Wednesday, July 7, 2010
Psychic TV Journey to thee Center of thee Mind:the Agit Reader 2008
Journey to thee Center of thee Mind
the Agit Reader interview
by Stephen Slaybaugh
In the short time since we started publishing, there has perhaps been no artist we’ve covered more appropriate to be under the Agit Reader banner than Genesis Breyer P-Orridge. Since the late-60s, while fronting such acts as COUM Transmissions, Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV, s/he has been a constant agitant in the cultural waters. Even as P-Orridge’s musical output has morphed from industrialized assaults (Genesis was the first to use “industrial” to describe music), shape-shifting pop, day-glo acid house (again s/he coined the term), to places in-between and elsewhere, s/he’s consistently created challenging work while simultaneously confronting convention. As such s/he’s garnered the attention of a devoted following as well as British authorities. (In 1992, police raided his home while he was out of the country feeding the poor.)
For most of the last 30 years, Psychic TV has been Genesis’ primary musical concern. But s/he spent much of the turn of the century concentrating on his spoken word project, Thee Majesty. At the same time, P-Orridge and other half Lady Jaye had begun exploring pandrogeny, a set of philosophical ideas that led them both to undergo surgeries to more closely resemble the other.
With some prodding Genesis formed a new Psychic TV in 2006, releasing Hell Is Invisible... Heaven Is Here the next year. Unfortunately, tragedy would strike the same year, with Lady Jaye dying as a result of complications from stomach cancer. Still, Genesis and the band found the courage six months later to perform on NPR’s World Cafe, coming home from the broadcast with tapes that would lead to the recently released Mr. Alien Brain Vs. The Skinwalker. Nearly entirely improvised, though the band had been working on the songs, the record shows PTV3 to be as potent as any prior version of the band and that Genesis is still being guided by an unyielding creative itch.
I caught up with Genesis at his home on the Brooklyn-Queens border, where we spent much of the afternoon discussing the here and now of Psychic TV, as well as past projects, and the guiding principles behind all of it.
You moved here to New York in 1996?
Genesis Breyer P-Orridge: February 1996, Lady Jaye and I drove from Sonoma County to New York. What had happened was we had been in Los Angeles doing a secret Psychic TV gig, and Love and Rockets had just been signed to American Recordings by Rick Rubin. They were living in Harry Houdini’s old mansion on Laurel Canyon, and they had installed a temporary recording studio there to do demos for a new album. We had known each other since the ‘70s and when they heard we were coming into town, David J said, “You can stay with us if you like. We’re in this big mansion and there’s loads of rooms.” So they checked with Rick Rubin’s office and it was fine.
We were sleeping there when at six in in the morning we heard a voice screaming, “Get out! Get out! The house is on fire!” And sure enough, it was. David J and myself were trapped at the top of the house, and the rest of the house was already engulfed. In escaping the fire, I fell out of the upstairs window and smashed my left arm. The elbow alone was broken into 36 pieces. And I had broken ribs, a broken wrist, nerve damage on the left leg. So basically the result of that was that it was impossible for me to make any money or work or play music. Plus there was traumatic stress disorder, which turned out to be a real phenomenon.
Lady Jaye was a registered nurse, and she was going to get a job nursing to take care care of us financially while recovery took place. But it takes a year for a New York license to be ratified by the California State, which we couldn’t afford to wait to do. So we came to New York.
This was her grandmother’s house. Her grandmother was an invalid. She was wheelchair-bound and very, very sick. So in return for Jaye and I taking care of her grandmother 24-hours-a-day, seven days a week, we got this apartment rent-free. So that’s how we survived for the first year. We ended up in New York by just a fluke. This house, though, is really where Jaye grew up. She was basically raised by her grandparents. When her grandmother passed away, she was really keen for us to inherit the house. Not for free, though, we had to buy it. By then we had settled the court case with the insurance company on the house, which we used to pay the hospital bill, which was $120,000. We had to take it to court, all the way to the Supreme Civil Court of California, with a two-week jury trial, which we won. So we paid off all the debts, bought the house from the family, and the money that was left over we used to pay for my gold teeth and to begin the pandrogeny project. And Jaye began working as a registered nurse.
How long had you lived in California?
