Genesis Breyer P-Orridge interviewed by Margarita Shalina
January 11, 2013
Photographs by Laure A. Leber
Margarita Shalina gives the history behind this interview:
Adam Parfrey of the publisher Feral House was fond of St. Mark’s Bookshop. When Gen’s Thee Psychick Bible was released in 2011, I organized an event at St. Mark’s to celebrate the occasion. It’s on YouTube. Later in 2012, my friend Stephen Boyer, who is best known for organizing the Occupy Wall Street Poetry Readings in Zuccotti Park, organized a salon of sorts at poet Lee Ann Brown’s home. I read an essay I had just published in The Brooklyn Rail early in the evening. The main attraction was Genesis, and Marie Losier’s documentary “The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye.” I approached Gen that night and asked to do an interview and they directed me to Ryan of Dais Records, who was managing them at the time.
The interview was initially intended to run in Yeti magazine, which was Mike McGonigal’s print journal. The first and only time I wrote for Yeti, I did a similar collaboration with a photographer. Mike let me write long. The original concept for the Gen interview was a collaboration with an illustrator who was supposed to take photos, then do drawings of Gen and the late Jaye. Genesis invited us to their apartment, which interestingly enough was located in the neighborhood where I grew up and is across the street from my elementary school, so I was entering with a pre-established level of comfort and fondness that someone picked this neck of the woods that I know so well.
I learned about Terence Sellers through Barney Rosset. I’d only met her once in 1996, barely, but I remember Barney saying that he believed The Correct Sadist wasn’t a Blue Moon title per se in the sense that it transcends erotica and he hoped it would be recognized as something more literary one day. When Gea and I got to Gen’s place, Gen and I sat across from one another in Gen’s living room and began talking. Gen had no way of knowing my background and brought up Terence Sellers unprompted. At that moment, I was like—oh, shit! We share common codes. There was no way that Gen could have known about my background, but perhaps all the things that Gen preached about were true. Maybe Gen’s third eye or fifth sense was more heightened. I was initially intimidated and nervous about the interview. I’d watched hours of Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV online. Then I realized, I can hang—as they say in the old neighborhood, which we were in. I got this.
My artist friend, Gea Philes, sort of turned into a starstruck spectator and the best of all possible cheerleaders. At the point where I wanted to wrap things up, she started yelling—No! You haven’t asked about the Tate or the Warhol exhibition...! So Gen and I looked at one another, shrugged and kept talking. Gen was good at gauging other people’s reactions, as am I. If you gave Gen direction, Gen would follow happily. They were simply a brilliant and astute individual.
So then I ended up with hours of recorded interview. Over three hours. And that’s a bitch to transcribe. I found a lovely Adderall girl to transcribe the original text. Then I quit the store, moved away and life got in the way. I had to match the recorded text to the written text. Then I did the edit. It’s some of my best work. It took a while to find it a home.
The Pandrogyne: The Possible Androgyne
“I have always considered myself unknown to others.”
The Correct Sadist, Terence Sellers
Gen: Jaye used to love to piss outside and on fire escapes and things. Her first nickname was Jackie Pissoix. She did this amazing thing early on in our relationship when we were bicoastal and she had this slave from the dungeon who was treating her, and somewhat reluctantly me, to this amazing meal. She was sitting in the middle. He was there and we were on this side and all of a sudden, she gently got hold of my left hand and put it on her crotch and she wasn’t wearing any panties and then she peed through my hand and just grinned at me really mischievously and then we looked down, and there must have been a slight slope in the restaurant because this pool started to come from under the table and go across the floor. Because it was all candlelit, nobody noticed it so the waiters were going up and down and trailing it and tracking it all over the restaurant. And I thought, this is my kind of woman!
MS: How did you know Terence Sellers?
Gen: We were still living in England and a friend of mine, Davey Dawson, had co-sponsored bringing Terence Sellers over, as a writer. Her book, The Correct Sadist, was being published by a small indie press. So they flew her out to do some readings. He said, “You’d probably enjoy her writing if you go see it.” So we went along to the reading with Caress. It must have been 1982…? ’83...! Yeah 1983, because we had Caress in a little snuggly so she was only about two months old. And afterwards we went and talked to Terence, and we became friends. She invited me to New York at some point. So whenever we went to New York we’d always stay with Terence in her dungeon. That’s how we ended up meeting Jaye too. It’s amazing how many things have occurred just because we go up and talk to people. Rather than be shy about it. It was fun. It was a good friendship. She lives in New Mexico now. She retired from the sex industry. She lives a very isolated life now. She’s so disciplined.
