Author:Cosey Fanni Tutti
Cosey is of course best known as a founder member of COUM/Throbbing Gristle and it is appropriate that this book coincides with her native Hull being City of Culture 2017 with COUM/TG being heavily featured – rightly so. One of the most fascinating aspects of this book is her vivid description of the truly weird art/music/squatter netherworld that existed in Hull in the late 60s/early 70s (who knew?!) and provided an escape from her unsettled home life – although when COUM and fellow squatters are not busy being ‘wreckers of civilization’ they are less than revolutionary with their attitude to women’s liberation and so she is is also required to cook, clean and push a pram full of clothes several miles from their deserted dockland HQ to the nearest laundry.
She soon falls in with one Genesis P.Orridge both as a lover and art/musical collaborator. Suffice to say she doesn’t speak highly of GPO who comes across a manipulative, childish, needy misanthrope with a penchant for hurling domestic animals, breeze blocks and whatever else comes to hand. Cosey, it has to be said, is used to handling herself in the rough and tumble of post-war Hull – she sounds ‘a bit handy’ and frankly hard as nails – she’ll need to be. She eventually leaves GPO for her life-long partner Chris Carter, who comes across a sweetly quiet, electro-boffin and in a large part the book is the rather touching love story of the two of them – domestic bliss contrasting with the intensity of the music, and of course her extreme forays into performance art. As is well documented, Cosey infamously ventured into the murky world of 1970s Porn and strip clubs – deliberately to use the results in her own ‘life as art’ experiments. There is nothing salacious or racy about her accounts of this which are all long-raincoats and furtive fumblings as she comes into contact with some properly dangerous characters – again her streetwise tough hide comes in handy here.
In spite of breaking away fromn TG to form the more electro-pop orientated Chris & Cosey, inevitably even TG can’t resist a 21st century reunion and this section is particularly interesting – as GPO reappears on the scene. The friction between them all makes The Kinks or The Smiths looks like bosom pals but somehow they manage to get through a few gigs and some quite decent new recordings. Old troubles soon re-emerge though….
It’s a long book, and at times it’s a confusing read and I lost track of all the different characters that come and go – nevertheless it’s a fascinating account of a fairly under-documented scene, and from the perspective of someone who was literally up to her eyes in it. Bits of it are pretty grim and unsettling and it’s sometimes hard to understand the motivation for some of the more transgressive stuff that Cosey and crew get involved in – not least because Cosey pays the price of being excommunicated by her parents who die before they get to meet Chris and their grandson. It’s also a warm, human story of everyday folk, trying to make ends meet, battling health and family problems when not creating sonic mayhem with modular synthesisers or putting on exhibitions of bloody tampons.
Length of Read:Long
Might appeal to people who enjoyed…
Wreckers of Civilisation by Simon Ford (currently out of print) is a detailed account of the COUM/TG story and there are parallels also with ‘Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys’ by Viv Albertine (indeed Cosey crosses paths with some rather ‘refreshed’ Slits at an early TG gig and suffice to say there is no real affinity between them or indeed the punk scene in general). If you like Rock Biogs from people on the murkier edges of the music scene, or interested in a woman’s perspective on being part of the music and arts scene of the late 60s onward this is for you regardless of whether you are familiar with the music of TG, C&C or Cosey’s other musical and art works.
One thing you’ve learned
At one point, emerging from her suburban home – dressed up to the nines on her way for a night out in Hull- Cosey is wolf-whistled by a handsome blonde fella, stripped to the waist busily mowing a lawn – it’s only Mick Ronson of the Spiders from Mars!