Genesis Breyer P-Orridge is the founding fa/mo/ther of Industrial music, a performance artist, and a very, very, very devoted husband.
Sound design by Brendan Baker. A version of this interview originally aired on the excellent NPR show Snap Judgment.PLAYLIST
Artist – Title – Album
Throbbing Gristle – Hot on the Heels of Love – 20 Jazz Funk Greats
Throbbing Gristle – United – Doa The Third and Final Report
Throbbing Gristle – Hot on the Heels of Love – 20 Jazz Funk Greats
Throbbing Gristle – Exotica – 20 Jazz Funk Greats
Psychic TV – Ancient Lights – Dreams Less Sweet
Throbbing Gristle – Convincing People – 20 Jazz Funk Greats
Psychic TV – Ov Power – Force the Hand of Chance
Throbbing Gristle – Exotica – 20 Jazz Funk Greats
Psychic TV – Thank You, Part 1 Allegory and Self
Genesis Breyer P-Orridge – Cultural Engineer
Well, let’s go back to Throbbing Gristle. So you had this really nice band-
Let’s not keep going back there, because there’s a lot more to do.
Because you want to keep moving?
Okay, well, let’s keep it short then. I just want to know a little bit about the history of the band, your influence, and what you were doing that was very different. I know there’s a lot, but tell me-
Read, Wreckers of Civilization, and leave me alone. I want to be alone.
That was a quote from Marlene Dietrich, “I want to be alone.”
What is the significance of that quote?
It was a joke. You’ll get used to it. So where were we?
Describe this bookshelf that you’ve, what is all this?
This is my library. This is the books that we keep.
We’re looking at various newspapers that have been reproduced in this book. And one is a full page, which says, “Exposed, evil cult thriving inside a temple. This vile man corrupts kids.” Then there’s a photograph of me. “It is difficult to find the words to describe the activities of Genesis P-Orridge, and his pop group, but we will try.” And then underlined, it says, “Vile, evil, sick, depraved are just a few that come to mind.”
We’re talking about psychedelic rock, and they’re saying that we’re trying to destroy England. Bear in mind we’ve never had a hit, so we’re not pop.
A dungeon is a space equipped with S&M equipment where certain types of men ring up, make appointments to be in some way, submissive, sexually or physically, or even just mentally, for whatever reasons. People have all these grandiose and scary ideas of what goes on, but sometimes it’s really simple. There was a man who called himself, “The Couch,” and he would lie on the floor, covered in a sheet. And all you would do is sit on him and talk about stuff and drink wine. That was it. The traditional stuff went on too, but a lot of it was very much intellectual and all going on in the brain.
We’d been awake for three days on pharmaceutical ecstasy, and we just finally went into the dungeon itself, and lay on the floor, pulled a sheet over me and went fast asleep amongst all these weird gadgets for pulling people into the air and tying them up and so on. And then we hear a noise and somehow woke up, sat up straight, looked at the doorway and the light in the next room was on, and this girl walked by, with a beautiful Brian Jones blonde bob and all sixties clothes. And she was walking backwards and forwards, with a cigarette in her hand, talking to somebody, and as she carried on walking back and forth, she gradually started to throw off those clothes and change into a really amazing leather fetish outfit.
My goodness, who is that? She’s so beautiful.
And then out of the blue, we found ourselves saying out loud, “Dear universe, if we can be with that person for the rest of our life, that’s all we want. That’s enough.” And while we’re saying it, we’re thinking, “What’s going on? Why are we saying that?” That turned out to be Lady Jaye.
The person who she was talking to was another dominatrix, who was saying, “Don’t go in dungeon, don’t go in there. There’s some guy in there and he’s English. And he’s really bad news. He’s weird.”
A dominatrix thought we were weird? Wow. And of course, Lady Jaye’s thinking, “I want to meet this person. If this person is scaring a dominatrix, they must be really interesting.” So she invited me to go out that night.