MS: That makes sense, you know… A mistress should be.
Gen: She was a contemporary of Kathy Acker. They were actually friends. They both used to work in peep shows together. And then Terence moved into domination and Kathy moved into surviving as a writer basically. They were rivals to a degree, petty rivals. We were lucky because we were friends with both. We had to be careful sometimes what we said.
MS: To one about the other and all that?
MS: Where was her dungeon?
Gen: When we first met it was 110 West Twenty-third. And we were walking along one day with some friends, coming from a Warhol exhibition and Jaye suddenly stopped and started giving me a big smile and said, “Do you know where we are?” And we went, oh, we were where we’d met.
MS: And it was completely random that you two met there? It was just totally by chance?
Gen: Yeah, we were going through a really nasty divorce in California and surprisingly had full custody of both of our children at the time. So, it was a lot to deal with. Plus, being in exile, we were still dealing with not being able to go back to Britain, having everything taken overnight, so we had to completely start from scratch again. Whenever there was a chance for me to have some time off we’d go to New York and just blow off steam. Usually take lots of Ecstasy and go to Jackie 60, play in the dungeon, and this particular weekend—it’s in the movie, have you seen the movie?
Gen: We mention that we just woke up after a couple of days of debauchery and saw Jaye walking backwards and forwards in the door. It was like that. [snaps fingers] She took me out that night to a slave auction at Petals. But my favorite part of that evening was standing next to her. She was completely in skintight leather; skintight leather trousers and boots with blonde short hair. She looked amazing and in heels she was 6’3”. She was 5’10” anyway. So there she was towering above me and we started holding hands and watching the slaves be auctioned off and then for some reason we looked down and she had her heel…a slave had crawled up and put his hand there and she was grinding her heel into his hand while we were just chatting about domestic trivia and that…that’s cool! She’s an amazing person.
MS: And you were never apart again?
Gen: Well we weren’t living together straight away. She was in New York and we were living in California with the kids. So it was a bicoastal love affair for a while. We would speak every night on the phone, two or three hours often. Then whenever she got a weekend off and saved up enough money she would fly to California or vice versa. It was after the fire that she moved. She was in New York and somebody rang her up and said, “There was just a news flash on MTV about Gen. Gen is in intensive care after a fire.” She found out where the hospital was and she rang up and they wouldn’t say anything because she wasn’t a relative. They just said that we were in intensive care so she bought a plane ticket and arrived at the intensive care unit and because she was a nurse she showed her ID and everything and they let her come into the ICU with me and she immediately climbed into the bed and gave me a…masturbated me. It was brilliant. There were all these tubes and things going beep, beep. At one point, of course, another nurse came in and went Oop! But they weren’t upset, they just thought it was very funny.
MS: I like the idea of the heart monitors going, you know?
Gen: To be honest, we don’t remember that because we were too busy.
MS: Well of course.
Gen: A game, I mean. Just so classy… And she just said, “I can’t trust you to be on your own. So I’m going to have to move out here.” After about a year or so we went back. She was kind of sick of California so that was another impetus to come to New York. We love it here. We’ve lived here longer than anywhere else we’ve ever lived.
MS: You must have a very high tolerance for pain.
Gen: So they say. We used to. Well, actually, probably still do. I mean with the surgeries.
MS: Not to mention the aggressive atmosphere of the school that you attended as a child which you’ve spoken of before. Do you think that the sound of post–World War II England being rebuilt affected your music? I mean the sound of construction, the sound of building, the sound of industry.
Gen: Not directly. We kind of mainly grew up in the Manchester area. We remember the steam engines being phased out and cut up for metal. All the empty and burned out buildings and then the cotton industry, being the main industry in Manchester, died out when America got really productive. The war kind of killed that. So we saw the whole industrial England decaying—disintegrate, and that definitely affected my vision of the culture and that was definitely part of what became the industrial music concept; this very strong sense of seeing the empire and the culture and the arrogance of Britain decay and fall apart and there being no real expression of that in music or the arts or anything.
“Actually, several people assumed that we were already taking hormones to become female because Jaye dressing me up and in makeup was giving the sense of…changing.”
MS: Do you view pandrogyny as an art project?
Gen: Well yes, but also it’s other things too—an evolutionary concept. So yeah, everything we do is art, philosophy, mysticism, cultural commentary. They’re all like that. We’re always very open to go to where they lead us. It didn’t begin like that.
MS: How did it begin?
