We Can Be Anything We Want To Be: Genesis P-Orridge
Tea in the Imperial War Museum with Genesis P-Orridge
By Sophie Parkin.
The artist and musician, Genesis P-Orridge is currently in a state of transgender, pangenesis or a hermaphroditic state. S/he has had surgery to much of his body to metamorphosise into the image of his/her wife, Lady Jaye. But is it rude to stare or impolite not to mention the obviously spanking new cheekbones and all that breast surgery?
It was only the day after my tea date With Genesis P-Orridge, that I discovered that the site of the Imperial War Museum used to be Bedlam (where my favourite gateposts once stood called ‘Melancholy’ and ‘Raving Madness’ carved in marble by Casius Gabriel Cibber and now residing in the Royal Bethlem Museum in Bromley, South London) where the inmates were referred to as “unfortunates.” This building had a remarkable library and though the sexes were separated, those capable of ‘appreciating music’ danced together in the great ballroom in the evenings. Many famous artists were sent there from Louis Wain, Richard Dadd to Pugin and Charlie Chaplin’s mother, a music hall artiste. Artists weren’t always allowed to be as free and eccentric as Genesis P. Orridge.
Nowadays the museum displays the craziness that war has produced, from the weapons, the paintings of the maimed and a Camouflage Exhibition (until 18 Nov 07). Genesis is on his last day over here with Lady Jaye, his wife and partner in Psychic TV, their band, and this is the exhibition they want to see before flying back to their home in New York.
I arrive for tea and to talk to him/her, about everything except what he has done in music. Of course I listened to the legendary Throbbing Gristle when I was 17 but everything I’ve ever read about Genesis was about his twisted serious nature and his controversial music that has detonated the beginnings of every new variety and form, seemingly, since the late 60’s, but you can read all about that on his website. I was more interested in his physical transformations, his intelligence which is acute, and his philosophy of life and laughter, much of which is to do with the latter. “Lady Jaye says I must stop opening doors and being so polite to ladies, it gives the whole game away,” S/he laughs.
At 57 Genesis wiggles in his jean mini skirt, tights opaque enough to see a dazzling selection of tattoos spiralling around his legs, each of us unsure as to who goes through a doorway first. His face is Barbie perfect, almost plasticized with applied American makeup, overstuffed lips pouting a cherry salmon colour, his eyelashes bat flirtatiously when deciding which book on army camouflage to buy; it is hard to remember that he is either man or woman, and yet the week before when I had met him first with James Birch the art dealer, responsible for taking Bacon and Gilbert and George to Russia, and now managing Genesis, it was different.
That evening all we had talked about were his/her remarkable weight loss, a conversion to the raw food diet to cure brain tumours, and how hard it is to find a decently sexy bra, that didn’t desexualise the largeness of your breast into a matron, over a D cup – s/he had seemed remarkably gossipy and girly, especially when Bastard, Tartan film man Hamish McAlpine’s Boxer dog, began sniffing up Genesis’ skirt. Perhaps in retrospect, s/he showed off his implants rather too willingly, but otherwise s/he was cleverly funny about the dangers of breast sizes – “you think you want to be a ‘C’ cup, the same size as Lady J, but of course mine looked miniscule with my barrel chest and hulking shoulders, so I went back and had ‘D’ cups put in, but then of course I went and lost all this weight, 10 inches around the waist in 3 months, because of treating the brain tumours with the raw food diet, that these massive boobies looked ridiculous. At least the brain tumours have shrivelled up and shrunk, even if the rest of me looks like Jordan, it’s just unfortunate that tumours have now appeared on my kidney and lung but I put those all down to the dust from 9/11.”
Genesis hasn’t always lived in New York, worn a skirt and breasts, or been called Genesis. Neil Megson was born in 1950, in Victoria Park, Manchester, to a jazz musician called Ron.
“When I was a boy I wanted to be Twiggy and then of course I had this big thing about Brian Jones from The Rolling Stones. I always had the pangenesis thing going on.”
S/he has two daughters Caresse and Genesse, now 21 and 23, from his first marriage to Paula, when Genesis was developing post-punk industrial music. But there is the spiritual side to him, his granny was a medium (I imagine her to be like Margaret Rutherfood in Blythe Spirit) and when s/he tells me about wriggling naked with seals and becoming one with them, in 1993 in California, as one of his most Psychedelic experiences on ecstacy, I’m not surprised.
Years before his resurrection, Genesis had sought out William Burroughs, who’d introduced him to Brion Gysin who taught him everything everyone wants to know about Magick (the Aleister Crowley version — how does he turn up everywhere? He once had a fight with Julian Maclaren-Ross and was forced to give up The Wheatsheaf to The Bricklayers, he was reviled by the Soho 40’s crowd as a thief and a blaggard, even Nina Hammnett hated him).
