Genesis Breyer P-Orridge or The human body is a cheap suitcase
Many of you may know the story of Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, but it’s always one that is worthy of being told again: Born in 1950 and raised in Manchester, he would form Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV, making him one of the most important musicians and performance artists of the seventies. Exiled to America due to a legal case in which he was suspected of using pedophilic material in his live shows he would meet his second wife, Jaqueline Breyer, also known as Lady Jaye. Around the time of 2000, both of them would start to undergo several cosmetic operations as a part of their “Pandrogeny Project”. Their aim was to become as aesthetically alike to each other as possible, a saga that would be told in one of the most beautiful and weird love movies of all time, “The Ballad Of Genesis and Lady Jaye”. Though the project would end in 2007 with the death of Lady Jaye, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, henceforth “she”, continues to be one of the most productive and fascinating artists of the world. This year alone, she has released several records, while recently publishing a photo book which reveals many intimate images of her life and appearance, in which she aptly names “Intimidate”. We met with her while she was in Berlin to perform in a theatre play, sharing a vodka cranberry at Park Inn Hotel.
You want to write a book?
We are writing one. It’s something, how would you describe it, it’s like the “Naked Lunch” with ketamine.
So ketamine is your favourite drug?
Well, it was for a long time.. when we go to Kathmandu one of the great luxuries is just about a hundred meters from my hotel there’s a pharmacy there and they sell it over the counter.. and morphine..and valium. There’s no health service, so people buy their own things to try and get well, they diagnose themselves and for some reason that’s available, but who knows for how long. Since 1991 it’s been sold over the counter. It’s the best place in the world, you’ve got all the Tibetan buddhist bright coloured mandalas, flags and chanting and music. You’ve got the monkeys running around on the monkey temple, you’ve got the burning gats where they burn the dead bodies. We know a lot of the Sadhus and holy men, so we hang out with them. It’s good fun. It’s my favourite place on the planet. Are we allowed to mention things like that?
Surely but I wont if you don’t want me to.
Probably wise to think of a way to do it discreetly, so those who know know.
I will just replace ketamine with orange juice or chocolate chips..
Or we say ketamina-cat or get-a-meaner cat with a g.
Nobody will get that.
Well, only those who know. So put get-a-meaner-cat. It’s a visionary drug, you know John Lilly who did the work on dolphin intelligence, the film “Altered States” was based on John Lilly. He built sensory deprivation tanks and would float in liquid at body temperature and then take huge doses of ketamine and track back through DNA and he didn’t actually turn into a pre-historic man like in the film but he did go back into virus structures and strange geometric universes with machine-like organisms and so on and one of his friends who’d worked with him came to visit myself and Lady Jaye and said “Would you like to try this chemical?” At that point it wasn’t very well known, it was very underground so we said “Well, yeah, of course!”, interested in everything and then he said we have to try this three hundred times before it really works and we realised what he meant after a few hundred days..
So you did it every day?
For two years, every hour. Nearly every hour. We’d fall asleep, we didn’t snort, we’d do it intramuscular cuz it’s much different that way and we’d have a syringe each cuz we decided that me and Jane whoever woke up first injected the other one while he was still asleep, so you woke up on ketamine. It was heavy, but fabulous and we did a lot of thinking with that, we were using it, you know, to delve deeper. It was one of the sources of the whole “Pandrogeny” project. But the interesting part is .. John Lilly, which we didn’t know at the beginning, at some point decided to start trying to have breasts and being a hermaphrodite and started injecting his breasts with silicone and then a friend who told us about it, started dressing as a woman and wanting to be a hermaphrodite, so there is something in the spirit of that which wants to create divine hermaphrodites, which is fascinating.
So if I would take ketamine every day i would want to have a penis?
Possibly. You would want to have more of everything. Thats just how we..it’s a strange reaction that we were really interested, yeah we wanted both. You know the thing is you don’t want to be either or, you want to integrate it again into the optimum of being and thats really sort of the biological side of what triggered the whole project.
So you took ketamine for two years, every hour?
But wasn’t that getting.. boring at some point?