Gen: It began just purely for our own private exploration and pleasure, the whole pandrogyny thing. And really, it began with Lady Jaye because the first time we met when we went to the slave auction, she said, “We can’t take you out looking like that,” ’cause we were getting lots of free clothes from rave places in San Francisco. We were in baggy jeans and big, baggy hoodies and she said, “I can’t be seen with you wearing that!” And so she started putting her clothes on me, you know? A skintight velvet jumpsuit with high heels and a leather skirt and that was when we had dreadlocks too.
[Gen retrieves a picture of herself and Jaye both from the chest up. Gen’s hair is past shoulder length and in dreadlocks. Jaye is sleek and blonde. Gen resembles a hippie. They both look relaxed with heavy lids.]
MS: Your hair dreads really well. I like the glasses too, the glasses are beautiful.
Gen: That photograph was taken by Chi Chi Valenti who founded Jackie 60 with Johnny Dynell and it was the first morning we’d actually made love and Chi Chi came in, we were in Life Café, having breakfast and she saw us sitting there and she said, “Something really special happened today,” and she took that photograph. It’s a Polaroid of me and Jaye. So she could tell straight away because we must have been glowing.
Gen: Where were we? Oh, pandrogyny. So, on the next date, while we were still here that weekend, she took me out to a Tibetan shop and bought lots of little beads and vertebrae and wove them into the hair; started decorating my dreads. She used to call it my hair tent. Because when we were sort of kissing and in bed, my hair would fall all the way around us, just like that. So that was how it started, with just instinct, intuition.
MS: How did it grow outside of your personal world into a more public sphere, or was it just that?
Gen: It grew accidentally in that we got more and more consciously into the idea of dressing similarly. At some point we were talking about when you make love, as opposed to just having sex, when you’re actually making love, that it’s transcendental and when the love is unconditional in both people, that something unique happens where the sense of being individuals just disintegrates and you actually become one being. That’s not just an amazing moment in terms of the integration of two people, but it’s also a very potent magical time, and that’s when you can post messages, sigils, and potentially change your behavior. Reprogram your behavior. So, we were both fascinated with that. Jaye was already into orisha worship and magic in that tradition and we would sit and intuit—why does it feel so right to be mirrors to each other? What are we experiencing? As time went by we did it more consciously by getting our hair done exactly the same, by wearing outfits that were the same. Meanwhile, the world outside, our social circle and passersby were seeing the result of that exploration. Actually, several people assumed that we were already taking hormones to become female because Jaye dressing me up and in makeup was giving the sense of…changing. And we thought about it all. We thought about the endless problem of human beings, humankind. They have a basic flaw of some sort, which leads to violence. We were thinking about binary systems; either/or. How destructive they are. Innately destructive because you’ve got, you know, black/white, male/female, Muslim/Christian, different countries. Everything in our world tends to be built on either/ors, and either/ors inevitably make enemies. Something is different—that is threatening—we should attack it. There’s this basic formula that keeps on happening with human beings. How could that be changed? Because until we change that as a species we can’t really evolve onto another level. Yet we found that by blurring, by becoming one, all sorts of issues just vanished. So surely, this could affect the world outside. What would happen if we took this further and represented the idea that human beings aren’t finished, and the human body isn’t finished? What would happen if we were all hermaphrodites, male and female? If we were no longer different? Would that change the way we perceive things? Very probably. Inevitably we thought, can we break these archetypes? We decided that we would focus all of our creative intent on trying to find a way to at least represent the end of either/or and discuss the biggest issue of all in the world, which is: is it ever going to be possible to get people to stop attacking anything they don’t understand or that’s different?
MS: It was a sensual exercise that blossomed to include others into it.
Gen: The very first thing we did was get me a vasectomy because we then started thinking about Burroughs and Gysin. They were huge influences, and their concept of the Third Mind. By both of them collaborating and cutting up things that they’d both written, a new piece of writing would appear that didn’t belong to either of them. It was the result of the two becoming one, and they called it the Third Mind. So we thought, what if we take that into the material world with a physical person, the body, and we start to cut that up and reassemble it? Can we create a third being? So, that became the pandrogyne; the possible androgyne. And we thought about DNA. You know, writing is a recording that you can cut up and reassemble. Sound is something you can cut up and reassemble. Film, video, you know, the main tools of culture can all be cut up and reassembled. So DNA is the recording hidden within the human being. It’s got a programming that dictates how our bodies change. How they evolve and become a final shape. Which gender we are and lots of other much more secret aspects of our being that we don’t always discover. So that program, is there a way to cut it up, and reassemble it, too? And that was why we did the vasectomy, to cut the continuity of the DNA and to say, this is a declaration of a rejection of the program that we’ve inherited.
