In Memoriam A Tribute to Genesis Breyer P-Orridge
Paul Bee Hampshire
I first heard Genesis P-Orridge in the winter of 1979, when I was a young 17-year-old lad stuck in a small mining town in the north of England. A friend gave me a cassette tape of he/r band, Throbbing Gristle, and told me to play it alone in the dark, stuff like that mattered back then, so I felt compelled to comply. I’d already heard about Throbbing Gristle; their bleak discordant soundscapes had inspired many of the wasted youths and unhinged adults in the Sheffield music scene that I so desperately wanted to be part of. Throbbing Gristle had been lambasted in the press by a British politician as “the wreckers of civilization,” but I perceived them as the pioneers of the new wave of industrial culture that validated my dystopian beliefs and promised a refuge from mediocrity. Millennials take note: being a teenager without the internet can be a torturous existence. Spread out on a beanbag in my blackened bedroom, I pressed play. Howling electronics and the hypnotic droning of syphilitic synthesizers, punctuated with screeching vocals, filled the room. The music was like an incendiary device that shot through my young adolescent mind with the force of a nuclear blast. Like a virus infecting every molecule of my DNA, the program had been rewritten. I’d been radicalized. From that point onwards, the standard had been set: like a barometer of the taboo, the dark side of the street, everything could be compared to Throbbing Gristle, they became my litmus test of authenticity.
I first saw Genesis P-Orridge when I was 18 years old: Throbbing Gristle played a show at Sheffield University with local heroes Cabaret Voltaire. I’d pinched a handful of my mother’s slimming pills to get me in the mood and arrived early. Throbbing Gristle always performed first, even when they were the main act, which tonight they most definitely were. The university bar was a who’s who of dignitaries from the Sheffield music scene. The volume of the rowdy banter dipped as Throbbing Gristle, decked out in camouflage and military gear, made their way through the crowd.
Ditching any coolness I’d been struggling to muster, my eyes locked onto them like missiles. These were definitely the sort of people that my parents had warned me about, I was in my element. Amongst them was a smaller figure with big black combat boots and a shaved head. He scanned the room with a Charlie Manson stare, Genesis P-Orridge had entered the building. Looking down from the upstairs balcony, I had a bird’s-eye view of the stage, which was crammed with synthesizers and weird electronic gadgetry. A low buzzing noise filled the room, signaling the start of the proceedings. While the rest of the band honed in their machines, Genesis stood on the far right of the stage clutching his bass, glaring at the audience. When the cacophony of disturbing noise peaked, Genesis began braying like a demented donkey as he bashed out rhythms on his guitar. The next hour was a barrage of sledgehammer beats rammed against a nightmarish wall of distortion that had my head spinning like a whirling dervish on acid.
I first met Genesis P-Orridge when I was 20 years old. I had moved to London and was visiting my friend Jane, who worked at a record company called Some Bizzare. Genesis and Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson had left Throbbing Gristle and formed a new band called Psychic TV. They had signed a contract with Some Bizzare, but I was still stunned when Genesis waltzed into Jane’s office with he/r wife Paula. Jane introduced us and thus began a friendship that would last for 38 years. Genesis went from being a musical influence to mentor and the big brother that I never had. S/he taught me how to not be afraid of the dark, how to train a dog, about magick, how to please a woman, and that I should think about making art every day and “altar everything.” S/he introduced me to he/r friends like Felicity Mason, John Giorno, and Brion Gysin. S/he often led by example, although sometimes the lesson was how not to behave.
The last time I saw Genesis Breyer P-Orridge was in Berlin, we had met a few days earlier in London and I had spent the previous summer in New York so that I could reconnect with my friend. During that scorching summer, we spent many afternoons putting the world to rights, talking about old times, and just being plain silly. One afternoon, Gen looked at me vivaciously and purred “Bee, you know, you are one of my oldest friends,” S/he then erupted into a fit of laughter and coughing. I gave he/r my best evil eye, just one of the many tricks s/he had taught me.
The last time I spoke to Genesis Breyer P-Orridge was a couple of weeks before s/he dropped he/r body. I was calling from Bangkok, s/he was in great spirits because s/he was with he/r daughter Caresse, had just been granted American citizenship, and officially changed he/r name to Breyer P-Orridge. We spoke of how we would meet again in the spring of 2020 in New York.
The last time I felt Genesis Breyer P-Orridge was on the morning of March 15th. I awoke in my Bangkok room with the sound of the wind howling at the window. My phone was bursting with calls, messages, and texts. At the top of the list were several missed calls from Gen’s manager. I knew before I called him back that the wind outside my window was the last screeching goodbye from my oldest friend.