We would be in the street. Nobody knew what it was. We’d be in New Mexico in a cafe and we’d just carry on talking, while people were serving us, no one noticed. They thought we were diabetic. Perfect cover. So Lady Jaye nicknamed that “dazzle camouflage”.
What will your book be about?
It’s called “The Howler”, how do we explain. It’s a satire of the British way of life and power. So it’s one very obscure future or parallel universe and the Royal family are hiding in a bunker on the Glastonbury Tor and they’ve all gone insane and Prince Philipp is a really sick pervert who has been into s/m so long so that all the leather on his face, his leather mask has grown into his skin …
How much have you written of it already?
Pages and pages. Two or three hundred pages.
I want to read it. What are the three things you think about the most? On a normal day day, what are the things which come to your mind the most?
Ehm, the nature of existence is the one thing we think about every day. Do we exist? Are we already physically dead? And are we just trying to see if we can change our choices to eventually evolve or escape the loop or are we just trapped in a sort of purgatory -and then connected to that is-, is it possible to change, is it possible to change human nature, can we actually in some way help the world to see itself differently so that there is no more violence, no more intimidation, no more dogma and all those negative things which have gone on far too long. That’s always there turning around.
Then we think about Lady Jaye every day, naturally, we talk to her out loud and its funny if we drop something on the floor, we go like “Oh sorry darling, didn’t need to do that.” Just chattering away all the time and when there’s something difficult to decide about we talk to her. We have a little shrine with photographs and so on, we ..
Do you miss her a lot?
Physically, yes. But emotionally, a little, a bit lonely. Not in a sort of pathetic way, not a very sad way because we still feel connected. One of the things we concluded from our experiments was, one of them is obvious, Jaye always said “the human body is a cheap suitcase”, Timothy Leary used to say “we only have a body to move the brain around” … we are getting noisy, football fans. Shall we continue upstairs?
Sure. So you hate football?
Football fans. It was different when we were young… it is meant for children, not for adults. (somebody makes noise in the hotel) … everyone’s making noise, what’s wrong with them? Sorry, it’s a mess, we didn’t expect that. (We arrive at her room, she takes a pill out of one from three pill cups.)
What are you taking?
The first one is Prednison, it’s a steroid. We have something called Addison’s disease which means my adrenal glands don’t work. And they have two functions. One is fight and flight, and the other is that small amounts trigger all the other organs in the body to work. So you need a constant flow. Otherwise you die. You go into a coma and die.
Well in 1967 we did. They gave it to me for asthma., Iit was one of their so called “wonder drugs”. But they didn’t know that that was one of the side effects. If you take it for a longer time it releases adrenaline, so your adrenals stop bothering to work because there is always enough. So it destroyed the main adrenal gland. So now we have to take them every day to stay alive. So we call them Stay-Alive-Pills. Which is interesting because it means every day it’s a choice to stay. A real choice. That’s something else we think about. But it’s not one of the top 3.
But wouldn’t it … well, be shit to die?
Well back to what we were saying – once we would have thought so. During the teenage and early twenty years we were pretty much an an existentialist. One of the things that happened when we woke up from being technically dead, the doctor came to me in the morning, there were all these wires and oxygen masks and things and he said: “Well actually you died for a little while.” and so we said “What does that mean?” and he “Well you could live a normal life, whatever that means, or you could drop dead any day. We don’t know.” And that was just the final trigger, the final motivation. Nobody knows how much time we have on this planet, but in my case we really didn’t know. So every single day is a blessing and a bonus. There is this sufi saying which is “Lead every day as if it’s your last, and that’s the day your life will be judged upon” So that’s what we decided to do.
… and then you’re doing this interview now?
Haha, yeah. It’s a choice.
What was it like to be dead?
We didn’t have the walking through the white light or anything. Just a blank. We have been actually declared physically dead three times, interestingly enough. My only way to explain what it’s like is having a general anaestetic before surgery, and you stop counting and then you wake up and there is nothing in between. That’s what it was like for me. A blank. Which probably is best.
When we said to my mother that we were dead she said “Ah, but god wanted you back” and we said “Well there was nothing there” and she said “That was because god knew you were coming back!” So you can’t win with those conversations.