MS: Almost like a ritualistic kind of circumcision.
Gen:Here’s the line. We now perceive DNA as, not exactly as an enemy but as a questionable recording, an unfinished recording. Who knows what other imperatives are being added to DNA over the thousands of millions of years that we may not really want to be a part of.
MS: Then you decided to expand on that.
Gen: Then we decided to go into the surgeries. Not so that we became female or Jaye became male or anything. To become, as far as we could be, hermaphroditic.
MS: Nobody ever uses the word trans in reference to pandrogyny.
Gen: No. Well, one reason that we were glad to have that word was ’cause it didn’t have any baggage. It can be defined by what everybody is thinking of it. So, it’s an umbrella that’s open-ended at the moment. On Valentine’s Day 2003 we went for our breast implants together. It was so liberating.
MS: Why was it liberating?
Gen: Well more for me, because Jaye just had different breasts, but for me it was this whole rejection of all that masculinity that we experienced in public schools and British society in the fifties and sixties. It was this really beautiful way to say: No, I’m not gonna be part of that! Fuck that! To separate myself from the masculine trajectory which is so archetypal and has so many, to me, negative connotations. It’s very much the masculine trajectory that is responsible for war and violence, generally, and rape and suppression of other beings, women especially. So we….neither of us felt comfortable with the idea of masculinity itself and so as a private, personal emotion it was just good for me to say, “Thank God I got rid of that.”
MS: Did you feel oppressed by it earlier in your life?
Gen: Yeah, I did. It’s literally embarrassing at times to be male and see the way so many males behave, the crass attitudes that they express. The sort of jock attitude, and the boastful discussion of sex and so on.
MS: It’s two-dimensional.
Gen: For sure that is what we experienced at that school too. Where it was an all-male school with this whole, you know, sports and the army and everything. It was a real cesspool of masculinity and power too, because it was a privileged school and most of the people who were there were going to be politicians, masters of industry, and officers in the military. I mean, that was their destiny. So to sort of push that away was for me really personally very liberating.
MS: Right, or a redefinition of power, of perceptions of power.
Gen: And of course there’s a huge novelty value in suddenly having breasts. That was really quite exciting. We did go through a somewhat infantile phase of enjoying showing them off.
MS: That’s okay. They were novel. They were new.
Gen: Yeah, we forget about it of course.
MS: And you’ve had them reduced since then.
Gen: Yeah, after Jaye dropped her body we got them reduced to the same size she was then. For a while mine were bigger because the plastic surgeon that we used, cosmetic surgeon, the ratios didn’t look right in terms of body shape because we’ve got bigger shoulders. Having asthma so much my chest is bigger here. So, we were trying to get the mean; the look rather than the precision of measurements.
MS: How long have you had asthma?
Gen: Since we were a baby. It’s had a really strong influence on my life.
MS: How so?
Gen: In probably about ’57 we were really getting sick every summer we would be off school because the pollen would give me asthma so we would just have to stay indoors the whole time. Then they came up with this new super drug—steroids. Cortisone was the first of them. So they started to give me cortisone for my asthma and it did help, but they didn’t know at that time because it was such a new wonder drug, all of the side effects. In my early teens it dawned on me that a lot of the asthma attack, was my panic. So we started to just really discipline ourself to avoid panic, to try and just breathe at a certain pace and we would rock to get this rhythm and sit up on the side of the bed right through the night, for days on end.
MS: Was the panic about the asthma or was it something entirely different?
Gen: Yeah, it was the sense of drowning—of not getting enough oxygen. Bit by bit, during the sixties we actually learned to control it so we didn’t have attacks anymore. We saw our doctor in around the year 1967 and he said, “Well you don’t have asthma attacks anymore so you might as well stop taking those pills.” Hooray! Great! Went home, stopped taking the pills, and this particular Friday, a couple days later, we started to feel a little bit sick, but it was a bit vague, just didn’t feel right, and by Sunday we felt really off but we still couldn’t figure out what it was, and on Monday morning when we were meant to go to school, my mother came upstairs and we started to feel like we were having another asthma attack. So we sat on the edge of the bed and said, We can’t go to school, we feel really weird, can’t breathe properly. She went back downstairs and they got worse and suddenly we couldn’t get any oxygen. It was too late to try and shout or anything. We just sort of felt this horrible sensation of not getting any oxygen and then passed out and fell off of the bed onto the floor. My sister heard the thud and ran up the stairs, and found me basically unconscious on the floor. Our doctor lived directly opposite in the same street and was late for work. So my sister ran across and got the doctor and he’d just read an article in a medical magazine saying that long-term use of cortical steroids could destroy your adrenal glands and because he’d read that article that weekend [chuckling], he injected me like in Pulp Fiction, a massive amount of adrenaline to my heart to keep me going and meanwhile, we’re still unconscious. They took me to the hospital and rushed me into the ER. And we remember this bit, the out-of-body experience; the classic floating above, looking down, and seeing me down there on this gurney and nurses and doctors panicking and rushing around, and then hearing them discuss who was going to tell my parents that I was dead.
