Genesis and the gang bring the voodoo.
Gather ‘round chilluns and I’ll tell you a tale… Musta been a little before sunset on an early spring day back in ’85, two long shadows slid up a small hill in thee Boston Common to thee Civil War stone obelisk monument, followed closely by two young men… Men? No sir, couldn’ta more than boys, mebbe 16, 17 yars old at most? Facing thee first of thee eight green patina’d plates on thee sides of thee structure, one of thee lads removes two red magic markers from his black overcoat pocket, hands one to his friend, and they go to work. A few quick minutes later, they descend quickly down thee other side of thee hill, their mission completed.
As thee sun retracts and ushers in thee chill of dusk, a garish, grotesque display is revealed: thee eyes of all the characters stamped into those 8 plates are now ablaze, unholy, the hands demonically stained with leaking stigmata. And, in thee same rich scarlet, next to each plate, the unmistakable symbol of the psychic cross, the logo (or “sigil”) of thee Temple of Psychic Youth, thee brainchild of one Genesis P’Orridge, who is also thee leader of thee magickal order’s sonic evangelists, Psychic Youth.
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Fast-forward 31 years: a lot has changed since the day I participated in that act of slightly subversive teenage prankery, but here I am at the Brighton Music Hall, with the very guy who handed me that magic(k) marker in the story above, and the allure of Genesis and PsychicTV remains intact, even if the band no longer has any association with TOPY.
The Music Hall seems an unlikely home for such an event – basically a giant cube with a stage and a coupla bars – it’s not a whole lot different than its former incarnation “Harper’s Ferry”, a blues joint, where I used to watch my brother play on Sunday nights after I’d graduated college. Outside, the simple “Psychic TV” emblazoned on the marquee suggests we’re here to see “Just another rock band touring the circuit,” which sells this entire event short.
I don’t think it’s too much to say that Genesis P’Orridge is easily one of the most significant figures in post-war western art / pop culture. Following an obsession with the Rolling Stones (particularly Brian Jones), a young Genesis (formerly Neil Megsun) began a career in the arts with the unsettling and stomach-churning performance freakouts of the Coum Transmissions, a group Queen Elizabeth herself dubbed “wreckers of civilization” – not a bad feather under the cap for a first outing. Genesis progressed to create Throbbing Gristle, a collective focused on exploring the limits of “sonic entertainment” and cultural taboo. Genesis alone created the term “Industrial Music” before it became associated with overamplified dance trax after a visit to Hot Topic. After TG splintered, Genesis established Psychic TV as a more directly “occult” experiment to stand alongside TOPY, which was based on the ideas of legendary English Occultists Aleister Crowley and Austin Osman Spare, as well as the burgeoning “Chaos Magick” scene that emerged from Leeds, UK in the early to mid-80’s. Gen had received an education in magick in person from William S. Burroughs, the infamous Beat writer, and Brion Gysin, both of whom had developed “the cut-up technique” of experimental writing, and the latter of whom created a hallucination-inducing contraption called “the Dream Machine,” and insisted that Magick was a living energy, not just some medieval fantasy best left behind in old dusty grimoires. During the on-again / off-again history of PTV, Genesis has single-handedly created Acid House (the music and the phrase), been the only UK citizen exiled from his country in over century, all while unflinchingly continuing to explore what it means to be a living spirit encased within flesh, time, and space. That it’s happening tonight next to a half-decent Chinese joint and a frankly pricey laundromat, to support the release of PTV’s latest album, “The Alienist” – well, it’s hardly satanic majesty.
Still, everybody’s in and the ceremony begins; the band emerges onstage at the start of the set as appropriately psychedelic imagery is projected onto the stage while a looped cacophony of otherworldly tones reverberates through the hall. The five piece launches into a pulsing, celebratory take on Harry Nillson’s “Jump Into the Fire” and, for virtually 10-minutes, it’s all pretty much straight-forward rock and roll reverie. Gen’s voice is, as ever, a unique instrument, with the ability to start as a forlorn, sensitive, even loving whisper, morph into an accusing sneer, and, before you can ask, “what gives, ladyman?,” it transforms into the agonized groan of 100 zombies enraged and unleashed from their tombs.
During the song’s extended breakdown, Genesis addresses the audience by targeting the lamp affixed to hi(r) headgear on various audience members. “You came here to see us” s/he says “but we’re here to see you.” OK, the minimization of separation, blending of art, artist, and audience, and it’s been done more provocatively by the likes of Johnny Rotten with the Pistols and members of Warhol’s EPI while the Velvets played during their ’66 residency at the Dom. But at least it lets us know that Gen is still interested in taking new perspectives eliminating boundaries, and opening (ahem) “doors of perception.” We’re then asked to participate in a social experiment, turn toward the person to our right, and offer a hug. Sure, what the hell? The older dude next to me complies, grimacing a little but, hey, c’mon man, get in the spirit of things or fuck off right? Then we’re really supposed to push the envelope by turning to our left and offering a kiss. The only thing next to me is the bar, and I’ve kissed enough of those for one lifetime, so…
For the next hour and a half, PTV churns through a few of their more well-known tunes, including “Just Like Arcadia,” and “Carresse,” a bone-crunching cover of The Creation’s “How Does It Feel to Feel,” an extended psych-blues downer, and something that sounds kinda Beach Boys’y but not quite. The band’s tight and professional – they flit from style to style seamlessly – and dammit if they don’t look like they’re even enjoying themselves up there. Is it a magickal happening? Or only rock and roll. Or are they, maybe, one and the same? All I know is I like it, like it, yes I do. The rest of the gathered freaks seem similarly satisfied, and, for this freezing December evening, that’s enough.
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A coupla days later, I amble (much more slowly this time) up the mid-sized mountain in the middle of the Common. Despite 30 years of rain, heat, snow and wind, a few chipped hints of bloodied hands and devil’s eyes remain intact. And that, too, is enough.