Genesis Breyer P-Orridge passed early on March 14th after a long battle with Leukemia. Many of h/er fans and friends knew the day was not far off but you are never prepared when the day comes (or COUMs as s/he might say). S/he has legions of fans and followers not only in the world of music, but art, literature, and culture too. A true iconoclast and polarizing figure, s/he leaves a legacy that is hard to ignore for better or worse.
Gen was born Neil Andrew Megson on 22 February 1950 in Manchester, UK. S/he had a fondness for art and music early in life which helped her befriend those who became part of the first collective, Worm, while at Solihull School in Warwickshire. Later in 1969, s/he formed COUM Transmissions with friend John Shapeero which lasted until 1976. Members came and went but Christine Carol Newby, a.k.a. Cosey Fanni Tutti, joined around Christmas of ’69 and became a solid member and Gen’s girlfriend. The troupe became rather notorious for their impromptu concerts and art installations. In 1974, Gen and Cosey were approached by Peter Christopherson (a.k.a Sleazy) about joining the group and in 1975 they were all introduced to Chris Carter by a mutual friend. Therin laid the nucleus for the band Throbbing Gristle, which would soon propel them all into a much wider spotlight. The two sperate entities were parallel for a time, COUM covering the performance art aspect and TG (Throbbing Gristle abbreviated) performing music. By the end of COUMs existence only Gen, Cosey and Sleazy were left. The final bow for COUM would be the infamous installation at the Institute for Contemporary Arts titled, “Prostitution” in 1976. The outrageousness of what was on display actually led to debate in Parliament as to why public funds would be used for such “art”. Scottish Conservative MP Sir Nicholas Fairbairn famously called the quartet the “wreckers of civilization” on the House of Commons floor. The exhibition would be the public debut for TG and the end for COUM Transmissions.
Throbbing Gristle either famously or debatably are the provocateurs/inventors of the Industrial Music genre. Friend and collaborator Monte Cazazza suggested that they adopt the motto, “Industrial Music for Industrial People“, and that, as they say, is history. For the next five years, the band would aurally assault anyone who would listen and fly in the face of convention as hard, if not harder, than any punk. Starting off rather mildly with their debut single, ‘United” they moved on to shocking people with tracks like, ‘Slug Bait‘ and ‘Hamburger Lady‘. The band burned bright and quickly came to a halt in 1981 as the relationship between Gen and Cosey came to an end. Tensions within the group made it impossible to go on.
Psychic TV would rise from TG’s ashes. Started by Gen and Alex Fergusson (of the band Alternative TV) in 1981, the music was much more structured than in Gen’s previous band. In 1982, Sleazy would join the ranks as well. As much a visual band as musical, Gen’s symbol for the band, Thee Psychic Cross, would burn a brand into the alternative culture that was instantly recognizable. At the same time, the formation of Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth, or TOPY, also came to life. TOPY served as an organization to spread Gen’s beliefs and writings. The occult influences of people like Aleister Crowley and Austin Osman Spare are quite obvious in the imagery and lyrical content of PTV and TOPY would go further to expand and recruit members leading it to be considered a cult by many. Many stories were written on how Gen was planning on brainwashing your kids and the evils of TOPY but time has healed a few wounds in those regards. Gen parted ways with that organization in 1991 as s/he didn’t want to be viewed as a “cult leader” which many identified her as. The band’s early period of improvised live shows and stunningly brilliant albums like, “Force the Hand of Chance”, “Dreams Less Sweet” and “Allegory and Self” propelled them to heights that the Gen of TG would scoff at. However, as we all do, s/he changed and had that as her main constant. By 1988, the band took a whole new direction with Alex’s departure and Gen’s interest in the Acid House music that was coming out of Chicago in the USA. With Fred Gianelli in the band, they tore through the clubs and churned out blissfully bombastic albums like, “Jack the Tab” and “Towards Thee Infinite Beat”.
1992 saw Gen go into a self-imposed exile to the USA, for being wrongly accused of Satanic ritual child abuse in a documentary aired on BBC4, leading to their house being raided and plundered by Scotland Yard whilst the family was on vacation in Kathmandu. Feeling that a fair trial would not happen, the family settled into California. Shortly after establishing themselves in their new country, music began to flow again as Gen was introduced to Larry Thrasher. They collaborated on many projects, not just PTV, with Gen focusing on Spoken Word and experimentation under the guise of Thee Majesty with Thrasher and Bryin Dall. Gen and soon-to-be second wife, Jacqueline Breyer (aka Lady Jaye) moved to Queens in New York City in 1993. The two began to delve into an experiment that they dubbed, “Pandrogeny“, whereby they would undergo body modifications to resemble one another so that the two could identify as one pandrogenous being named, Breyer P-Orridge.
April of 1995, while Gen was staying at a home owned by Rick Rubin at the invitation of then American Recording artists, Love and Rockets, a fire broke out in the mansion and everyone had to scramble to escape. Gen went out of a second-story window, landing on the concrete steps below, suffering a broken wrist, ribs, shattering her left elbow and later having a pulmonary embolism. S/he went on a two-year sabbatical to regain her health. S/he eventually sued and won a legal case against Rubiin for $1.5 Million dollars (US). Psychic TV would perform their “last” concert at the Royal Festival Hall in 1999, which was also Gen’s first time back in the UK since the documentary that exiled h/er. The BBC did eventually apologize to h/er since the information was erroneous.
Gen was introduced to drummer/artist Edley O’Dowd by Lady Jaye. The two became great friends and with a lot of coaxing, O’Dowd was able to get Gen singing again and in 2003 they christened the new project, PTV3. A new album was produced and touring even began again in 2006. Sadly in 2007, Lady Jaye passed away leaving Gen devastated but vowing to continue the Pandrogeny experiment and referring to herself in the plural since s/he would always be a part of her as a result of their work together as Breyer P-Orridge. The band continued on and released a beautiful string of albums and singles, both visually and musically. O’Dowd’s gift of design and musical prowess, blended with Gen’s vision seamlessly. PTV3 continued until Gen’s last days. The band had just released their version of a soundtrack to filmmaker Derek Jarman’s film, In the Shadow of the Sun, which Throbbing Gristle had also produced a wholly different soundtrack to, in October 2019. TG had even reformed briefly from 2004 – 2010 and Gen balanced between duties of both bands. S/he did suddenly stop participating in the reformed TG in October of 2010 while the band still had dates to perform. The three remaining members continued on as X-TG fulfilling the obligations. The acrimony was thick and Gen offered no real explanation, only offering that s/he would say once things cleared amongst the members. Tragically, Sleazy passed away in his sleep the following month.
The last big controversy that painted h/er in an ill light to some, was in 2017 when Cosey released her autobiography, Art Sex Music, in which she details situations and events during her time with Gen that are heinous. S/he refuted the allegations. This did cast quite a shadow over h/er and makes it difficult for many fans to separate the art from the artist.
Gen was diagnosed two years ago with chronic myelomonocytic leukemia (CMML). S/he refused to give up and remained very active. Never one to be pigeonholed as just a musician, Gen has volumes of books and articles that s/he’d written, art pieces and collages galore and h/er own body which is itself as a “work” 70 years in the making to also draw inspiration from. Loved or hated, admired or reviled, many people have an opinion on Genesis Breyer P-Orridge and no matter what it is, it’s correct. A being as complex as s/he was cannot be just one thing, but multiple things for every facet of their being. That is why loyalty does not end with death. We remember those who were here before and will cling to our impression of them until our demise and try to convince others over to our way of thinking about that person. Convincing people. There’s a full circle there.