Gen: Then one of them went out and my mother tells me this bit, they came out and they said, “We’re really, really sorry but we’ve lost him and all you can do now is pray.” So, she prayed. We don’t remember how, but we did get somehow back into the body and it’s the next day and we’ve got all these tubes and oxygen and everything. They realized that they’d destroyed…it turns out the adrenal glands have two cortices; the one cortex is fight and flight—anger. The other one, it releases a small amount of adrenaline all the time, and that triggers other organs to work and function. So if you take that away, everything slows down and stops, which is what had happened to me. My fight and flight still work but the everyday bit is gone. So, they told me that we’d just have to take the pills forever. We still do. So every day we stay alive by choice.
MS: But your asthma didn’t keep you from singing or affect your voice. You’ve learned how to live with it.
Gen: We know how to deal with it. The doctor came up to me that first morning and told me you could live a normal life or you could drop dead any day, we don’t know. To think, it was a new syndrome. That was the day that we decided one hundred percent that we would not do what people wanted us to do, not even parents, but that we would follow the path that we really believed in, which was to be creative.
MS: Because you didn’t know how much time you had.
Gen: You know there’s a Sufi idea, which is that you should live every day as if it’s the last day you’re gonna have and that your whole life will be judged on that day and that’s kind of what we do. Except it’s very real and that’s one of the reasons that we treasure time so much, because we know how truly precious it is and that every second is actually a gift and wasting it is sad and, to me, somewhat baffling. Also, for whatever reason we have a compulsion to try and share what we’ve found out, or things we’ve thought about, in case they’re useful to someone else. To us that’s part of it, being any kind of artist or creative person. To us there’s a sort of spiritual obligation, a duty.
MS: Do you think that you’re a guru for some people? I think you are. [Pause] Well what word would you use?
Gen: Mmm… That’s a funny word but certainly people have umm… a lot of respect and really find things we’ve said and done inspiring to them. That they change the way they do life based on what they’ve learned from how we’ve done life, which in fact is, of course, a huge responsibility. It’s hard to know what to say back so we just say, thank you. But we see that there’s an even deeper responsibility because people are trusting me on that level, and trusting Jaye too because everything we do now was influenced by her. It’s important to remember that and try and be as truthful and open-minded as we can.
MS: Was she really that shy about being at the forefront? I remember that from the documentary. That she didn’t really want to be in the band and she started just kind of hovering in the background and you absorbed her into it.
Gen: Well she managed it perfectly now, didn’t she?
MS: [Laughing] Well, yes.
Gen: [Laughs] She wasn’t shy in the usual way, because you see those bits when she’s onstage and she’d do crazy stuff at Jackie 60 but she didn’t require or even enjoy being recognized for having done it, for whatever reason.
MS: So she enjoyed the performance element itself but not necessarily the face recognition and being noticed in that way?
Gen: Yeah, and she found that awkward sometimes, as a person, when she was with me. Going shopping and having people stop us and say “Oh Genesis!” But she got used to it, just as she got used to being in a band and she enjoyed that. Even so, she’d always sit right at the back behind the drum kit so that people couldn’t see her. She was very ambivalent about being noticed for what she did. And to an extent it suited her way of doing things perfectly to have me as a mouthpiece so that she didn’t have to deal with that side. She could just enjoy the ideas and the thinking.
MS: She did performance art in the nineties in New York?
Gen: She did a lot of stuff at Jackie 60. She was in Black Lips with Antony Hegarty and she did things in the small clubs like Squeezebox. She didn’t keep documentation though.
MS: Of herself, none at all?
Gen: Not from before we were together and would’ve destroyed a huge percentage of photographs if she could.
Gen: She didn’t like having anything there that was documentation but we brought that into her life in ways that could work. And when we finally started with pandrogyny then, for that in particular, she was totally dedicated regardless of the world outside. The reasons? We’re not sure, we never found out exactly what it was, because she was such a larger-than-life character. In actuality really it seemed odd. Something from way back must have done that. Maybe from the horrible Catholic school she went to where she wanted to hide away…
MS: Very few people survive Catholicism successfully. They teach you shame. Catholics are big into shame. Jews are big into guilt.
