Towards Thee Infinite Beat….
A few thoughts on the departure of The Last Great Magician
When I learned that Genesis P-Orridge had “dropped h/er body” on March 14, 2020, I thought, if only this act of “dropping the body” were Gen’s latest performance piece; a grand existential striptease whereby the temptress — rather than stripping clothes off the body — strips the body, itself? Presto! We have before us an extraordinary shamanic alchemy resulting in the complete transformation from be–ing to spirit. What a trick! It would certainly be the penultimate slight-of-hand in a lifelong series of manipulations of gender, music, words, multimedia, cut-ups, collages and myriad combinations of arts and letters that Genesis undertook to test — and usually exceed –the limits of what society will accept, even allow in all of its packaged reasonableness.
But no, this was not a carefully curated disappearing act. It was simply an unwelcome disappearing. In trying to get my head around all of what this extraordinary, enigmatic, insanely prolific – and sometimes just insane! — artist left for us to descramble, rebuild, cross out and rediscover, it is particularly hard to gather it all together in one epiphanous basket. Even more strange is to accept that this force of nature should succumb to something so conventional and boring as Death! Gen’s departure from this troubled world at this troubled time hits particularly hard. Already, I find myself wishing – much in the way I occasionally call upon the pagan libertarian G-ds to bring back Frank Zappa – for Gen’s return. A bit of instructive commentary that can only come from many trips to and from the other side is what we could really use right about now.
I first met Gen many years ago, when a mutual friend, who was playing drums with Psychic TV at the time, recommended me to sit in as the guest guitarist for a short tour of the former Yugoslavia. This was PTV’s “Acid House” period, where the group’s performances consisted of a live band that played freely along to techno tracks and a trippy, pulsing multimedia light show. Gen’s expressed intention was to create out of this improvisation, a trance-like euphoria, a transformative experience that employed beat, message and volume to drive the audience into an altered state.
Upon boarding the plane to Zagreb, I was thrilled to take part in what was a new touring adventure for a fledgling Guit-Artist. But, I was also a little scared. Not so much of our intimidating bandleader with h/er intense, sharp features, tribal tattoos and piercings in all the unspeakable places (we had great deal of fun watching h/er go through the metal detectors at the airport). Not so much that we were sitting 30,000-ft. above the ground in what appeared to be a leftover tin can from some Eastern Block country with creaking fuselage and a meal service that featured a post-apocalyptic sausage on a plastic tray. No, the true source of my anxiety was that this gig had suddenly become real, despite the fact that I had never before played or even rehearsed with this band. There was no specific set list, nor were there any musical charts. Even a simple set of cues would have done! In short, there was no preparation at all that could aid in my ability to pull off any kind of credible guitar-slinging for three hours straight in front of one thousand people.
Gen did not seem worried about this at all. Rather, s/he seemed somewhat amused by my overtly sincere concern that I be given some sort of musical chord sheet or at least a key signature here and there. Reprehensible details, all. When we arrived in Zagreb, however, it became immediately clear that this was going to be the least of my worries. That’s because we had basically flown smack into an impending civil war. The streets of the city were dark, bleak and an armed militia (with seriously big guns) was already present and patrolling ominously. We knew exactly what the set list for that show was going to be — pretty much all Heavy Metal.
Nevertheless, our hosts in Zagreb were a soft-spoken, pale young group of kids, who were all members of The Temple ov Psychik Youth, otherwise known as TOPY, a community of PTV followers interested in the philosophical “transmissions” continually flowing from Genesis. It was clear that they had undertaken a massive effort to bring the band over and viewed our upcoming concert as a great event and perhaps their last hurrah before certain death, which would probably take place next week. Over dinner at the only vegetarian restaurant in town, Genesis gave audience to h/er admirers. Probing them with deeply personal questions and listening intently to their stuttered answers, s/he somehow got them to talk about things they had never dared tell anyone before. Genesis had a surprisingly gentle manner when conversing one-on-one. But, it was also clear that s/he was intimidating them at bone level with this Crowley-like mystique. It was my first peek into how Gen somehow was able to provide the services of a would-be parent, therapist, cult leader and musical icon all wrapped up in one.
The next evening, we walked onto a stage obscured by billowing clouds of multicolored smoke and met a fully packed room. We could feel the sense of doom in the air and in answer to that call, we set out to somehow uplift them. Genesis had lent me a red sequined tailcoat to wear as I had not brought anything quite spectacular enough. As the music kicked in, so did Gen, giving me what I consider to be my first live lesson in showmanship. Gyrating across the stage, s/he vacillated between a frenetic flow of guerrilla poetics and all-out shrieking into the microphone, ordering the doomed audience to “smile” and dosing them with guttural variations of trance-inducing Tibetan throat singing in a manner that could only be described as possessed. I played god-only-knows-what with every kind of sound I could summon and somehow, it all seemed to fit. For more than three hours we served up uninterrupted musical mayhem while the crowd throbbed.
