Review: Cosey Fanni Tutti – ‘Art Sex Music’

in #review2 months ago

There’s been a lot of times when you’ve not been able to judge a book by its cover, but this one says a lot, and only in good ways.

‘No. No, it was an accident,’ I explained. ‘The car is automatic and I’d left it in drive.’

He didn’t believe me.

‘Right!’ he shouted, and rushed into the house.

Fizzy was stood in the doorway with tears in his eyes. ‘Go quick,’ he said. ‘Good luck.’

All I could say was, ‘Sorry, I have to do this. I have to go.’

Then Fizzy was pushed aside as Gen came flying through the door wielding a nine-inch knife with ‘KILL’ burned into the wooden handle, blazing, staring eyes, screaming and heading for me. Fizzy grabbed hold of him, took the knife and dropped it on the floor of the car so Gen couldn’t snatch it back.

‘Go! Go!’ he shouted. I drove off at breakneck speed down Beck Road, turning on to Mare Street so fast I lost two hubcaps as I scraped the kerb. I wasn’t going to stop.

This is mainly a memoir from Cosey Fanni Tutti’s days in Throbbing Gristle, a band that is considered one of the pioneers of industrial music. With their punk attitude to all they did, they hammered the music scene in the mid-1970s when very few others were up to what they did.

Genesis P-Orridge and Cosey Fanni Tutti in 1969. Photograph: John Krivine

Cosey was together with Genesis P-Orridge, a wayward man who wanted to practice free sex, communal living, creating beyond barriers, and severely abusing her.

This book often reads like that of a diary by a person who’s mistreated to the extreme levels where she cannot fathom leaving their beloved, even when very little has to do with love.

Gen introduced me to the life and works of Aleister Crowley, and his mantras became ‘Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law’ and ‘Love is the law, love under will’. I bought into that; I believed we all had our own spiritual core self, that everyone should have the freedom to find and be themselves, and to live their lives accordingly.

I came to realise, though, that the freedom this implied applied to Gen but not to me and other close friends – their actions to discover their True Will were more often than not ‘guided’ by Gen and subject to his approval and judgement. It was an unexpected twist on my father’s house rule of ‘Do as I say, not do as I do’.

As is mostly the case, the breakdown of a psyche happens gradually. Cosey was subject to an insanely stringent and abusive father. She was thrown out of her house at a young age and briskly excommunicated from her family. I cannot fathom the throes that a young person must find itself in under those circumstances.

31 March 1970
Well I go in hospital tomorrow, I had to go and ring the hospital and see how long I’d be in. They said about 4 or 5 days because I’m … The sentence should have finished ‘16 weeks pregnant’. I had conceived within two months of meeting Gen.

The book is naturally not strewn only with abuse and trauma. This book is more than that: Cosey does a fantastic job at painting a very broad picture of what she and her cohorts in art-collective COUM came up with.

Coum Transmission show (Genesis P-Orridge and Cosey Fanni ...Genesis P-Orridge and Cosey Fanni Tutti.

We were happily ensconced in our own building and Gen began putting COUM philosophy into practice. I’ve often been asked what COUM meant – to explain it. The definition of COUM was intentionally elusive. That allowed for total freedom of expression and interpretation (including by the ‘audience’), which was a core value of COUM and created a forum for debate and sometimes brought new members. COUM was not just a ‘group’ but also more of a movement, a collective family of diverse people from all walks of life, each of us exploring and living out our fantasies or obsessions with the aim of achieving creative and self-awareness, and confidence as artists regardless of, and in opposition to, the conventional skill sets and criteria by which ‘artists’ are defined.

COUM was about giving free rein to ideas, about not being limited by rules or self-doubt – which lead to some confrontational situations as we challenged and broke established rules and cultural and social conventions.

Many of the tidbits from the book paint a picture of how society viewed Cosey and those near to her.

Much to my mum’s (and the dole office’s) delight, I decided to get a job. The notes on my unemployment records make for interesting reading:

18 February 1970 Not very enthusiastic about work. Very modern dress – wearing long boots, old fur coat and black velvet & lace creation. Not at all suitable for office work in view of appearance …

6 May 1970 Usually attends employment section with boyfriend who dresses most peculiarly. Still seeking clerical work but appearance has deteriorated. Untidy and extremely mod. clothing. Not fit for submission. Would reclassify except for good G.C.E. ‘O’ levels and it would be a waste of a good education if this girl did factory work.

