Walter Beck talks to Genesis P-Orridge about the creation of industrial music, William S. Burroughs, and the photographic biography Genesis P-Orridge.
© Sheila Rock (Click Images to enlarge)
Genesis P-Orridge is an industrial pioneer, a member of the notorious COUM Transmissions and Throbbing Gristle, a sonic visionary with Psychic TV, and a true artist whose work continues to challenge people in all its forms. Genesis has worked in music, visuals, performance, ritual, poetry, as well as just about every art other form imaginable. I recently had the privilege of being assigned to interview Genesis and maybe get a brief glimpse into h/er mind.
For someone who has built their career on outrageous noise and outrageous performances, Genesis is a gentle spoken, good humored person. As I called and started the interview, I let a little bit of fandom leak and admitted that I was a bit nervous because I was a big fan of h/er work. S/he assured me that it was alright and seemed rather flattered that I would be such a fan.
S/he began by telling me the story of when s/he met Frank Zappa when accompanying an interviewer for Sounds magazine. According to the story, h/er image of Zappa was shredded during the interview as he repeatedly emphasised musical perfection. When Genesis told Zappa about h/er project of the time, Throbbing Gristle, Zappa said it was ridiculous, saying “people should be experts.”
Genesis told me, “Zappa was a dick,” although s/he still said s/he had a fondness for his Uncle Meat album.
We began talking about the work of William S. Burroughs and I asked Genesis if s/he was just an admirer or was actually close to Burroughs.
“We met him in London in 1971. There was a Canadian magazine that had an advert, ‘Burroughs seeks camo for 1984’. We thought, ‘Surely this can’t be his real address, fuck it, let’s find out’. So we wrote him a letter saying we were sick of people like him, Allen Ginsberg, and Kerouac name-dropping us to appear hip and to cease and desist. We got a postcard from William saying, ‘Here’s my number, call me when you’re in London’.”
When they did meet, according to Genesis, they went through a bottle and a half of Jack Daniels. Burroughs showed Genesis his notebooks and cut-ups, then proceeded to tell Genesis h/er mission in life:
“Your job, Gen, is how to short-circuit control.”
I asked about the origins of industrial music and Gen said it occurred on September 3rd, 1975, they were in a pub with transgressive American artist Monte Cazazza and the conversation went like this:
“You keep saying industrial, Gen.”
“Just call it industrial.”
According to Genesis, Monte coined the phrase “Industrial music for industrial people.”
Looking at how the genre has expanded, Genesis had the tone of a kid in wonder. “Every corner of the globe, there are bands who call themselves industrial. We saw the inevitable before anyone else did.”
I mentioned that my favorite Throbbing Gristle album was 20 Jazz Funk Greats and Gen sort of chuckled and told me about the cover.
“My mum kept telling me I never smiled in our pictures, that it needed some place with flowers. So we went to Beachy Head, which is famous for people committing suicide, and took the picture of us smiling in this beautiful field with flowers. I never told my mum why we took the picture there.”
The conversation took a somber tone as Gen told me about the recent death of the son of Psychic TV bassist Alice Genese. “He went to sleep and died, nobody knows why. It was horrible, she loved him dearly and now she’ll have to live with it for twenty or thirty years. But I saw lines of people three blocks long who came to pay their respects; I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s a strange thing, this moment we call existence, very strange. It’s like purgatory; we’re here to learn while we’re here.”
Wanting to move the conversation towards a brighter area, I asked Genesis about h/er evolution of sound. While industrial music became cemented with Throbbing Gristle, the heavy undertones and experimental edge to Genesis’ music have been there since the recordings of COUM Transmissions and h/er first recording efforts Thee Early Worm.
“My father was a jazz drummer in a big band and trios. He rode motorbikes, quite a rebel. We grew up with jazz and I sang in the church choir and choir at primary school. Up until beat music, it was jazz, improv, and choir. Until the Rolling Stones. I heard them and said, ‘This is what I want.’ So it became a mix of jazz with rhythm and blues, and that ‘fuck you’, destroy, anarchy.”
© Sheila Rock
Genesis started performing, opening for legendary space rockers Hawkwind at a benefit for a commune that had been busted for growing weed. “I said, ‘We’re only going to play for five minutes, so don’t get upset’.”
Later Genesis collaborated with Hawkwind and Psychic TV released a limited edition single of their song ‘Silver Machine’.
S/he seemed very happy that the younger generation is relating to the raw sounds of the ’60s and ’70s that s/he embraced and helped create, “Whenever we play the ’60s riffs, the audience goes nuts. They’ve never had an emotional release like this. Other bands play looking down at their shoes and we’re up there, dancing around, deliberately screwing up to throw the other members off. The audience realizes, ‘This can be fun!’”
I mentioned that I was only twenty-six and Genesis replied, “Oh my, you’re a baby! My children. The younger generation wants someone to tell them the story of when it could happen, when you could create and it could be real.”
Genesis told me of the coming release of Psychic TV’s latest limited edition 12-inch single, two songs that were completely improvised, “They were found at the end of the tape reels and we don’t remember recording them, isn’t that incredible?”
Their music and art certainly resonates strongly with people, Genesis told me of the first time they played in Russia, “We were going to Moscow, just trying to take in all the scenery, when all of a sudden there was a thirty foot banner that said, ‘MOSCOW WELCOMES PSYCHIC TV, S/HE IS HERE!’”
Still showing h/er sense of humor, at a recent performance at the Warhol museum, h/er group was billed as The Imploding Wooden Sometimes Maybe, a twist on Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitables.
“You must know your history”, s/he said with a chuckle.
© Genesis P-Orridge Archive
We finally moved on to the topic of one of Gen’s latest creations, the book Genesis P-Orridge, to be released through First Third Books. It’s a massive photographic biography of Genesis and the people who have shared the journey with h/er. Collaborating with journalist Mark Paytress, Gen explained how it started.
“He said, ‘I’d like to meet you and do a biography’.”
And so the process began, first of collecting literally thousands of photographs. “We thought we had found them all and then we found a trunk of Lady Jayne’s photographs, finding hundreds more.”
S/he credits Leigha Mason for her dedication in trying to sift through them, “She started to reduce them to ‘possibles’ and we still had a thousand page book. It was a great effort to narrow it down to 323 pages. She seemed amazed at my memory, how much I was able to recall from all the years.”
Genesis is quite proud of the finished project, “They’ve created the most beautiful book.”
© Laure Leber
Knowing h/er reputation for creating special works, s/he encouraged people to buy the limited edition of the book, saying, “It has over one hundred extra pages, a poster, and three 7-inch records.”
Recalling the frenzy over the limited edition of The Psychic Bible released by Feral House, Gen joked about copies going for outrageous prices on eBay. S/he advised fans to buy two copies of the limited edition, “Keep one and sell one on eBay, that way you’ve made a profit and gotten a free book. The capitalist ideas that wreck civilization.”
“We did it again, we did it again, we did it again…”
Keeping with the artistic spirit s/he came up in, Gen encouraged h/er fans to go to www.coumunity.com and get involved in h/er various artistic projects.
© Georg Gatsas
Our hour of conversation was an incredible experience. I wasn’t interviewing some high-up musician or artist, but rather felt like I had spoken with an elder, someone who had been there, who could teach me and my brothers and sisters what art was and what it could be. I hope to speak with Genesis again, not as a journalist, but merely as someone seeking to learn from one of the last true originals left in a world growing cold with mediocrity.