Genesis Breyer P-Orridge,
More than a decade ago, I told you that you saved my life.
I was in college. My roommate at the time had downloaded D.o.A: The Third and Final Report of Throbbing Gristle to listen to while we worked on our calculus.
A few tracks in, and the calculus was forgotten. We were both in awe—and increasingly uneasy.
It was Hamburger Lady that destroyed me. It was a “blind” listen for me—I knew almost nothing about TG, and certainly not about the song. I missed most of the lyrics on the first listen, at least with my conscious brain.
But not the sound.
I knew the next day when I came back from class that I would play it again. And that when I did, I’d be crossing a bridge I couldn’t come back from.
I played it. I listened. And for the first time in my life, I knew real fear. Real horror. That which is unspeakable and splits sanity asunder.
I slept with the lights on for a week. I went to and from class like a robot. I avoided my dorm—because that was where the sounds had played. Every surface felt sullied. Within the mundane, I began to perceive the nightmarish.
It wasn’t like the world had been painted in different colours. It was like the surface veneer of hygienic, safe, suburban apathy had been peeled back to expose the rot underneath.
I finally saw the truth of that rot:
And around me, people were just walking on by, going about their lives, like it wasn’t even there.
But I could see it when I looked at them—the fear. The fear is always there, when you peel back the surface.
They are just so scared they can’t even look at it, stare it in the face, unflinching, and declare that some things truly are unacceptable.
And that is why the refrain of the human race is, “Shut up. We don’t want to hear about it.”
And so, suffering continues.
At first, my reaction—beyond the fear, was hate. I had to keep obtaining new copies of D.o.A. because I kept destroying them—even as physical objects, they frightened me. I considered you a kind of aural terrorist. You’d caught me off guard. You’d used sound as a weapon of sorts—you’d deliberately blasted apart my sense of safety.
But love can look pretty similar to hate, and when I examined my violent internal reaction, I dug deeper. I learned everything I could about your life and your work.
Here, at last, was someone who was deeply, unflinchingly honest about suffering in the world.
Here was someone who would not shut up—whatever efforts were made to silence you.
It’s been more than a decade since I traveled to meet you and Lady Jaye.
It would be hard to explain how magickal finding out about you was. There was never a sense that I’d discovered someone new. The sense was that I had at last identified a golden thread that had woven always through my life, unseen, but tangible and ever-present.
While I was delving into my past to prepare for my autism evaluation this past year, I found an old essay I wrote for an ezine about my first trip to NYC in high school, a couple years prior to discovering you and your work.
The essay describes beautifully—too beautifully—the ugliness of parts of the city. To me, at that time, even the squalor I encountered in the city’s slums was part of its allure—suffering was mere ambiance, aesthetic. I had overlaid a perception of the ascendant, the heroic, some secret dignity upon its every crumbling brick, its every homeless citizen.
Reading it while I prepped for my eval shook me. I had forgotten where I’d come from.
I’m not sure I actually saw it until that moment. Before you came along and obliterated my safe, serene surface world, I literally was a solipsistic empathy vacuum.
I had lived in a suburban snow globe my whole life to that point. I had (and have) Theory of Mind deficits. So when I stepped outside it during that school trip to NYC, when I saw poverty and social neglect, I didn’t recognize it as suffering. I was, in the most demeaning possible sense of the word, a tourist.
Listening to TG was like having someone shove my head underwater. Hamburger Lady was an auditory representation of the abject state of the comatose burn victim’s experience—not just a description of her wounds. A part of me was forced to mirror that state when I heard it.
I saw the horrors you wanted me to open my eyes to from the inside. Your music was an empathy shortcut.
Her suffering was unbearable to me. I needed it to end. And I was as helpless to end it as she was.
And so, I discovered compassion—and rage, and heartbreak.
And then … Psychic TV and Thee Majesty were there to pick up the pieces. Through your positivity, your honesty, your declaration that we create ourselves—you helped me find the courage to fight the horrors of modern existence in whatever tiny ways I can.
When I was still in high school, when I wrote that essay about NYC, I was on a nihilistic path. I’d cared always to pursue what was beautiful, and what was true—but only that.
There is a quote I love from UG Krishnamurti: “All the accumulated knowledge, experience, and suffering of mankind is inside you. You must build a huge bonfire within you. Then you will become an individual. There is no other way.”
I had believed that such a bonfire would demolish all—that I would transcend this world, shake it off, and abandon it to the ashes.
But in you, I saw someone who was dedicated to building that bonfire, but who had rejected solipsism and indifference—who had chosen to care for this world. You burn the dross, and protect what is most beautiful: true will.
You showed me the value of pursuing what is good. I still have Theory of Mind deficits. But you taught me kindness.
You set me free.
I don’t know if there is any universe where our paths ran parallel. In this one, they split, because I was still on that compromised path when we met. But I have carried that golden thread with me every day of my life since, and have fought to look unflinchingly in the face of suffering, and fight back.
Eventually, it was enough to pull me onto a brighter path.
The young person who fell down the rabbit hole thanked you for saving her life.
Today, I want to thank you again. Time has not lessened my gratitude. It has deepened it in ways I’d never have expected.
Every day for the rest of my time here, I will continue to speak the truth, to be kind, to fuel the bonfire, to create myself, and to set others free to do the same, to honour my will and theirs, and to protect all that is authentic in this world.
So I’ll conclude with the immortal words of The Beach Boys:
God only knows what I’d be without you.
I hardly knew you, and you hardly knew I existed—and that is the kind of change you forged in my soul. Gods only know how many lives you’ve changed as deeply as mine. But if I am even a scrap of evidence, you can guess. In a pit of coal, amid the suffering, the rot, the apathy, the malice and indifference of so many, you are a diamond. The difference you make in this world is vital, deep, incandescent, and beyond any measure.