When Bee Met Brion
In the spring of 1985, my band Getting the Fear played our very last ever show supporting the Lotus Eaters in Paris. My memory of the concert is very sketchy, I can’t recall any details of that night because an evening that occurred a few days later eclipsed everything and became engraved in my memory like a stone carving on an ancient relic.
My friend, Genesis P-Orridge from Psychic TV was arriving in Paris the next day. I decided to stick around and spend a couple of days with him (I’ll use male pronouns for Genesis here because that’s what he/she used back in those days). Since we met in 1982, I’d become very close to Genesis, he’d gone from being a guru-mentor icon to the big (mad) caring brother that I’d never had. After a day perusing the city’s old bookshops, drinking countless cups of coffee in cafés and winding up snooty Parisians, we headed over to the Georges Pompidou Centre. We weren’t visiting the Pompidou to see any of the modern art inside, the artist that we were interested in had an apartment that looked out onto the iconic structure. Genesis had been friends with Brion Gysin since the ’70s and was taking me to meet him.
Brion Gysin, painter, performer, writer, poet and mystic claimed he had shouted at birth, ‘Wrong Place, Wrong Time, Wrong Colour’! His innovations include a stroboscopic flicker device known as the Dream Machine that when viewed with the eyes closed alters the brain’s electrical oscillations and induces waking hallucinations and internal dream states on demand. Gysin also discovered the cut-up technique of writing, used by his close friend, the novelist William S. Burroughs. Together, they also came up with the Third Mind concept. Burroughs once said that Brion Gysin was ‘the only man I’ve ever respected’.
I can’t even begin, in what little time we have here, to convey how influential and important Brion and his work is, but hopefully the seed is now planted, so you can explore his work and concepts yourself. I first heard of Brion Gysin when I was a teenager, David Bowie mentioned that he used his cut-up method of writing in the Cracked Actor documentary. I later read his novels, ‘Let the Mice in’ and ‘The Process’ and would get lost in his calligraphic works inspired by cursive Japanese and Arabic scripts.
On the way over to his apartment, we stopped by a liquor store to pick up a bottle of Brion’s favorite whiskey. Genesis said he usually brought Cadbury’s Chocolate Fingers too but had forgot to pick them up in the UK. Inside the building, a rickety old green elevator with scissor gates stood beside some dusty old steps. Marching up the creaky stairs, Genesis said the lift was too small and he didn’t trust it.
Clad in a brown suede traditional Moroccan waistcoat, Brion opened the door with a big beaming smile and beckoned us both inside. His apartment was small but neat and tidy. The net curtains occasionally wafted open giving a glimpse of the giant Pompidou Centre, which resembled one of Brion’s grid paintings that he had made years earlier in the Beat Hotel. After more hellos and hugs, Brion motioned Genesis and me to sit down and cracked open the whiskey. He then went into great detail about how whiskey should only be mixed with water, so we both obliged. At the time, Genesis had become enthralled with the founder member of The Rolling Stones, Brian Jones and because Brion Gysin had spent time with Brian and The Stones in Morocco in the sixties, Genesis wanted to interview Brion on tape about Brian. I sat quietly, sipping my whiskey, getting refills from Brion, as the two chatted on tape. Brion wasn’t as taken with Brian as Genesis was, so didn’t wax lyrical and was quite harsh about him, casting him in a bad light in many of his recollections. I remember when Genesis switched the tape off, Brion said ‘what more can I tell you Gen, he was a little shit’ he then erupted into a ferocious fit of coughs and laughter. The recordings of the interview appeared many years later on a Psychic TV record called ‘Godstar: Thee Director’s Cut’. Genesis’ wife at the time, Paula P-Orridge, was very pregnant with their second child. Genesis asked Brion if he could use his phone in the bedroom to make a collect call to Paula in London.
Topping up my drink, Brion smiled at me, “so tell me about you Bee.” I told him that the biggest thing in my life was that I had just fallen in love for the first time. His eyes lit up. Reaching up to a pile of envelopes on the shelf above him he exclaimed, “let me show you one of my big loves.” He fished out an old black and white photo of himself with his head in the lap of a young Arab youth.
“This was my Moroccan prince who lived in a massive mansion with his family in Morocco. Late at night, his servant would sneak me into their gardens through a tiny side-entrance. We spent so many nights sleeping together arm in arm beneath a blanket of stars, the cool air heavy with the scent of oranges, jasmine and cut grass with dogs howling in the distance.” He went on to tell me more stories of their adventures together and urged me to treasure the precious moments that my first love and I spent together because they’d burn even brighter and be a comfort in my later years. The fire in his eyes was a proclamation that his words carried weight.
Brion was struggling with the late stages of emphysema but with an inhaler in one hand and a whiskey in the other, he wasn’t giving up that easy. He managed to hold on another year and to secure the publication of this final book, The Last Museum, before he passed away in 1986.
Despite inspiring influential cultural figures such as William S Burroughs, Patti Smith, Keith Haring and David Bowie, Brion Gysin still has a relatively unheard of status. Perhaps that’s a sad reflection of our disconnected, narcissistic, celebrity-obsessed culture. But instead of losing your mind over that, read Brion Gysin’s books, get lost in his art or build your own Dream Machine and expand your mind instead.
This story first appeared in the 2019 Wild Daughter Newspaper Publication to support their ICA performance ‘The Moon Sextiles the Sun‘
It’s available here: https://wilddaughtersite.bigcartel.com/product/wild-daughter-newsaper-publication-to-support-ica-performance-the-moon-sextiles-the-sun