GBP: For me, since early 1992. I moved there from Katmandu with the children. We were living in Winona Ryder’s parents’ house, Michael Horovitz and Cynthia Palmer. Michael Horovitz we knew from the psychedelic scene from the ‘60s. He used to look after Timothy Leary’s archives. When Leary was in jail, it was Michael Horovitz who kept the archives hidden and safe. The FBI and the authorities did everything they could to intimidate Michael and get him to tell them where the archives were. So we were staying with Michael, and one day he said, “Oh there’s someone on the phone who’d like to talk to you.” So I picked up the phone, and it was Timothy Leary. “Hey Genesis, it’s Timothy Leary here. I love your music and I’d love to meet you and talk about ideas. Come to L.A.” So we borrowed a car and drove to L.A. and hit it off with Timothy. We started doing video light shows and audio mixing for his performance piece, How to Operate Your Brain. Then quite often he’d have me do a talk about how I was forced out of the U.K. and how they were after my archives just like they were after his archives.
They’re always trying to find out what the alternative culture is really doing and one way they do that is to attack some significant people and try to get hold of their works so they can learn from it what their new strategies might be.
Could you, if you had any desire, go back to England?
GBP: Yeah, now. We were never ever charged with anything. Which means they took two tons of our archive and, as they claimed, destroyed it all with no legal right whatsoever. But in Britain, there is no Bill of Rights. One reason we’ve not been allowed in the common market of the EU is because the government of England refuses to have a bill of rights, and it’s a prerequisite to join. But after seven years, the statute runs out on any potential charges. We were doing nothing wrong. There was no evidence of any wrongdoing of any kind.
Now the irony is that they’re showing the work they used to vilify at museums in Britain. The Barbican just showed the tampon sculptures and had a catalog with full-page color reproductions of them, when in the ‘70s they said that those proved we were wreckers of civilization. And the Tate Gallery is very interested in acquiring the archives for their collection, rather than destroying it. So everything goes in circles. You were saying earlier that maybe if you stick to something long enough that it comes round, so maybe that’s beginning to happen to us. Sometimes I get a funny feeling about letting go of the archives and letting it go to the same government that tried to destroy my life. But things change, times change.
Do you think that society has begun to catch up to you or at least begun to understand what you are doing?
GBP: There certainly seems to have been a shift lately, in terms of people taking the body of work we’ve been involved with more seriously and starting to see something that is of value, or at least some use, to them. But it’s hard to say. I mean, have they caught up to me or have they caught up to me 25 years ago? Because that’s what they’re interested in acquiring: something we were saying 25 years ago, which isn’t something we are saying now. So it’s hard to say. There’s definitely been a big increase in serious interest in the things we say, but sadly it’s been mainly since Lady Jaye passed. Like that made people wake up and reconsider how serious we were and realize that it wasn’t just something whimsical. That it had a lot more thought and weight behind it.
We just did a talk at Rutgers University, where we were invited as a visiting artist. After we finished talking, we showed the Pandrogeny Manifesto, we talked about Jaye and the whole project of evolution. The head of graduate studies came up to us afterwards and said, “You know that was the largest attendance for a lecture in the history of Rutgers University.” We also did a talk at Columbia a few weeks ago, and the same thing. And at NYU’s gender studies, we did a panel on the changing view of masculine identity, and again they were shocked. The room they picked, they had to take out all the furniture because so many people wanted in. It was standing room only in the actual room, and then there were people in the corridors outside trying to listen. Again, we showed the Pandrogeny Manifesto and we talked about the theories that Jaye and I were developing.
People are genuinely listening. The whole premise of cultural engineering is not to consider one’s self smart or unique or special if one comes up with something that is relevant, so much as it is just to observe the culture and try to see the trends and indications of how things are unfolding and then try to point them out. Say, “What do you think this might mean?” or “Where is this taking us as a culture? Is it helpful or is it dangerous?” We remain primarily cultural engineers and use whatever tools are available to try to create dialog, and most of all to break inertia and to inspire everybody’s imagination in terms of what’s possible. For us, it’s very hard to imagine that what we do is in any way special. We come from a place in the ‘60s where if you did anything that appeared to be self-congratulatory you were accused of being an ego-tripper. That was the dirtiest word you could have thrown at you. So for me, it’s very uncomfortable to be singled out.
How has Lady Jaye’s passing changed or influenced the transformative process you were going through?