Two or three days after the funeral, to be honest we’re not exactly sure, we were still very much in a state of shock. My two daughters had come from California to be with me and some of the members of Psychic TV were there. They all wanted me to go to California with the kids so they could look after me and make sure that we didn’t want to commit suicide or anything ..
Did you want to commit suicide?
No, never. Don’t believe in it. Life is too short already, why waste any.
You’ve got your pills anyway.
.. and more importantly there are things to do here.… so, we’re sitting and everyone’s really nice and the children are saying “We really want you to come to California with us daddy” and we’re saying “Aah, we don’t know, is that what Jaye would want?” .. and then suddenly a thought appeared in my head “What if we are going? We need a photo of me and Jaye together ..” Strange sort of neurotic response. In our bedroom on Jaye’s side of the bed, she had what she called “the kissing wall” and it had more than twenty photos of us kissing in different places. In the middle there was this photo of us kissing in Kathmandu, both of us wearing red robes, entangled on a chair, so it was just a big blob of red with our two heads. So we took the photo and placed in on a table, and then, and everyone saw it, the photo lifted up, floated through the room and landed on the floor directly in front of us with the picture facing up. And everyone was like “Have you seen what just happened?” Until today, when we tell this story, we can’t believe it. It sounds impossible.
Thank god there were witnesses, otherwise we would have thought we had lost our mind. It goes against everything people in the west consider reality. But in other parts of the world people would say “Oh, of course. Of course that happened. What’s unusual about that?” That’s all the part of the first two I guess the other is just my little dog „Musty Dagger“. She’s a Pekinese, she’s tiny.
Have you got a photo?
Of course we do. All people with pets have photos. In the phone where else. Erm and even that’s kind of interesting in terms of this. We call it now, we’ve nicknamed this, these events the „of course-factor“, of course the picture floated across and turned over, of course we got the dog. We had a dog called „Big Boy“, he was really the being that kept me strong after Jayes dropping her body. He never slept on the bed or in the bed before, but the first night he immediately got into the bed and buried himself next to me and he did it every night thereafter. He died two years later from cancer and we thought we want another dog but it has to be small, it has to be female and has to be already house-trained cuz we live in a little apartment and not bark.
You seem to hate loud noises, right? Always or since when?
Probably since after Throbbing Gristle..hahaha.
I can imagine someone starting to hate noise after Throbbing Gristle..
Well that’s why, it’s just too much and what happened was that, for want to have a better cultural market place or whatever cultural zone got flooded with more and more noise and at the beginning there were interesting bands like Cabaret Voltaire, Einstürzende Neubauten and that was fun, but then it just started to, in my opinion, to some degree, degenerate into a formula..… like „Huuhhhh..Boom, boom, boom!“
Or just people who can’t make real music, but now you can do noise and just sit there and..
Exactly. And even now it’s mainly just a laptop, do this and press a button, that’s just a racket and there’s no narrative, there’s no story. For me art, music, writing, all creation should have a story, it should be about something. If it’s not about something, it’s vacuous and empty. Brion Gyson used to call that „deceptional art“ and there’s a lot of it about… We’ve got a record coming out this month, it’s called „Greyhounds of the Future“. Do you wanna hear it?
No one’s heard it except the guys … Before we start we should explain our technique of making records and writing songs now. Somebody comes up with an idea, it’s often just a bass guitar riff, then we go into our recording studio, and which our guitarist Jeff Burner has, and we play sixties style, the band in one room all playing live with baffles and headphones and we’re in a small room for vocals but with a window and we just start to jam and we see where it goes and sometimes we’ll take in. So this one .. we left it on the computer and when we came back we discovered that we’d carried on jamming and written two more songs that we didn’t know we’d written. None of us remember playing it at all and it’s done with no edits, there’s only one over-dub which is saxophones. Everything else is straight down live with no rehearsals, just instant.
OK, cool. I’m curious. I was curious too about the theatre thing you are playing. What is your part in it? I was wondering if you would play a role..
Oh no no.. I..my memory is not good enough. We can never remember things exactly the same. That’s one reason that.. that’s the side effect of improvising so much..… that we can always remember what we are supposed to say and what it’s meant to mean to lead into the next person’s dialogue but we are always doing it different so most people can’t deal with it cuz they’re waiting for the key word and we might suddenly talk for five minutes instead of going yes. There are only really specific projects that we can work in.