Gen: She had absolutely no interest in being known or not known. She just wanted to do this; the work. And for whatever reason they acted the part of it, which is the public knowing about it. She found that really awkward. She would happily have never been noticed, but yet she was driven to perform. It’s one of those odd things, like a lot of comedians are depressives and a lot of performers are actually shy.
MS: Will there ever be anyone else for you?
MS: ’Cause no one can live up to that! [Gesturing to a large framed poster of Jaye with sunglasses, holding up her middle finger, hanging on the wall over Gen’s desk to the right of Gen’s shoulder, overlooking the interview.]
Gen: It’s unlikely.
Gen: And, I mean, who would you find that was happy to know you’re already in love with someone else? It’s not really fair. But there may be someone who’s happy to be a companion instead. We have so many people around us now that apart from the intimacy, which we don’t really miss, we’ve got a lot of people here. They’re not Jaye. So, it would be nice to have someone around but it doesn’t mean there haven’t been opportunities. It just doesn’t seem fair because…and plus we would feel, we would feel…a bit guilty.
Gen: Because she’s still so much alive in my life. It would be like a betrayal.
MS: You’re continuing the projects which you collectively began. In general, this is a very busy period for you. You’re working on books, appearing in documentaries, still working with sound. Not to mention the Tate has acquired your archive and the Andy Warhol Museum has exhibited a retrospective of your work. It’s a renaissance of sorts.
Gen: Well, the ultimate project is still pandrogyny and when we got into the idea of cutting up DNA and refusing to accept the programming of DNA we realized that it’s actually about evolution. We came, we didn’t originally, but we came to agree with Brion Gysin that we’re here to go. That for the human species to realize its full potential we do have to colonize space. It’s our destiny, in terms of the program, to leave and go elsewhere and if we were going to do that and you stop thinking of this as finished or even sacred…the body’s not sacred; the body’s just stuff. As Nikola Tesla said, it’s a meat machine, and Jaye said it was a cheap suitcase.
MS: Fragile sacks of water. What do you think we’d find if we really went out to space and started to colonize space. I personally think that it would be arrogant of us to think that we’re the only things that are living, with all those stars in the universe.
Gen: Oh definitely. There has to be more like us and then there’s infinite universes too. We can’t really imagine infinity.
Gen: Or eternity, we can’t really imagine not being alive. We can think it through, but we can’t really imagine it. The nearest to being dead is having a full anesthetic. We’ve had so many strange perceptual experiences through different rituals, through psychedelics and so on, that we’ve come to see this as an incredibly flimsy construct. You know, we’ve seen it vanish, we’ve seen geometry change. We’ve been on other planets and other galaxies. So what we call this nonsense is reality, but before we travel we have to change our behavior. The key to everything is changing behavior. That’s one of the hardest things to do as everyone knows—to truly change your reactions to things and your cultural imprint. That’s the toughest thing of all. You have to try to set up alternative ways of seeing and being. So the ultimate project of pandrogyny for me and Jaye was always to set up small, autonomous networks, communities.
MS: Communities of people, you mean?
Gen: That was Jaye’s ultimate thing. Her primary strategy was to set up a retreat for artists and writers and so on, in Kathmandu.
MS: She had vision.
Gen: She does. It would also have a clinic for young mothers and babies as well, because the mortality rate is really high. One reason being a lot of places don’t even have fresh water. You know, people [who] go to third world countries like that don’t really see how the majority of human beings survive. The average yearly income in Kathmandu in Nepal is $140 per year. That’s what we always say when people say, what should I do? We say travel! Go somewhere where people are poor, learn from that. Traveling to all different cultures is an amazing education. We suspect that we’re going to be here for a while yet. Too much to do! Yeah, this worked out pretty well. That day when they said that, today you’re alive, and we decided well, what’s the worst thing that could happen if we decided to just be an artist of some kind. We could starve to death? But that’s really hard in the West. So the odds are pretty good that so long as you don’t care about achieving anything financially, you can survive, and that’s what we’ve done ever since. So, it’s possible to just be creative. It’s not always easy, especially after the police raid that sent us into exile. Overnight we had nothing. We’re in Kathmandu and we get this fax and it said something like “big trouble call home.” In those days in Kathmandu there was only one place to make international calls. We had to walk back into the middle of the town and phone home and they said “Scotland Yard was here today and raided your house in Brighton and the house in London and took away two tons of stuff.” We lost both the houses because we couldn’t…we didn’t have any income suddenly. All of a sudden we have nothing. They took every photo that they could find. Every photograph of the children growing up, every video, every… You know we had a film that hadn’t been edited of when we brought William Burroughs to London. It was a whole full-length documentary of William in London and Derrick Jarman was the cameraperson. They destroyed it, the only copy. All my videos of Brion Gysin that I did for years on end, gone. It’s a weird feeling to wake up and be told you have nothing.