GBP: People tend to assume that the pandrogeny process and project must somehow grind to a half with Jaye dropping her body—or throwing away the cheap suitcase, as she would say. But actually in the 12 months since she dropped her body, the first thing we did was go and see a plastic surgeon and say to him, “Could you take a look at me and could you do whatever is necessary to make me as near as possible to how Jaye was at the moment she passed on?” So we got a breast reduction because she lost a lot of weight, which is a funny thing to tell people, that we just had a breast reduction surgery. So he did some surgery there and some more on my face to make it the mean average of how she was. Then Lady Jaye had this tattoo on her left arm, so we had that reproduced on the anniversary of her passing. And also got this [shows tattoo portrait of Lady Jaye on right arm]. To me that symbolizes she’s been absorbed into my physical body. Lady Jaye represents us both in the immaterial world, and this body represents us both in the material world.
We talked a lot before about what would happen when one of us became non-physical, and how we would communicate with each other. And this is where it got strange. We came up with some basic rules. We thought that we couldn’t just come up with a word because it’s so easy to say, “Oh yes, I heard this word” or “This word came up in a conversation.” It’s too vague. It has to be something material, like an object, something that actually physically happens with stuff. It has to be witnessed by people who have no vested interest in her still being around or not. And it has to have some private or special significance to the two of us. Really quite rigorous demands.
My children came here for the funeral, and three days afterwards, we were in that room next door with three or four friends and they were trying to persuade me to go back with them to California for a few weeks to get over the trauma and the shock. And we were vacillating whether to go or not. While we were thinking about it, we thought, “Well, if we do go, we’ve got to have a picture of me and Jaye to take”—strange things one thinks in a state of shock. We went into the bedroom and went to pick out a picture. We had a collection of photos of us kissing that were on the wall on Jaye’s side of the bed so that the first thing she saw every morning was lots of pictures of us kissing. And we picked out this one that was taken in Katmandu. It struck us that it’s almost like one big body with two heads kissing [both Genesis and Jaye are draped in red in the photo] so it was very much the pandrogyne. So we brought it back and we put it on some shelves flat and far away and sat back down. We were saying, “Should we go or not?” and while we were thinking, we said, “Maybe we should stay here with Jaye.” And you may or may not believe this, but there were at least five or six witnesses. That picture then flew up in the air, crossed the room, turned over and dropped to the floor. We took that as a sign that she wanted us to stay here with her. That’s one example, and it fits the criteria: it’s something very material that broke the laws of known physics and had a lot of witnesses and is very special to us.
In May this year, we were invited to do some concerts with Throbbing Gristle in Europe. When we go to Europe our friend Ryan Martin, who does DAIS records, he comes to the apartment to live with Big Boy [Genesis’ dog] to take care of him. Ryan works in Manhattan and every day he gets up and takes Big Boy out and gives him his breakfast. He’s very neat and tidy and he always makes the bed before he goes to work. The day we were due back, he thought “Well, Gen’s fight could be delayed.” So he came back to the house to check on Biggie. No one else had a key to the apartment. He went into the bedroom, where he had made the bed, to check that he hadn’t left anything behind. He looked at the bed and someone had folded back the bed covers in a perfect triangle and two rainbow-colored, wooly bed socks had appeared on the sheet. He said that he nearly fainted. How could that happen? What he didn’t know was that whenever we had to go away and leave Jaye behind, she would always make the bad and fold back the covers like that to welcome me home. No socks were in the drawer when we left; we didn’t even know they existed. Ryan took photographs of the bed, he was so shocked and wanted proof of what he had seen.
Again, it was a very specific example. It’s not easy to believe, even for me who would want to believe that they are messages from Jaye. My logical self says, “How can this be? How could she be that powerful that she could make these things happen from some other dimension?” What it tends to suggest is that first, that she’s one of the few beings we’ve heard of that’s capable of giving really physical, clear evidence that there is some way for consciousness to continue to maintain its autonomy after physical death, and be able to communicate from that zone. Tibetan Buddhists, they’ve learned how to do it very near consciously with reincarnation, and future Dali Llamas have been able to pick out what used to belong to them from a whole array of stuff when they’re two-years-old. So the Tibetans have figured out a system that makes that feasible, but for Lady Jaye to have done it solo is remarkable and very encouraging because it tends to suggest that she’s waiting.