Language is a very weird thing. One of the things that we’ve applied ever since we found out about it is the cut ups, something that Brion Gysin discovered in what’s called the Beat Hotel, Rue Gît-le-Cœur in Paris in the fifties. One day he was cutting up some pictures to mount them, and when he moved, let me, sorry, cut up the newspapers underneath. He just moved them around and played with them, and suddenly thought that when he put them in different orders, it was like a new form of poetry. He told William Burroughs about it, who thought it was a way of liberating the novel, the narrative in a new way, an experimental way. They called it cut ups.
There would have never been industrial music without cut ups, because we started to use literally tape recorders and cut in sounds from the street, factories, people screaming, television, radio, everything and anything could be utilized in the music and chopped up. It juxtaposes things in new, unlikely ways, ways that you could never conceive of in a linear way of thinking. It breaks down our tendency to be lazy about how we perceive things. So we’ve used that with everything, eventually with our own bodies.
We went to a club called, Paddles, in Manhattan, some sort of underground S&M club. And it was a slave auction. There’s all these different guys who would go up on stage and then people would bid. So we’re watching that, and Jaye’s next to me, and she’s in five inch heels and she was five foot 10 already, so she was six foot three, next to little old me, who’s five six, and we’re watching this silly slave auction going on, and we happened to look down, and on the floor, was this man wearing just a jockstrap. And one of his hands was under the heel of her high heeled shoe, and she was grinding it into his hand while we chatted.
We just thought, “That’s classy. That’s really classy, weird, but classy.” We were really surprised with ourselves that we wanted to have a courtship, like a traditional relationship where we just got to know each other really slowly and savored every little thing. We both knew it was something really, really special. And we knew there was no rush, because we were going to be together forever. Although we were living in California and she was in New York, we would speak every night on the phone, often for two or three hours. Of course, my phone bills were insane.
Cut ups have been the primary tool of assembling things, and with words, sometimes you can reveal something very simply. One of our favorite ones is, “She is here,” with a slash between the S and the last E. She is here with a slash between the S and the last E. So it can read, “She is here,” “He is her,” and so on, “She is her,” and round and round in a permutation. “She is here.” “He is her.” And so on. “She is her.” “She is here.” “He is her.” And so on. “She is her,” and round and round in a permutation.
September the 3rd, 1975, after we’d started the band Throbbing Gristle, we were in a park in Hackney, London with a friend, Monte Cazazza, and he was saying, “What are you going to call this kind of music?” And we said, “Well, we were thinking maybe factory music, like Andy Warhol, or some thing, sort of music done like silk screens.” And we threw these ideas back and forth. And then he said to me, “You keep saying, “Industrial,” Gen.” And we said, “Yeah, we do.” So he said, “Well, why don’t we just call it industrial music?”
And that was the first day that anything was called industrial music, strange as it may seem. So we literally created and named a genre of music, which is an unusual thing to have done. Now look at it. There are shops that sell merchandise, there are clubs that play that music. There are thousands and thousands of bands all over the world. Record labels, DJs, promoters, clubs. It’s incredible. Wouldn’t it be nice if we got a royalty for every time somebody said, “Industrial music,” we would be very rich. But it’s satisfying. It vindicates our idea that that was a relevant kind of music.
In ’95, we went to Los Angeles to work with, Love and Rockets, this rock band. And while we were staying in LA that weekend, the house that they were living in, which was Harry Houdini’s old mansion, it caught fire. We got trapped at the top of the house with the bass player, David Jay. He got out of the window and down onto the ground safely, but we remembered that the master tapes of their new album were in our room. So we wrapped them in blankets and threw them out of the window so they’d be safe. And then we looked at the door and it was melting. We thought, “Time to go.”
So we climbed out of the window and it was sloping, the window ledge. And it was covered in dust, so my feet started to slip, a bit like, Tom and Jerry, where their legs go like crazy. And then we thought, “Oh, we’re going to fall,” but there was a tree. So we grabbed the tree, but it was dead and it snapped off. And the last words we spoke were, “Oh, shit.”
