Written by Greg Barbrick
At its core, the tale of Genesis P-Orridge and Lady Jaye is a heartbreaking love story. As everything the musical agent provocateur P-Orridge has done over his long career, their love affair was couched in the guise of Art with a capital “A.” The newly released DVD The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye tells this tale, and ends on a bittersweet note. As an avowed fan of the former head of Throbbing Gristle, and Psychic TV, even I have cringed at some of the antics of Genesis. This documentary attempts to explain what it was they were aiming for with their life-as-art statement of “pandrogyny.”
I suppose we should begin with the whole pandrogyny business. As Genesis explains in the film, the idea was to completely merge themselves. This was attempted through the magic of plastic surgery. Now I must say that Lady Jaye was a very attractive woman, and well…Genesis is Genesis. Her facial work does not really change her looks much (at least to my eyes), but the work that Genesis had certainly does. To put it bluntly, he wound up looking like the worst version of one of those Beverly Hills housewives who desperately try to cling to their youth. The title of the Dead Kennedys’ album Plastic Surgery Disasters was never more appropriate.
The most obvious transformation came with breast implants for both of them. Ok, here we go. I mean really, did Genesis just want her to have bigger boobs, so he agreed to get them himself to talk her into it? It is a valid question. After all, she told him repeatedly that she never wanted to be in a rock band. In the film, he admits that he “snuck” her into Psychic TV by giving her little projects to do, until she was finally deemed indispensable to the group. It was, as they say, a fait accompli. With the implants and wig, he looks like a middle-aged queen, and the collagen bubble-lips are just the capper. By the way, who in the hell ever convinced anyone that obscene balloon-lips look good? For the record, they are hideous, as every man on Earth (besides a plastic surgeon) will confirm.
The pandrogyny certainly got people’s attention, and if it made the two happy, then more power to them. What I had hoped for in The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye was a little more focus his long career though. There is no way that the story could be told without mentioning his past, but at just 70 minutes, the film does not delve into it very deeply. I understand that the movie is not titled “The Genesis P-Orridge Story,” but he has been in the public eye for nearly 40 years now, and I would have liked to have seen a more in-depth analysis of it.
For that matter, a little more about Lady Jaye’s life would also have been welcome. We are told that she left home at the age of 14, and made her way on the streets of New York, and in the sex trade before the two met. Clearly it was a hard life, and a little more information about it would have definitely improved the film.
The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye is meant to be something of a fairy-tale. The two star-crossed lovers (with a 30-year age difference) came together to form the most perfect union ever known. They were so unified that they changed their appearances to become mirror images of each other. Ok, that is Genesis’ story, and I get the impression that director Marie Losier was too star-struck to question anything.
Can you be a fan of Genesis P-Orridge, Psychic TV, or Throbbing Gristle and still question certain things? Given that Genesis’ work throughout his life can be boiled down to questioning all assumptions, I should think that the answer would be a resounding “Yes!” My disappointment with this film is that it is far too pat. There is just so much more that could have been explored and is left unmentioned.
On the plus side though, there is some amazing historical footage included of Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV in performance. And the history of Genesis P-Orridge is not completely overlooked, as I may have implied. It just does not go deep enough for my taste is all. I need to remember that even though I consider him to be a seminal figure in music and art, Genesis P-Orridge is still largely unknown to the general public. So I should be grateful that The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye exists at all. It is very good for what it is. I just expected more I guess.
Extras on the DVD consist of interviews with Lady Jaye, Orlan, Gibby Haynes, and Sleazy (of Throbbing Gristle and others). Outtakes featuring Psychic TV, PTV3, Tony Conrad, and Peaches are also present, along with two short films: “Waiting to Go,” and “Papal Broken-Dance.” Photos from Genesis’ vast archives, a behind-the-scenes segment, and a downloadable press kit PDF round out the package.
The premature death of his partner Lady Jaye obviously struck a blow to Genesis P-Orridge that is still palpable today. Without her by his side to (sort of) balance the pandrogyny, he forges on. Frankly, he looks ridiculous though.
Despite its imperfections, The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye is worth seeing. The film presents Genesis P-Orridge in a more emotionally vulnerable light than anything I have ever seen. His profound sadness is haunting and should strike a chord in even the most jaded of his fans.