One of our good friends Baba Larry Ji, Larry Thrasher of Thee Majesty, he’s a devotee of Meher Baba, the guru who passed away but was relatively popular in the ‘60s and ‘70s. He does normal awake meditation everyday. He didn’t even know that Jaye had passed and he was meditating in California a few days after she passed. While he was sitting there in whatever zone he goes into, Jaye turned up and started talking to him and gave him various messages. One of them was—and this was in October last year—“Tell Gen the American economy is going to start going down in the spring and then at the end of the year it’s going to get really, really bad. So sell the house as soon as possible.” So we had an advantage! We knew what was going to happen to the economy in October. And there were other things she said too, but those are obviously private. Those things she said through Larry Ji made it clear to me that it was Jaye.
So people can take that how they wish. We’re not trying to proselytize. We’re not trying to speculate how or why these things occurred.
Do you have specific beliefs as far as death?
GBP: We’ve never had specific beliefs except that the world and the universe are far more fascinating than people. And this—we call it nonsense—this reality is a tiny portion of whatever is going on. Personally, it’s impossible for me to know if this is even happening. I was just thinking this morning that it’s totally possible that this is someone else’s dream. Material reality for us has become so tenuous and fragile and transient. It’s like holding steam or vapors. It’s impossible to take it seriously, and as life has gone by for us, we’ve been very blessed with all kinds of incredible adventures and psychedelic journeys, meeting all kinds of shamanic people and wise individuals all over the world. But the one thing that’s for sure, we have no fixed idea about what’s going on, and Jaye being able to communicate is staggering. We’re still trying to assimilate the implications of that. We always promised each other that if there really was something other than oblivion—she called it door number one—that we would wait for each other. The ultimate point of pandrogeny, for us personally, is to be able to be together forever infinitely in some form, even if it’s just a form of merged consciousness with no tactile existence. Whatever is possible, we want to be with each other, and then the evolutionary part of it is sort of a surprising bonus: that we could be useful to the species. The human species has to live up to its potential and take responsibility to grow and change. There’s no reason to believe that we’ve reached the evolutionary peak of what we can be. That’s a ludicrous idea.
Pandrogeny is an ongoing experiment and investigation that’s taken us to the strangest places. There seems to be no doubt in my mind—and Lady Jaye would agree—that there’s more than enough work to be done to last the rest of our physical life.
We did a poem with Thee Majesty, door number one, door number two, and so on. Door number one is existentialism. When you die there is nothing, but if that’s the case, it’s not very interesting to investigate. Door number two, is life after death in some form or another. Door number three is even more than that. Jaye’s position was always go to the most exotic door as a matter of principle and see what happens.
Well, it’s irrelevant if it’s number one.
GBP: Exactly, if it’s number one we won’t know that we wasted our time. And anyway it’s not wasted, because potential and inspiration are never wasted. It’s no mistake that the first book of the Bible is the book of creation. That suggests that the ultimate energy is creation, no matter how you want to describe it or turn it into deities or parables or whatever. Creation is the innate energy in all matter and non-matter. That’s why art and music and literature and creativity itself are so precious. It’s often where we find that our evolution comes from: the edges of the known world, from the people considered the outsiders or most extreme mystics.
It sounds like you had to be coaxed back into doing Psychic TV at the beginning of PTV3. Were you just not interested in the rock form any more?
GBP: After the fire and then the court case, which gave us this little next egg that is since long gone, it was the first time in my life ever—since we left home in 1968, we just lived on our wits and our art and our music, squatting or whatever to survive—it had been a non-stop process. It was the very, very first time in my life to rest and take stock. Jaye said to me, “My gift to you now that we’re married and we’re together is that I’ll work if necessary as a nurse or whatever needs to be done so you don’t have to do anything. You don’t have to do anything to make money. If you want to just watch TV, watch TV. If you want to read, read. If you want to do basketball, do that, but you have no obligations.” She felt that we had done enough already that we didn’t need to do anything else. She said, “You’ve done enough in your life to make a contribution. You don’t always have to keep trying.” So she gave me this amazing gift, this space to see if there’s something we really wanted to do.
She was also very skeptical about rock & roll having a real impact for change, that if often gave the impression of being a message carrier but in the long term didn’t seem to make a great deal of difference for the energy involved. It’s a very energy-sucking way of life for the returns that you get. It was like detoxing, like she had taken me to creative rehab. For the first year, it was really uncomfortable for me to keep waking up each day feeling like we had to do something but not knowing what. Bit by bit, it dawned on me that what we really liked doing was writing poetry. So after two or three years, we started pulling together the idea of Thee Majesty and focus on words and words as living beings and as entities and the way that language operated.