We landed on these concrete steps, broke my wrist, my left wrist. Shattered my left elbow into 36 pieces. It exploded. Broke the ribs on the left side of my body. Nerve damage. And then these firefighters run up and they say, “Don’t panic. We’re going to put this lead blanket over you because all the windows are about to explode outwards.” And they put this really heavy thing over me and ran off. And then-
We met William Burroughs in 1971 in London. What happened was, we were living in the North of England at the time and came across his address in a magazine, a Canadian magazine, and thought, “Surely that’s not the real address. Surely he wouldn’t let anyone know where he lived, but maybe he does.” So we wrote him a letter, just in case it was him. We started off, “Dear William Burroughs. We are so sick and tired of you pretending you know who I am and using my name to look hip and cool. Please desist from saying you know me.” And he wrote back, we got a postcard from Williams saying, “If you’re ever in London, call this number and come and see me.”
We became friends right away. The first day was incredible. He was living in London, in an area called St. James, and he had a, we’d never seen a television with a remote control before. He had this giant color TV and a remote, and all the time he’s talking to me, he’s flicking through the channels, cutting them up. And one of the things he said to me the next day was, “Here’s your task, Genesis? How do you short circuit control?” And we thought, “That’s a weird thing to say.” But as we move through life and events and projects, it stuck with me. How do you, and what is control? Where is control? What we felt he was really asking was, as human beings, are we capable of real change?
We woke up in an intensive care unit with all these wires and tubes and machines. Suddenly in walks Lady Jaye, it was so great. She ran up to me and hugged me and kissed me and got in the bed with me and cuddled me. It was so nice. And she said, “I can’t trust you to be left alone, can I? I’m going to have to move out here.” And that’s why it happened.
And we were together from then on, and you’ll never believe this, but it’s true. My physical therapist was called Dr. Payne. P-A-Y-N-E. And we just thought, “It would be, wouldn’t it.”
One time we were both kissing, and this kiss went on for more than a half an hour. And we both literally left our bodies together, and went off into this amazing, beautiful realm of pure love. And when we finally came back into our bodies, we looked at each other and Jaye said, “Did you feel what I felt?” We went, “I think we did?” And that was what we wants to become all the time, that that never ended, that we were constantly, absolutely integrated together through love.
Strangely enough, the long kiss had no psychedelics involved. That was an actual mystical experience. It’s even in one of the songs, we actually say, “Nothing like a long kiss.” We wanted to literally just flow into each other. If you imagine two lots of liquid, we wanted them to just end up in the same container, there would be no separation. We would become just one liquid made of the two of us. We wanted to be absolutely absorbed, absolute intimacy. So then we started thinking about it. How can we do that? Are there ways to enhance that happening? And one of the ways was, we started to dress like each other, and then we began getting our hair cut the same. It still wasn’t enough. It wasn’t what we’d felt in the long kiss. And we thought, what if we do a cut up with our bodies so that we become a third being, not just a third mind?
We have to try and remember how many surgeries. Jaye had more. We got Lady Jaye’s beauty spots tattooed on my left cheek. She had the bottoms of her eyes done to make them more like mine, her nose done. She had a chin implant. We both got our lips made bigger. We got her eyebrows tattooed on. We got cheek implants to look more round faced like Jaye, had some liposuction and stuff done on the neck and the jaw line. Not much. This is my third set of breasts, though.
We’ve never really received any truly negative reactions from people we know. When we told the children, “By the way, your Papa has now got breasts, and Genesse, my youngest daughter, she said, “You mean you spent money on getting breasts and I could have got a new car?” People often think that what we’ve been doing has something to do with gender and it doesn’t. And we can see why people imagine that. But there’s a really simple way to explain the difference, which is, some people feel they’re a man trapped in a woman’s body, some people feel they’re a woman trapped in a man’s body. We just feel trapped in a body. So what we’re talking about is an idealized future where male and female become irrelevant.