“So what we call this nonsense is reality, but before we travel we have to change our behavior. The key to everything is changing behavior.”
MS: How many years did you record Brion Gysin?
Gen: He passed away in ’86…um…probably five. It was odd for a long time. We met William Burroughs in ’71 and stayed in touch with him and friends of his until he died and we kept saying to him you know, how do we contact Brion Gysin? He wouldn’t tell me! It took me something like seven years before he would tell me where Brion Gysin was. Then when we met Brion we stopped really bothering to go see William. So he knew! [Laughing] Brion was just so…fun. So fun and smart.
MS: How was he fun?
Gen: He had just a great sense of humor. We’d go out to his apartment at eleven in the morning and he’d sit at this big table he had and he always had an arrangement of flowers and he’d start smoking kief. And he would just start talking in this sort of stoned mumble until eleven at night with a little break for lunch. We’d just talk about anything and everything. William was really intimidating, even after all those years we always felt a bit awkward with him. Very dry… But Brion was always very outgoing and he would tell just amazing stories. Great storyteller.
MS: Why did you want to seek out Brion Gysin?
Gen: Um, because over a period of time, we first started to read through the books of course but then we started reading The Third Mind, which is about the ideas, and there’s another one called The Job that was edited by Daniel Odier which is also about the ideas, and Brion was always the person coming up with the ideas. He was the one who developed the cut-ups and allowed William to use them. He was the one who created the Dreamachine and William used the Dreamachine as well and did the tape-recorder experiments. So, all of those breakthroughs were Brion. And William had always said so. But for me the ideas have been just really vibrant, exciting. So we wanted to go to the source of the ideas. It was Brion that took Brian Jones to hear Joujouka and because of the record that Brian Jones recorded, Joujouka became well known to rock music. So, he was this catalyst for so many important moments in the Beat era and a great artist too. We wanted to find out what he was like, and he was fun. He was sweet, too. Have you ever heard of Cadbury’s Chocolate Fingers? It’s in the film. He would always have a packet of my favorite biscuits in his cupboards for when I came.
MS: He must’ve been very fond of you.
Gen: Yeah…they both were. Got lucky.
MS: Well Burroughs didn’t want you to go away. That’s why he wouldn’t give you Gysin’s contact.
Gen: When we came to America at the very beginning it was interesting. It was one of those special moments. When we were leaving Brighton to go to Kathmandu for the first time, for whatever reason we were just leaving the house and we see a pile of mail. So we just picked it up and stuck it in a bag. Oh, we’ll look at it later and then there we are in the Far East for about six months and we get this fax saying there’s trouble. We go back to the room in the hotel and we started packing to go back to England, it was weird. We were actually meant to be back in England the morning they raided the house and that’s why they’d chosen that particular day. But as we were packing my ex said, you really love it here don’t you? And we said, yeah. She said, you don’t really want to go back yet, do you? No, let’s not go yet, and that’s how they didn’t get me. So we’re sitting in the room and the letters must’ve ended up on top of all the bags when we were packing and we saw one that we hadn’t, a handwritten one. So we opened it and there was a postcard inside and it was from Michael Horovitz, who was the person who hid Timothy Leary’s archives and later was imprisoned and also had the biggest library of drug-related literature in the world. It said on this postcard that was from months ago: “We were at your concert at Dingwalls in London and it was the most psychedelic thing we’ve seen since the Acid Tests in San Francisco.” And then it said: “If you ever need a refuge, call this number.” So we walked back to the phone and rang up and Michael answered immediately and we said, We need a refuge! And he said, “Can you get to San Francisco airport?” We said, don’t know, but if we do… He said, “Well, if you do just let me know, we’ll pick you up. You can stay with us.” Isn’t that amazing synchronicity? Weird what happens, isn’t it? Then one day Timothy Leary rang up. We didn’t know him but Michael came and said, “There’s someone on the phone who wants to talk with you.” And it’s Timothy, “Genesis, how are you? It’s Timothy Leary. Come to LA, stay with me. My house is your house!”
MS: My acid is your acid! Do you prefer psychedelics to other drugs?