So it was poetry and a little music. Then we came to New York and we bumped into Morrison Edley, who was a friend of Jaye’s from when she was 15. He started saying to me that it was a real tragedy that I wasn’t doing Psychic TV anymore. Why? “You wrote such great songs!” What? Honestly, it had never occurred to us that we were songwriters, that we wrote songs in that way that stood up in and of themselves. They were always so tied to ideas. So he made a CD of his favorite Psychic TV songs and gave it to us and said, “Just listen to this as if it’s someone else. They’re good songs, Gen!” We did and thought that we did like those songs, “Arcadia” being one of them. We liked the song part of Psychic TV the most, in terms of personal pleasure. The songs actually stood up on their own and stayed interesting and pleasurable, despite time passing. There was something to them. Once he got me hooked, he started saying, “You really should start Psychic TV again.”
“No, no, no, it’s too much trouble. So much work and so much stress and it never makes any money. But if you think it’s such a good idea, you find a band and we’ll think about it.” So of course that’s what he did, and put together PTV3, then persuaded me to start coming to rehearsals, “just to see what it’s like.” Then it was just one gig. The day we played, there was a huge blizzard, with more than a foot of snow. It took us three hours to get to the venue, when it should have been 30 minutes, and we were convinced no one would be there. But we got there and there was a line outside. It completely shocked us. We did a set of the old songs, and it was beautiful. People were so warm and excited, it was a real celebration. That was it; we realized that there was this—audience isn’t the right word—there was this lost tribe or secret family that still existed that believed in us. They were people that to this day trust us to be as open-hearted as possible when we perform and when we create. And that deserved recognition from us.
So it was basically Morrison Edley. He’s a very driven person. He holds down a very stressful job at Sony and still spends all his spare time doing the work of a manager. He does all the things that made it hard for me being creative. He took all those responsibilities away. Jaye gave me the gift of being able to choose what to do, and he gave me the space to do it. That’s why the music has developed so much, it’s getting more and more pure. My singing is much more confident and relaxed, which has come from that support system. One of the most common things we hear is “It’s so nice to see you smiling onstage. It looks like you’re having fun.” And we are.
Yeah, I found that surprising. I expected it to be much more serious live.
GBP: Isn’t that funny? Well, we were more po-faced in the past, but times change and strategies change. And there’s so much love involved. Hopefully the audience feels included in that. It’s a combination: genuine pleasure turning into a useful demonstration of a more positive way of living. It doesn’t all have to be po-faced to be serious and intent. You can have serious intent and still laugh. That’s why comedy is so powerful, why Lenny Bruce could make people laugh but also make them change their mind. Somewhere near the beginning of this incarnation, we even said that pleasure is a weapon. In a dark time like this, with so much negativity and so much cynicism and people trying to be cool and not look unhip, smiling becomes shocking.
You’ve always seemed to blur the lines between public and private, life and art. Are there distinctions?
GBP: No! That’s one of the things that we’re most avid about, that there’s no difference. Life, art, mysticism—it’s all the same. It’s just one big soup of mystery. There’s no separation. In fact, one of the things that happened in Nepal the first time we went there in 1991 was meeting the Agori Baba, which is the path of no distinction. They’re a very extreme sect. They’ll eat human feces and then eat an expensive meal, and to them there’s no difference. It’s just eating, and all the rest is socialized. In one country, eating poo might be acceptable or even a delicacy and in another it’s taboo. We all know this, that social mores are contrived by society to police itself by the people in power. There are very few things that you can say are universal truths. Culture is completely artificial, and it changes with geography and it changes with time. At this moment that we’re speaking, there’s bushmen in Africa who are always naked, drink the blood from their cattle to survive, and basically live in the stone age, simultaneously with people living in a space lab. That’s absurd! And very strange, that after thousands of years, all the different eras of human history are actually present somewhere on this planet simultaneously. We don’t ever really erase the previous history; we keep adding on layers like an onion. That seems to suggest that it’s all very artificial and very arbitrary, and one needs to look for something outside culture, something that makes sense all the time, that has nothing to do with a specific culture or a specific imposed belief system. Is it possible to wipe the slate clean and create one’s own way of life? That means every action you take is equal and opposite. What can we do and are we taking ownership of it? Have we built it for ourselves or have we taken the easier route and just accepted what we’ve been told is appropriate?