If such a thing as elation could be achieved in such a dark moment, then PTV, with its fearless, quixotic leader managed to conjure it that night. The next morning, we left early for a return flight to London. A week later, all hell broke loose in Zagreb and by the end of it, what was formerly known as Yugoslavia ceased to exist. You might say that in very much the same way we got through the show in Zagreb, we also got out of Zagreb – flying by the seat of our pants.
I played with the PTV a few more times after this. There was one particularly outrageous show in San Francisco with the theme, “Don’t Drink Thee Water.” It was an all-night rave at a warehouse and pitchers of water located around the bar were rumored to have been “enhanced” with LSD. A great deal of it. Although, this was never actually corroborated, as the night wore on things got progressively crazier. There were painted women dancing above us in cages, while rather large bonfires on both the left and right edges of the stage licked dangerously close to our amplifiers, to us, and to various other flammable objects in our general vicinity. The audience, in wild, colorful costumes and varying states of undress slithered like the condemned figures in a Hieronymous Bosch painting. They sweept towards the stage in waves and at times we had to push them back with our feet. Genesis, in glorious form, shot us gleeful glances every so often that seemed to say, “Now, this is quite over the top, isn’t it? Giggle, giggle!”
As this was another improvisation of uncertain length and a mysterious song list, this live rave went all night and continued the next morning in Golden Gate Park. At some point about an hour into the park show, Gen, catching a wave of fatigue turned to me and said, “Ok, your turn.” S/he then walked off the stage, leaving me alone in the hot spot to entertain the crowd. I was stunned, but somehow managed to pull riffs out of my back pocket. I played a few Hendrix tunes and made up songs for about 30 minutes. Luckily, the drowsy, still enhanced audience seemed happy enough with anything that resembled soundwaves coming at them and they continued to swirl around as if at a Grateful Dead concert. All the while, Gen stood in the audience staring up at me with a mischievous smile.
After the show was thankfully over Gen approached me. “Are you angry?” “No,” I said. I paused. “Actually, it was kind of fun!” I forced a laugh. Of course, I was lying. “I was trying to push you,” Gen said, in a tone that was suddenly serious. “You are an amazing guitarist, but you need to seek out those places beyond your level of comfort. It is the only way to transcend.” And, in that moment, I understood that despite feeling as if I had been forced to walk a creative plank into I-C Water, I had been offered a seat in a Master Class. Do with it as thou wilt! I would not forget that lesson. To this day it remains a core aspect of my philosophy of playing.
After I moved on from my cameo appearances with PTV, Gen and I remained friends and s/he would occasionally come to New York from California and stay for a while at my apartment in the West Village. We would stay up all night with a bottle of Scotch and riff on and on. Jim Morrison, the Doors of Perception, Timothy Leary, psychedelics, the Master Musicians of Jajouka, Sex Magick, the death of Brian Jones, Brian Gysion, William Burroughs… But, amidst all of this heady beatnik sort of stuff we spent equal time on more, if you will, mundane topics. We shared stories of our families, our childhoods, our friends, doomed relationships, music we liked, music we hated. We debated whether or not it was a good idea to get married or to have kids. That we could one minute be discussing magick, deviance and iconoclasm and the next be sharing tips on how to use Shout! to get the stains out of your white jeans and the horrors of the rising cost of cauliflower was one of the things I loved most about Gen. He was a walking dialectic and a continuing surprise.
Over the last few months, I was fortunate enough to spend some time with Genesis in the hospital and at h/er home. Well aware that the Leukemia was quickly draining the sand from the hourglass, s/he wrote furiously even though suffering terribly most of the time. When I last saw h/er, Gen had ten art projects going at once – compilations of writings, interviews and photographs; releases of new music and re-mixes, reissues of older albums and most importantly of all, a memoir, which I pray that s/he mostly finished. The museums had finally come calling to stage retrospectives and present myriad genres of h/er work. It is recognition richly deserved and it is wonderful that it began to happen while s/he was alive.
There were so many transmissions that Genesis sent through the ever-changing channels of the Psychic TV that my heart goes out to future archivists who will undoubtedly try one day to make sense of it all. To me, however, Gen’s essence might be best summed up by what was written on the scrolling sign atop PTV’s multicolored tour bus when the band did an Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test-inspired tour of the U.S. in the mid-nineties. The sign had only two words and but one destination: EVEN FURTHER.
March 20, 2020