3 June 1970 Miss Newby is so changeable in appearance, can look extremely attractive or dirty and shabby. Nice girl to talk to and I think she is under the bad influence of her boyfriend who is a freelance artist. He always attends with her and they both live in a derelict house shared by several hippy type characters.

Together with not only P-Orridge, Cosey set off to explore inner and outer worlds in different ways. She created art, pornography, and music.

I’d been ‘guided’ into group sex by Gen and also by my interest in Aleister Crowley and the subtext that our relationship was ‘open’. Although I was initially reluctant to indulge (I was happy with Gen as my lover), my interest in Crowley and enjoyment of sex with other guys awakened a curiosity and triggered a desire to explore my sexuality. Whether Gen realised that it would have this effect on me, I don’t know, but inevitably I tended to compare one lover to another. Some were, let’s say, more skilled at certain things than others. A person’s touch, skin and body evoke their own distinct sexual responses and enjoyment … or not. Consequently, when future chances were presented to me for repeat indulgences with someone I felt good with, or fancied, I didn’t need Gen’s persuasive tactics. But it was best all round to let him think he was in charge.

The sex aspects of the book are definitely not there to shock. It’s sobering and delightful to read a book where its author is not out to shock nor to use sexuality as a weapon – except in art.

It’s obvious that Cosey has worked very hard throughout her life. Gigs, sorting out massive art exhibitions, managing a record label, etc. And all of this while living under the thumb of Genesis P-Orridge, who currently denies accusations of violence against Cosey.

Our routine changed. I’d wake him each morning and make him breakfast before starting my day. Him working nine till five doubled my workload, as he wasn’t around to do anything. In addition to the everyday chores and sewing damn boxer shorts, I took on more of the grant and bookings correspondence and travel arrangements, phone calls and meetings, repairing and maintaining Doris, as well as organising any modelling jobs that came through. I was constantly knackered and ill but more worried about Gen getting tired and overdoing things, as he’d go to the studio in the evenings to catch up on stuff.

As the letter-writing to artists for the book increased, I was called on to relieve some of the strain. I squeezed it in between everything else. I’d thought St James would do Gen good but Collette’s constant cigarette-smoking in the small office space was bad for Gen’s asthma, but more than that Gen resented the job taking time away from his own work. When the book was published in 1977, Gen had an entry under his own name, with a half-page photograph of me and him doing our 1976 COUM action in Milan. Neither COUM nor myself were listed in the book.

The book goes from a fervent pace to a waddle cum half-of-the-book; that is where Throbbing Gristle disbands for the first time. Incredibly, they reunite, with all the mad and different types of roller-coaster drama that come with having to do with somebody who seems to be like P-Orridge is portrayed as.

There are a lot of things to be said for P-Orridge, which, thankfully, others have done for us, here and here.

There are lovely words from Cosey in the book about meeting Chris Carter, who not only became the love of her life but also member of Throbbing Gristle and the man with whom she later formed musical duo Chris & Cosey:

We’d set up a regular TG get-together for every weekend (all other commitments allowing) … with Sleazy not turning up as often as we all would’ve liked. Chris’s rekindled enthusiasm for music didn’t sit well with Simone, and things gradually started to get awkward. As usual, Gen began moves to have group sex. Simone wasn’t interested. Chris was happy to come with us for TG sessions and to sleep over, assuming (rightly) there’d be sex. Both Gen’s sex-game play and Simone’s indifference to Chris backfired.

Me and Chris both fancied each other: he was beautiful in body, mind and spirit, and wasn’t at all shy. Our making love for the first time ignited such passion and lust between us that neither of us could go back – or wanted to accept anything less than what we felt for each other. It far exceeded anything either of us had experienced before. We were faced with a dilemma as we were both in relationships and committed to TG. Was it love or lust? It was both, and we decided to keep TG on track and our emotions in check. Well, we tried, but Gen’s partiality for watching us have sex just fed our desire for each other and our resistance waned, especially when opportunities arose, usually when Gen went to sleep with other women.

There are plenty of musical interludes here, jabs at some members from The Slits, reminisces of big shows, plans for reissues, more drama, having kids, more drama, etc.

If I have to compare this book to another of the same ilk, it would have to be Viv Albertine’s glowing Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys. I just wish that the contents of this book and its rhythm, for the lack of a better word, were just there more. Everyone’s a critic, right?

It’s an interesting book and a highly eventful life to dip into. A film is being made from it and Cosey will release her second autobiographical book in Spring of 2022.