A very, very long time ago, we decided not to accept anything without questioning. Question everything, not just authority, but everything. And when you’ve done that, question it again. Don’t even believe what we believed yesterday because today’s a different time. For some people, that’s a very hard thing to do, to be in a constant state of flux. It can make things very disorienting and confusing. For me, though, it’s hard to imagine that this person we are today is the person we were yesterday. It’s this thin line of being in the present and not having any attachment to what’s gone on before. And obviously that becomes more difficult with something like losing Jaye because that’s such a deep bond. Her presence, anyway, is sorely missed. But that too has to happen for us to keep on questioning without any sense of solidity. The longer things go on, the more baffled we become and yet the universe remains fascinating.
You were talking about wiping the slate clean and constantly questioning. Is it important for you to confront social mores or is it just that you’re trying to write your own narrative?
GBP: In the ‘60s, it was much more straightforward agit-prop. It was part of the zeitgeist of the times, to question authority and attack social mores as a matter of course. It was a very new approach because it was one of the first times in history when a mass of young people had the luxury of the time and space to actually try to experiment with new ways of life. It was a time of plenty that allowed this experiment to happen. But because of that first impulse of the ‘60s affecting me to challenge authority and look at social rules and social regulations and wonder if it’s what we really wanted to adopt, it became a matter of course, this process of questioning. It was ingrained as we were involved with art and a commune that did street performances. By 1969, it was set into me, that collective way of living and that constant questioning of behavior were essential to a creative sanity. Then it became much more analytical.
COUM Transmissions at the beginning was an extension of improvised theater and street theater. But as it went on through the early-70s, it became more and more obvious to myself and Cosey [COUM and Throbbing Gristle member Cosey Fanni Tutti] that we were really looking at human behavior. Nothing can change in the greater world outside, in the macrocosm, until human behavior changes. The great pitfall of trying to create utopias or ideal situations is human beings are self-defeating. If you can’t change the way we behave towards each other, then you can’t change society, you can’t change the culture into something focused on creation and compassion and evolution.
So what came out of all of that is, first of all, looking at how come it’s okay to be naked on a nude beach, but not okay to be naked walking to the shops. Why is my body somehow different outside Wal-Mart than it is in Saint-Tropez? What happened? How can I be arrested in one situation and photographed in the other? That’s not logical, either I’m naked or I’m not naked. Therefore, we experimented with being naked to see if it did make a difference or if we did mutate because we were near a shop. We were performing in Birmingham once, in the middle of this big shopping center, and it was a very simple sculptural piece where everything was either orange or blue. Orange was male and blue was female, and at the end we switched outfits, which meant that at some point we were both naked. There was a big crowd watching, fascinated. Of course the cops were called, but by the time they fought their way through the crowd, we weren’t naked anymore. So they couldn’t do anything. They only had someone else’s word for it. But that’s a very specific example that we didn’t just think about it, we took it into the streets to see what happened.
Then the same goes, how come I feel comfortable masturbating in bed, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable masturbating in an art gallery or in school or on the lawn or wherever? Where is the line about what’s okay and what’s not okay, and who put the line there? Who does the line serve? It was William Burroughs who said to me, “Gen, whenever you’re puzzled just look for the vested interest and that’s what is going on.” And that’s such a good map for finding out what’s happening. So simple but so true.
So who does it serve to police the way our sexuality is presented? For example, how come it’s okay for rich people, usually, to see dominatrices or prostitutes or have their mistresses? That’s an acceptable, though naughty, activity. But for the common working class, it’s policed and you can be arrested and intimidated and harassed for doing the same activity. So there’s double-standards, to keep it simple. Who do double-standards serve? Bit-by-bit we kept on looking at these questions and we’d experiment on ourselves with different possibilities and what they implied. What we came up with by the time Jaye and I were looking at pandrogeny is that in prehistoric times the human species had a built in genetic program, where the male of the species was aggressive and it suited the small clan. But anything that was outside—anything that wasn’t understood, anything that was different—had to be seen as a potential enemy or threat and would be attacked if necessary. The females were the suppository of replication so they would be protected and also treated as merchandise. At a very early stage, that DNA program of fight, attack and kill something different or mystifying, actually helped the human species to evolve and survive. It had its use. It was a primitive response to a primitive environment. As we’ve gradually changed our environment to this futuristic science fiction environment that we exist in, we’ve done nothing to change our behavior or the pattern of our DNA program. So we have this primitive gene in a completely new environment. We haven’t bothered to apply the same research and development to our behavior as we have to our tools. We wouldn’t let a bunch of chimpanzees in a room with a lot of buttons that could let off atomic weapons, but that’s basically what we’ve done. The ‘60s was the only time people tried to redress the balance and work on consciousness and behavior. Then they were very skillfully maligned and smeared by politicians who had a vested interested in the status quo. Nowadays, people are scared to death to call themselves a hippie or say they believe in peace and love.
