By Chris Simunek

My favorite story in the book, Painful but Fabulous: The Lives and Art of Genesis P-Orridge (Soft Skull Press, 2003), concerns a night back in ’76 when his performance group, COUM, was appearing at the University of Antwerp. Next to the performance hall, there was an exhibit of poisonous plants. Not content to lay his usual psychosexual visual assault on a bunch of stoned college yobs, Genesis decided to teach them a lesson on life, death, and the precarious relationship they both have with the human body. He stole some poisonous plants and bark from the exhibit next door, washed them down onstage with a bottle of whiskey, then started speaking in tongues and carving messages into his flesh with a rusty nail. He woke up in an emergency room shortly after the attending physician had pronounced him dead.

But a near-death experience comes with the territory Genesis is surveying. For him, the spiritual mandate of the artist is "to go to the moon first…to find out what’s coming next, what it’s made of, and what it might mean." His methods are often grotesque, but when you realize how many times over the past four decades the man has appeared ahead of the cultural curve, you have to admit that they work.

Subscribe Now!