More surprising was Genesis’ revelation of his six months spent in Kathmandu in 1991, alongside a Tibetan monastery feeding the poor and the lepers. His daughters aged five and seven were with him and he says, “they took it in their stride, they still say it was the best experience they had growing up, each day cooking for about 300.”
“I love Nepal, I’d live there in a heartbeat. In fact we’re gradually, Lady Jaye and I, trying to extricate ourselves from this life, into helping the poor and providing Paediatric care over there. I’m doing my music to pay for Lady Jaye to go back to school to become a nurse practitioner so that we can go and work for the World Health Organisation. That’s our dream plan, nobody else knows about it.” Until now!
Meanwhile s/he has just finished doing seven concerts (ICA, Tate Modern), one art opening and six interviews in 10 days. S/he wants us all to challenge our idea of physical stereotypes, believe in alchemy – the changing of base metals into precious golds.
“This physical thing of our body isn’t our souls.” Genesis is also a prankster, because with a smile s/he shows s/he has done just that, the whole of his mouth gleams gold teeth, in homage to the gangster in Belle de Jour (Genesis’ and Lady Jaye’s favourite film), “it made sense as an image, ‘putting your money where your mouth is’, is part of my movement of ‘Viva the Evolution’, the spinning of the Karmic Wheel we have inherited along with our prehistoric DNA patterns of ‘fight or flight’. The environment has changed but the world and its leaders are still using violence, this male energy to continue in their realms of power. It’s a recipe for disaster, behaviour and consciousness has been left behind. There’s a real potential for another Dark Age, mammals should learn to treat ourselves better, obviously the machismo of the past, is a failed experiment we still have war, poverty and famine, that is why it’s time for the feminine to take over before the male dinosaur thrashing its unwieldy tail destroys us all at the very beginning of this new female millenium.” He says, matter of factly doom-laden, and I can see the planet going up in smoke. But, just as easily I can visualise his optimism for using science to, “change our skins to be able to exist on the Moon or Mars when we’ve broken Earth.”
After he tells me about his, ‘living experiments in the 60’s’ when no one was allowed to be or do the same thing twice on any consecutive day, from walking, talking to sleeping, to the way they ate or the clothes they wore, until someone lost their identity completely and had a nervous breakdown. Genesis said, “I escaped fearing I might follow after six months.” I wanted to know if he’d ‘done therapy’.
In Britain you wouldn’t be allowed all that surgery without extensive therapy. “Gestalt [enables him or her to become more fully and creatively alive and to be free from the blocks and unfinished issues that may diminish optimum satisfaction, fulfillment, and growth], I really like and of course NLP is the missing link, how the autonomous use of language controls us all. You could really see that Al Gore must have done Nuro Linguistic Programming [The core principle is that an individual's thoughts, gestures and words interact to create their perception of the world. By changing their outlook, using a variety of techniques, a person can improve their attitudes and actions]. But really I’d like to get back to doing some more Gestalt.”
In the meantime he has to keep producing his music to send Lady Jaye through college, his new album PTV3 is out now. “It’s less industrial, much more 60’s softer,” s/he says. I listen to the rawness of his/her Manchester vowels against a Velvet Underground-y musical feel. I can’t imagine what the effect of seeing that voice from those enhanced lips and lifted face, body squeezed into a dress, will be like. The overall effect as I leave Genesis at Waterloo station, is that it doesn’t matter what s/he looks like in the end when you want to have an intelligent, funny, conversation that thrusts into the realms of science fiction, over a cup of tea at The Imperial War Museum. Genesis will be touring Britain in September without a doubt whatever the music, it will be a spectacular live show. Even George Clinton of Funkadelic said he’d never seen anything like it after their six and half hour show in Tokyo, and if George as the leader of Parliament and, as well as “The King of Interplanetary Funksmanship”, says that, you’d better believe it.
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
Sophie Parkin has written six published books. Three grown-up novels (you can’t say adult otherwise people think they might be pornography): All Grown Up, Take Me Home and Dear Goddess. For teenagers there is French for Kissing, Best of Friends, and Mad, Rich and Famous. She has also contributed to four other books, from short stories, true stories, long stories, to poetry. Mothers by Daughters, Sons and Mothers both published by Virago, Girls Just Want To Have Fun: the Cosmopolitan book of short stories, and POT 05 – Anthology of Poetry ed. Michael Horovitz.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, June 11th, 2007.