So Jaye and I feel that the world needs to stop in its tracks and embrace self-evolution. It needs to look at it behavior, admit that its primitive and very dangerous and that we’re moving towards potentially the darkest age ever because of the toys we’ve created. If we want to survive and be able to look back and be proud as a species, we have to mutate. We have to evolve again.
You once said that Psychic TV was a video group that played music. What role do you see the visual aspect playing in this incarnation?
GBP: It’s still very important. We spend lots of time working on videos and films. Marie Losier, who worked on the DVD and did the light show the other night, she met Lady Jaye and myself about three years ago. Jaye had been saying for quite some time that we needed someone who just wanted to document our lives all the time, especially since we were doing the pandrogeny project. And Marie appeared—just as Jaye wished—and started documenting us. So she’s been working for three years now on a documentary movie about myself and Lady Jaye and pandrogeny.
The video light show is an ongoing, organic mutating story that we consider essential to Psychic TV. While the music has shifted to a more traditional shape, albeit a very pure one, the videos become more important because we need to keep a balance of, for want of a better word, propaganda. The dialogue has to be presented too. If the interaction between the audience and the music becomes so relaxed and so sensual, we don’t want people to forget to think so we put more content into the video.
Is it subliminal or overt propaganda? Probably both. It’s also a demonstration of the attitude of sharing our personal lives and not being afraid to look vulnerable, to tell people that it’s okay to feel vulnerable and nervous. That exploring is always good therapy. We have lots of material stacked up that we want to start releasing in DVD form too so that people can not just see Psychic TV as the band, but if they’re really interested they can go deeper and get closer to the conceptual center. You can go in at any level and go as deep as you wish. We hope that it solidifies their personal desire to live a life controlled by themselves or to feel less isolated.
We’re going to be doing books again. There’s a press called Heartworm Press, and they’re working on The Collected Poems and Lyrics of Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, 1961 to 2008, and then they’re going to do my first novel, which was written in 1969. Barrelhouse Press are in the process of putting out the Psychic Bible, Second Edition, which will be three times longer, as a hardback. We’re doing this with the hope that the information thus won’t be destroyed or lost, because once you’ve had your archive attacked you realize how easy it is to loose a lifetime’s work. So if we can make it available, even if it’s just to a thousand people, then it’s less likely to get erased by whoever controls the culture.
What was lost from the archive?
GBP: We used to visit Brion Gysin several times a year, and we always took a video camera and record all his talks. He’d tell me all these stories, tell me how to make the perfect cup of mint tea—all those videos were destroyed. We brought William Burroughs, Brion Gysin and John Giorno and everybody to London for a big festival where we wanted to show the link between the Beats and new groups like 23 Skidoo, Cabaret Voltaire, Psychic TV. Derek Jarman volunteered to be the camera person for the documentary. All that film was destroyed, and there were no copies. It’s irreplaceable. They’re dead now. Lots of things like that. It was a tragedy. It was stupid and just because they didn’t like the way we lived.
So if anyone thinks we’re being grandiose in the way we talk about culture, we talk from experience. We were in Katmandu doing soup kitchens for lepers, beggars, Tibetan refugees at our own expense. Feeding up to 600 people two times a day through the winter to keep them alive, doing good work. And over night, we lost two houses, our record label, all those videos and films—everything—just because our ideas were considered too radical.
Have you had any problems with the U.S. government since you’ve been here?
GBP: No. One of the reasons we’re still here is that for all the flaws in American society there is a bill of rights, an innate belief in the constitution, and there is a belief in freedom of speech, and that is an amazing gift. And for someone like me who’s been attacked so many times and threatened and intimidated so many times by their own government, it’s a very real gift. So we appreciate the American hospitality very much.
Talking of Psychic TV, though, one of the reasons it’s working so well is because all the people believe in the ideas. They may not proselytize the way we do, but they absolutely agree with the ideas. The band is used to project those ideas, and the musicians in PTV3 have made our dream of what it could be like in a way that never happened before. This is what we wanted it to be like 20 years ago.
The bulk of the new record was done improvisationally, right?
GBP: Yeah, straight to tape.
