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The Brooklyn Rail

APRIL 2020

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APRIL 2020 Issue
In Memoriam A Tribute to Genesis Breyer P-Orridge

Alan Russell

Courtesy the author.

Scrolling through some recent texts and emails from Genesis, I stopped and smiled at the occasional sign-off.

“BIG L-ov-E, GenNeil.”

GenNeil was yet another iteration of personas, the morphing of Neil Andrew Megson with Genesis P-Orridge, as a moniker only. It made us both chuckle.

I had known Neil since the age of six. We had been childhood friends in Cheadle, Manchester, UK. “You are the only witness to that time ov my life,” he would say, ‘The missing link between Neil and Genesis.”

We lived yards apart, attended the same primary school, played football and cricket, went on youth group holidays to Wales, swapped books, recorded music on four-track tape machines together, and generally hung out.

Physically as a boy, he was quite thin with floppy hair and piercing, hollow eyes. He was asthmatic and I recall he also took medication for a glandular condition.

I can substantiate that even at a young age, Neil was smart, creative, prolific, inquisitive and often mischievous.

He took his tin soldiers, melted them in a saucepan and moulded them into new, artistic forms and shapes.

Once, when it snowed and other boys were building snowmen, Neil constructed a perfectly formed igloo.

His plastic Airfix model planes were meticulously assembled and painted with fastidious precision.

He experimented with everything—chemistry ingredients in test-tubes, paints and surfaces, papier-mache, and amazing freehand stencil-like tattoos for friends’ arms.

We built dens and tree-top lookouts together, explored the nearby bombed-out railway signal box for treasures, and recited humorous Spike Milligan verses by heart.

A young boy who lived nearby was blind, so a group of us performed “theatrical plays” in the back garden to raise money for his special needs. Perhaps this was Gen’s first stage performance?

As we reached our early teens, we gravitated towards girls and music.

At each other’s parental homes, we would interchange and mix music on different reel-to-reel tracks taped off the radio—The Stones or Velvet Underground, sometimes juxtaposed by a novelty record such as Winchester Cathedral by The New Vaudeville Band. Early mash-up, perhaps?

Courtesy the author.

At one point, still a schoolboy, he started inventing his own language (butter course he did).

In 1964, on a summer youth trip to Jersey in the Channel Islands, Neil not only had his first cuddle, but managed to go missing from the youth hostel for days, hanging out with beat-nicks and hippies, smoking some hash, and befriending a sketchy character who ran the local porn scene.

Not bad for a youngster on a week-long Church of England youth club holiday.

Though he was not to change his name for some time, I always sensed that trip was when the essence of Genesis began to materialize.

To me, it certainly signalled the end of our childhood. And for Gen, the beginning of an extraordinary life and body of work. In many ways, literally.

Neil went off to University in Hull and I hitch-hiked across Canada with a friend, eventually moving out to Vancouver in the early ’70s.

So, for the first time since primary school, he and I lost touch, apart from anecdotally through our respective parents.

In the late ’70s, serendipitously, a poet friend of mine from Alberta showed me a magazine featuring COUM Transmissions, an art collective that shocked many with the Prostitution exhibition in London and was the “genesis” of Throbbing Gristle.

Was I personally shocked? Pornography and used tampons as art? Not really, knowing my old friend so well. Disruptive. Provocative. Outrageous. It made total sense.

What did surprise me was that Neil, now officially Genesis P-Orridge, was emerging as a front man for a band. I had never thought of him as a singer, and later he once told me he only did it because no one else in TG put his or her hand up.

Back in England on a trip in the early ’80s, I arranged to stay overnight at his place in Brighton to finally catch up over lost years. By now, I have to admit, I was a little nervous to meet, as Gen had attained some fame and notoriety.

I needn’t have worried. He laughed when I told him I had been a little anxious, as we swapped stories over dinner at a restaurant with his beautiful young daughters, Genesse and Caresse. As he at one time said in a letter from TGHQGB (Throbbing Gristle Headquarters Great Britain), “Neil Megson is alive and well, hiding inside g p-o.”

On the same visit to Brighton, while searching out a copy of PTV’s “Godstar” in his attic to give me, Gen stumbled across a painting he had done—partly using some of his own blood, naturally.

From then on, we were back to our old selves in terms of communication and friendship. I bought all the TG records, followed Gen’s writing and art, went to exhibitions and museum shows, and was genuinely proud of my friend.

At Psychic TV’s Infinite Beat Tour in Vancouver, I was in the dressing room and almost ended up on stage with the band by accident. It was the first time I had actually seen Gen perform live and I was blown away—my old schoolmate screaming out self-composed lyrics to a thundering beat and to a packed audience.

Over the years, we met up every time the opportunity arose, especially in New York, where Gen introduced me to Jackie—Lady Jaye—at the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Terminal. They were so in love. And she was such a warm, generous, loving person.

Courtesy the author.

Sadly, not many years later, I was attending Lady Jaye’s celebration of life on the Lower East Side. Gone far too soon.

As I filter through the texts, emails, and letters, it’s hard not to share some content. I’m sure Gen would not mind. From a 2010 email,

Could you have guessed it would carry on forever all those y-eras ago as we read out Spike Milligan poems to tape etc? Amazing. And now the tape is slowing down and one day will stop altogether and we won’t care at all what anyone thinks about it all after that. So strange. We suspect it would be fun to see what people say after we’re gone…whether it gets valuable at auctions etc. what obituaries say, IF ANY…as Jaye always said, all she wanted to be remembered for was being one of the great love affairs…we totally agree with her OF COURSE!

And this, quite recently, while writing he/r memoirs,

Perhaps a writer artist has to experience deep alone-ness to create work with empathic meaning? Only with Jaye did we relax and accept we were unconditionally loved and in perfecting company. We have wondered if we had to be broken apart to ensure my various duties while here on this apparent earth were completed.

I will miss you, Genesis. I will miss you, Neil. I will miss you, GenNeil.

Contributor

Alan Russell

Alan Russell was born in England and now lives in Vancouver, Canada. He is an advertising creative director and copywriter.

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The Brooklyn Rail

APRIL 2020

All Issues