Gen: Yeah, but we’re old-fashioned. We see them as, to be used for thought. Jaye was really into psychedelics and we did a lot, a lot of psychedelics together. A lot of the ideas for pandrogyny grew out of those long discussions that we would have. She liked DMT. She called it the sparkle.
MS: That’s the thing about doing psychedelics with another person, especially when you have a certain comfort level and a certain intimacy. It’s almost as though your minds are touching.
Gen: Which is why it was so perfect for thinking about pandrogyny.
MS: How did you think about it? Did you start envisioning it during a trip?
Gen: Inevitably with Jaye. What happened was we had this friend Timothy Wyllie who writes some really interesting, slightly New Age books. He was one of the five founding members of the Process Church. He came up to visit, to the old house in Ridgewood, and we were talking to him and he was saying, “Have you ever tried ketamine?” And we both said, no. And he said, “Well I think you would really like it.” John Lilly who did all of the dolphin intelligence with it, he used ketamine a lot and Timothy too said at the time, “You have to do it three hundred times before you get it.”
Gen: And we thought well that’s stupid… As intrepid psychedelic people we decided to start working with ketamine. Ketamine was definitely the most potent advocate for pandrogyny. We decided to do it methodically so we were doing it each and every day for nearly three years… and after about three hundred times, we suddenly got it! We’d go to sleep with a loaded syringe on each side of the bed. Whoever woke up first injected the other while they were still asleep so we woke up high on ketamine. It was amazing. We did a hell of a lot of thinking and theorizing with that. One day we just thought, well we’ve got everything we can out of that and we just stopped. Timothy had a female alter-ego whilst using ketamine. John Lilly started to dress in drag and actually John tried to get breasts as well. It certainly accelerated my descent into full pandrogyny. So there is an aspect of it that seems to have that identity of the blurring of stereotypes. I don’t know why but it seems significant that the three people we knew who did it the most all began cross-dressing and feminizing. I don’t know how you feel about it but it seems like drugs have almost an identity, like an avatar.
MS: Oh, they definitely do. They absolutely do. Certain drugs correspond to certain personalities more so than others. That’s why I was wondering if you prefer psychedelics more so than anything else. I find that people that are introspective, and people that are inquisitive about themselves and about life beyond, you know…
Gen: …the mundane.
MS: …the mundane, exactly, tend to gravitate toward hallucinogens.
Gen: Way back, we would sit and think, what would be the simplest way to spread intelligent life in a universe, not by traveling in old tin cans for thousands of years everywhere but just create a virus that contained the information you wanted to put out inside some other creatures and just spread it in every direction. Viruses aren’t destroyed by space. They’re really robust and they would just land everywhere, and some of them would be picked up by living beings and creatures and trigger their intelligence for them.
MS: I like the idea of disseminating intelligence versus something solid, the notion of spreading intelligence through the universe as opposed to having to catapult some body physically.
Gen: That would make so much sense, something like a virus that’s absorbed. You know like some animals pick up seeds on their fur and move them around. Pick up this virus and it gets inside you and triggers the capacity for thought in some way. I mean, Terence McKenna said it was through mushrooms. That we were eating mushrooms and somehow ate psychedelic mushrooms and that was the trigger.
MS: Yeah, the other thing I keep hearing about, which is too much of a time commitment, but there’s supposed to be an ayahuasca…
Gen: There is a whole ayahuasca scene. We’re almost sort of concerned about it. It seems like it’s become a trendy thing to do.
MS: I think it is.
Gen: Like collecting the drugs, Have you done ayahuasca yet? Oh you should!
MS: But also it has a spiritual element to it that seems to have been lost.
Gen: It’s become psychedelic tourism which is a dubious thing. If you imagine that, there’s nothing to argue, that it’s completely possible that where you go is a real place, as far as anywhere is real. Imagine how annoying it would be to have these tourists, you know, turning up, making a big mess in your dimension, then leaving it. Wouldn’t that drive you crazy? Also, if you’re ripping holes in the core, the veil between that dimension and this, it also means that things could come back either way. Now, what are you bringing back?
Genesis Breyer P-Orridge
Genesis P-Orridge (1950-2020) was born in Manchester, England, and died in New York City. A performance artist and musician, they were the lead vocalist of the legendary band “Throbbing Gristle”, pioneers of industrial music.
Margarita Shalina is Russian-American. She is a writer and translator who lives in New York.
Laure A. Leber
Laure A. Leber is a Brooklyn-based photographer. Her photographs are featured in the "Breyer P-Orridge: We Are But One" exhibition currently at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn (April 16 - July 10). See more of her work at www.laureleberphoto.com.