Now I know more about 23 than ever before, I guess — by chance, as with the best of my library discoveries, I stumbled across Simon Ford’s 1999 book Wreckers of Civilization, his story of the folks behind COUM Transmissions and Throbbing Gristle. TG have always been one of those groups I’ve appreciated more than loved, though I have four of their CDs; however, I admit there was something weird and fascinating about their story, or what little I knew of it — the mentions in Jon Savage’s writing, the story about how Robert Hilburn hyped them to hell for their LA show and apparently received so much negative feedback that he firmly retreated into the chickenshit Boss/U2/Beck hype and sterility camp from that point forward.

So this was a fortunate find and a pretty good read. The subject matter by default steered away from a rock bio as such, as it became first and foremost the story of Genesis P. Orridge and the series of obsessions and (if the story of COUM’s origin is taken at face value) revelations which led him to first form a none-more-extreme performance art group and then something musical out of that. It’s an illustration of a Britain I’m not as familiar with as well, one of art and life defiantly well out of a mainstream for the early to mid-seventies, of art and politics (each in many different senses of the word) slamming into each other with varying results. It’s as an art history that I probably learned the most from the book — modern art however considered in general just isn’t a strong point or an overriding interest. There’s no question a lot of what I read was downright queasy — I feel no moralistic horror over the various installations described (a number sound just plain playful), but when P. Orridge and Peter Christophersen start in with the knives on their flesh, I had to skim ahead.

And then again it’s the story of relationships not quite working as planned, of P. Orridge and Cosey Fani Tutti’s personal partnership turning into one of Tutti and Chris Carter. It’s a collection of little details I had never heard about that were of particular interest (Ian Curtis was a massive TG fan, I learned, and apparently P. Orridge spoke to him the night of Curtis’s death). It’s a collection of a lot of photographs and recording details and descriptions and contradictions. And then there’s Christophersen, of the four the one least portrayed, a continual presence but outside of the intense triangle, and also holding down a specific regular job at the Hipgnosis design firm the whole time. It’s a split he maintains to the present day — design and video directing and commercials as the day job, the continual unfolding slow motion unease of Coil and affiliated bands elsewhere. In my own small way I have this gentle split in my work — library work on the one hand, writing and commenting on the other — and so I sympathize with this approach more than one which in its dedication to ‘nothing short of total war’ becomes its own entrapping siege mentality. Maybe if I had grown up as Neil Megson before he took on the Genesis name, I would think differently.