Yes. Where is the record coming out?
It’s called „Angry Love Records“, and we only do 500..then we get rid of it. We don’t do them any more, cuz we’re not doing them to be successful. We are just preserving documents of where we’re at philosophically with music and then there’s www.coumunity.com. We like that word cuz it has the word „unity“ in it and the ultimate aim now based on that revelation is that we do want to set up… not a commune, not in the sixties way… but literally a community like a village, so that lots of like-minded people, all of them doing creative kinds of things, have some place and then build each other like a small building like a yeard or little cottage so you have to have a private space. That’s something which goes wrong so often, we’ve lived in communes, so we know. But one big house which is the community’s house in there would be a large kitchen in order to make meals for everyone cuz meal times are one of the best times to discuss things and all the resources..
What’s your favourite food?
We don’t really like food. If we could choose we would never eat, we’d just have a pill with nutrition..
Yes? That’s cool. I wanna have that too. You don’t have to chew the whole time..
It’s so primitive..It bores me to tears the need to eat. Have you’ve read „Thee Psychick Bible“? That’s the condensed history of the eightees of Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth by the time of that we had several houses in Brighton. One of the rituals we had is that we would all sit in a big circle and someone would tell their life story with nothing left out, no matter how uncomfortable or negative..… and one thing we discovered was 80%, both boys and girls, had been sexually abused. It’s incredible how many. It’s still the dirty secret of the West. But what it also did was, it built up this incredible communal trust and also a knowledge because then when somebody did something that used to irritate you’d go of course that’s because this has happened to him and it would suddenly become a blessing instead of an irritation.
The things that irritate you most can be the things that bless you most..…
It was a fascinating experiment and it’s condensed into 540 pages. It’s in its third printing with no press, no publicity, just released. So we’ll see, this new one is..People who have seen it so far have said that again the thing that comes across in the end is love. The film „The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye“..that’s about love too. She’s really liberated me to be able to be more clear, more open-hearted in terms of what we talk about.
What was the most beautiful thing about her?
Fearlessness. We’ve worked with Burroughs, Gysin and Leary and all those amazing people..Derry Jarman. She’s the most remarkable of all and it’s even more wonderful because she’s a biological female and so often women get discarded and when we used to talk about all kinds of stuff constantly and she used to say people still think „Oh Lady Jaye’s only doing things cuz she’s with Gen“ and of course that was completely not true. She was inspiring me and vice versa. Those things we did were her ideas and designs..and she said „Once I’m gone they’ll just dismiss me and we’ll be forgotten“ and we said „No, no, no! We won’t let that happen.“ and that’s why we added Breyer in front for our public persona to say she’s not going away, in fact she comes first. She’s really important.
But yeah…. total fearlessness…remarkable.. and so smart, really really smart. The DVD that came out on „New York Video“ has a whole extra hour and one of my favourite parts of the entire project is ten minutes of Lady Jaye on her own talking with a woman of the BBC and this woman of the BBC is very posh and going on about Freud and being really pompous and Jaye just rips her to pieces but so gently the woman doesn’t know. It’s so articulate, so smart, it’s very beautiful to watch cuz she’s not hurting the woman, she’s just letting the person watching, see by reflection what this woman is, that she’s empty and stupid..
That’s what most people are like, right?
There’s a lot of problems with the human species. That’s why we have to work hard no matter what. The simplest things are still the most powerful. Unconditional love scares a lot of people. It really does. The most common thing we’ve heard after giving our talks or enjoying the film is that people are saying „You know I’ve been always very scared to let that last step happen and being completely open“ because they didn’t want to get hurt and we say „Well did you ever get hurt?“ and they go „Oh, yes of course“ so we say „So what’s the fear?“
The hungarian psychologist Andras Feldmar said something like the fear of most people is to be loved cuz if you love you can decide to stop whenever you want but if you let yourself be loved you can be left any time..
That’s brilliant. We agree. One of my daughters is getting a kid this year ..
Wow! So you’ll be a … grandmother soon?
Haha, a grand-thing, yes.
That’s amazing. Thank you.
text and photos (c) Juliane Liebert 2013