I read someplace that people often assume that you were the one behind the idea and that it wasn’t Jaye, but what was her reaction? What would she tell me?
Oh, Lady Jaye was far more adamant about all of this and her approach to life was, A, take nothing for granted, and, B, fearless. She was absolutely fearless. None of this would’ve happened without Jaye. This is not my project that she got involved with, this is something absolutely mutual or even more Jaye. She was the one who dressed me up straight away. And she was the one who encouraged things to happen. She was the one with the medical history of being a nurse, and knowing that the human body is this stuff, seeing it for what it is.
When she was a student nurse, she was working in the OR and this old man was brought in, who was diabetic. And the doctors, as a joke, mind you, they told her, “Could you get this guy undressed, take off his shoes and socks and stuff.” She tried to take off his shoes and socks, and his whole foot came away, because he had gangrene. But the doctors didn’t tell her. And she dropped the foot, in the sneaker, on the floor and threw up, as you would. But she thinks that’s when she knew that the human body is just stuff.
Lady Jaye: I’ve never really felt comfortable being in a body. I’ve always felt quite trapped in my body. It’s not that I can exchange it for another one, but it’s just that this, my consciousness, my brain, my nervous system is in this rather weak and insufficient package. I’m limited by time, by gravity, by all these physical forces, when really I wish my consciousness would be liberated, completely free to go everywhere, to be everywhere, to do everything.
Genesis: On this particular day, she recreated the first day that we were together, going out, doing the same things, even going to a diner and having the same breakfast that we had. And then we went to bed and fell asleep for a little while. Then we made love and she said, “I’m just going to the bathroom to clean up, and then I’ll be back. And I’m going to quote suck you dry.” Lay in the bed and dozed.
And suddenly woke up really quickly. Almost sat up straight, and immediately something wasn’t right. Something was missing. There was this terrible, terribly dark sensation. And then we got out of bed and walked through the apartment and we found her collapsed in the bathroom. So we laid her on the floor in the kitchen and screamed downstairs, “Come and help me,” and then tried to do CPR. And then the EMTs came, and cops, and firefighters, for God knows what reason. And they were doing those electric things, where they do, “P-toomph.” At one point they actually said, “You’d better go pack an overnight bag for her, because she’s going to be okay.” And then after a while longer, they suddenly went, “We’re really sorry for your loss.”
Meanwhile, one of the cops is saying, “Where’s the husband?” And we’re going, “That’s me.” And he went, “No, dear. Where’s the husband?” “That’s me.” They made me go downstairs to the basement and find a wedding certificate to prove we were married.
So then all of a sudden they all left. And there’s Jaye laying on the kitchen floor. And our friend Hannah, who lived downstairs, came up, and she sat one side and we the other, and we rubbed Jaye’s arms and hands to keep them warm. And then we laid her on the right side, with her arm around me and fell asleep in her arms for the last time. And then these guys turned up and put her in a body bag and took her away. It was heavy.
We’ve always been interested in language itself, how it controls things, how it is used to basically give the human species the concept of the material world being real. Whereas we tend to think it’s as real as one imagines. Once we met Lady Jaye, our instinct was immediately that we were so instantly in love to be absorbed by each other. And when Lady Jaye, as we say, dropped her body, as a matter of principle, we wanted to maintain what we believe is the state of things, which is that she’s still as much a part of me as before. So now my body represents us both, in this material world, and she represents us both elsewhere. And then hopefully one day we will be we again, somewhere else.
My name is Genesis Breyer P-Orridge. We’re one half of what we call the Pandrogyne. The other half is Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge. She lives in the immaterial dimensions, we live in the material dimensions, and the two of us together at one being.
Genesis Breyer P-Orridge
Nick van der Kolk, Host, Director & Producer
Brendan Baker, Producer