You’ve worked that way before, but I don’t think it’s sounded this coherent.
GBP: Absolutely. It’s the musicians, and I can’t praise them highly enough. This is what we wanted it to be like in 1968, and it might seem odd to say so, but this is what we were hoping TG would be like. We think that PTV3 is the genuine child of TG. It’s taken all the different elements and blended them in a way that is really convincing musically, but still contains the beliefs in improvisation, noise, sound, random chance and cut-ups—they’re all still in there.
Were the lyrics improvised as well? Was it the Beat idea of first thought, best thought?
GBP: Not first thought, best thought, but first several thoughts, best thought. We edit afterwards sometimes. After we recorded it, we had to transcribe it.
I started listening to you when I was 14, 15.
GBP: Oh, my God that must be so weird.
You scared me a bit.
GBP: Little old me! Which music scared you?
The first records I heard were Allegory and Self and Pagan Day.
GBP: They’re good records. That’s the media. The media has always been in love with this image of Genesis P-Orridge, scary person, weird magician, sorcerer. It’s never been very accurate. There’s always been a good sense of humor and a smile, but that’s been edited in favor of the archetype they created. But that’s one that goes back to TG. It’s not really Psychic TV at all; it’s a spill-over from a previous era. It’s frustrating to keep on and on re-explaining that’s not what we’re like.
You recorded at NPR studios. Was that for a show?
GBP: Yes, Howard [Wuelfing, publicist] got in touch and said that World Cafe wanted us to do a special in honor of Lady Jaye. It was about six months after. We all talked and decided to do it, if for no other reason than to record the songs that had been unfolding on the last tour with Jaye and for which she had made all the samples. So we went to Philadelphia. It looked just like Abbey Road, with one big room and baffles. They recorded us live with each of us in a little compartment. What was really cool was that we each had a box to control our own headphone mix. Everyone was really focused on making this as a good as possible for Jaye, and we all went into a really pure zone and listened to each other. The engineer they had was amazing. He basically mixed those tracks straight out. The tracks sounded so arranged. It was exactly what we’d been trying to say for ages. They said if we wanted a tape, we could have it. Then we thought, we almost have an album. And Michael Gira had already done that mix of “New York Story” and it was perfect. So it happened very naturally.
Given the happenstance way this record happened, was there another album in the band’s future?
GBP: Oh yeah, all these songs were towards another one. “Trust” and so on were developing on that last tour. It would have taken longer, because David lives in Switzerland now and Markus and Hannah live in Asheville, North Carolina, and been a very different sound quality. We just got really lucky, and stepped up to the plate, as they say here.
I wanted to ask you about the title of the record. “Mr. Alien Brain” comes from the COUM days, right?
GBP: It does, it does indeed. In 1972, at the Hull Art Center, we were invited to do what was the first COUM Transmissions public performance at a bona fide art center. It was called The Alien Brain, and Mr. Alien Brain was one of the characters that we invented. When we were living in the commune, we used to dress up as these characters. You’d have to spend two days as if you were that character. Mr. Alien Brain was visiting from another planet and thought these human beings were very strange creatures. He observes everything and is puzzled. So that character has been around since 1971. When Hannah and Markus were living downstairs, Hannah just loved the name the Alien Brain and has had a life-long obsession with extra terrestrials. She asked if we could have Alien Brain in the title of the next record, and we said, “Sure.” It represents viewing the human species from the outside and seeing its behavior has to change and that its ludicrous towards itself.
The Skinwalkers are the sorcerers, the dark sorcerers. The Anastasi Indians in the four-corners were a civilization that at one point had irrigation and agriculture. They were spread across a big section of what’s now New Mexico and Arizona. And then suddenly—and no one knows why—they moved up into cliff faces that were almost impossible to reach, which implies that there was something so terrible going on on the ground that they abandoned their civilization to hide in caves. And then they vanished, and no one knows where. There are no myths, no legends, no nothing—they just vanished.
One tradition on the shamanic side were the skinwalkers, who in their initiation had to commit a murder. They would wear wolf skins and supposedly if they passed their initiation, the skin would actually attach itself to their body permanently. They were reputed to be like werewolves, with these magical powers to travel huge distances very fast and to be able to disappear into the night. They had a terrifying reputation.
So basically the title is presenting the human dilemma as we see it now, and which way are we going to go. We could go with the dark forces, which might seem romantic and attractive, but would have a dark result in the long run. Or become something new and special and wonderful.