—and you also don’t have to change into the other “either/or” either. There are always more options, and they’re never definite or eternal. Identity, as everything else, is completely malleable.
Working in music, writing, performances, collages, sculptures, and many other expressive forms, Gen amplified this malleability and unpredictability of given solutions, and even developed it into a solid artistic method:
If you want to do something creative and new, you have to step away from what’s expected and destroy the expected; find what is around you that could make a sound, look at what people expect, and do the opposite.
This is not mere head-on contrarianism, but rather an application of the proven insight that there’s potentially real impact in constructive transgression, and especially if the time is right. Which it always seemed to be for Gen as the celebrated “cultural engineer”… Throbbing Gristle wasn’t just against the prog rock or heavy metal or pop music of the mid ’70s; the project also distanced itself from the punk scene by leaving any kind of three chord proletarianism (or the romanticizing of it) far behind through weaving in real intellectual ideas and new sounds (including primitive proto-sampling via cassette recorders).
This was then totally topsy-turvied with Psychic TV’s first album, Force the Hand of Chance (1982) integrating lighter pop sounds and more ambitious orchestrations; sort of 180° from the harsh existentialist experimentalism that TG were known for. Amplified further in mid to late 1980s rock’n’roll PTV and, again, in PTV3’s psychedelic rock-cum-spaceship-music.
The cut-up technique, as developed by mentors William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin, was quintessential in both theory and practice. Not only in writing and collage work, but also in life in general. Cutting up the given, and trusting the “random” process when reassembling the new parts, often reveal hidden aspects of meaning that can guide you onwards. This was more than mere intellectual Dada wordplay; for Gen, the cut-up method was very literally a way of life.
2019 saw/heard the release of what was to be not only our joint final album, but also Gen’s Loyalty Does Not End With Death (Ideal Recordings). Beautiful spoken word recordings of poems, cut-ups and texts that I had set to ambient, electronic music; hopefully amplifying the potency and emotional reverberations inherent not only in the words themselves but also in the absolutely flawless delivery from Gen; in every way not only a poet par excellence but also a master vocal seducer.
It turned out we had made an album together every 14 years. In 1990 there was At Stockholm (by Psychic TV & White Stains). In 2004 there was Wordship (by Thee Majesty & Cotton Ferox). In 2018 (when we recorded Loyalty) we had divested ourselves of monikers and project names, and it felt very good. Stripping away superfluous layers to reveal what was underneath the surface: a creative “third mind” friendship, this time described simply as Genesis Breyer P-Orridge & Carl Abrahamsson.
In 2016, I made the documentary Change Itself: An Art Apart about Gen’s work. S/he was overjoyed that it deliberately transcended the musical projects and instead focussed mainly on the art and poetry:
We thought art has to be about your life; your life has to be about art and the act of creation. Comprehension by others is the least important aspect. You do things that touch you and that feel symbolically powerful to you. You look for potency and the reclamation of your right to create and dream and reassess and adjust and rebuild consensus reality as you see fit. It is your absolute right.
This altruistic-demagogic side of Gen’s permeated a lot of the output, regardless of media or form. In this sense, I think Gen genuinely carried on a torch from the 1960s that most others just let slip and slide and fade away as an entire generation left the psychedelic states of mind behind. It is never mere loose “hippy” philosophy though; Gen’s multifaceted ideas and concepts were tried and tried again (in praxis as much as theoretically), and over the decades s/he wove in ideas from many different times and cultures. The red thread was always the “sacred intent…” Even if you do things strictly for yourself, they should be altruistically anchored. And if you do beneficial things for others, you can rest assured it will be of gain for you as an individual, too.
The P-Orridgean philosophy is basically a holistic approach that could be shamanic, Buddhist, Santeria, Vodun, or stemming from western magicians like Aleister Crowley and Austin Osman Spare. Arguing that it was all essentially the same, Gen integrated ingredients of infinite intelligence, and cooked up a masterful and tasty dish for others as much as for he/rself.
Working with Gen back in the TOPY days (I was administrator of the Scandinavian “branch” called TOPYSCAN and later on TOPY EUROPE between 1986 and 1991) was extremely exhilarating. There was this constant sense that we were breaking new ground. Probably because we were. There were no other magical orders like TOPY. There was no other network of free-flowing, radical information (often disseminated by xeroxes or cassette tapes of rare archival material) like TOPY, and certainly no internet to help out… There was no other “movement” that encouraged its members to explore magic and individuation by actively making talismanic art—including a ritualized use of sex. There was no other similar thinktank that endeavored to apply wisdoms from the 1960s without falling into the traps of wishy-washy (re)sloganeering; At least not as far as I know. And that was what brought me into the Gesamtkunstwerk that the sphere of Genesis P-Orridge actually was. My interest in magic and pop culture, and how they could potentially merge, led me to become a subscriber to TOPY’s newsletters, and it boosted me so powerfully in terms of inspiration I immediately wanted to become involved. Having watched the mind-bending and soulful video experiments of Psychic TV at an art college in Stockholm in 1984 made me realize that this unique mix of theory and practice was not only extremely creative and magical; it is also (still) of multi-purpose use and relevance for and in the future.
In 1986 I visited the TOPY headquarters in London for the first time. We had already been in touch via letters, but this first personal meeting was definitely life-changing for me. It was beyond mere Psychic TV fanboy-ism, as that first interview also touched upon quintessential, philosophical P-Orridgean concepts in the making:
Some of the people are part of what we call ‘Thee Sex Tribe.’ They follow us around and tend to do what they call ‘sexual terrorism.’ They strip off and dance and do all kinds of things. The sexual tribe is growing considerably. What’s interesting is that the girls don’t act as heterosexual girls or lesbian girls. They just act in a sexual way. Boys who otherwise would never kiss a boy might kiss a boy and not feel embarrassed or inhibited at that moment. That’s the healthiest part of all. They feel free from any inhibitions at that period of time. There is a temporary, yet very strong, suspension of any Either/Or, male/female definitions. It’s a zone of new sexuality.
There was already then also the “staple” attitude that never changed for Gen, and which inspired me greatly in terms of self-discipline and productivity:
I don’t think that just because I’m Genesis P-Orridge I have to do all the exciting work. I’m happy to sweep the floor and knock down a wall and make a cup of tea as well. Everyone should feel like that. There is no more important or less important job. There’s just, ‘What has to get done? Who can do it? Let’s get it done as quickly as we can and let’s do more and more and more…’
That constructive workaholism has helped shape my own life for the better, and I’m very grateful for that. Gen proved time and time again that one has to walk the talk: to have highfalutin, cosmic ideas is not enough; you have to reinforce your vision by hard work, and, yes, why not amplify it all by some ritual magic as well?
So I guess that was the beginning: November 1986. Leaving Gen’s house with a goodie bag of xeroxes, cassette tapes, pamphlets, and magazines, and with life-altering impressions of this weird, soft-spoken little sorcerer with sad, tired eyes, and a relentlessly rewarding work ethic.
It will take time and effort to process this huge loss, and I’m certainly not going to be alone in this. As for those of us who do remain genuinely grateful to this enigmatic and generous humane being, all we can do is carry on the work. And, rest assured, we absolutely will.