Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Chatty review of Cosey Fanni Tutti's new memoir: Art Sex Music

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Tutti, Cosey Fanni. 2017. Art sex music. Faber And Faber.

If you're reading this, you presumably already know who Cosey Fanny Tutti is: a remarkable artist and musician who's been churning out important, challenging, and hashtag controversial work for nearly half a century as part of, and also apart from, Throbbing Gristle. Now she's blessed us with her memoirs. This book is 502 pages, but I read it in 4 days (busy days at that!). The publisher was kind enough to provide Strig with a review copy last month, but I only read library books. It took my library long enough to buy it, but here we all are.

Cosey is a lifelong diarist, and she drew upon these materials to write her life as she lived it, when she lived it. Here's a video from her publisher wherein she describes her methodology. Below is a condensed, edited conversation Strigiform and I conducted across emails and gchat.

Anarchiteuthis: I was kinda astonished that she started this incredibly active independent life in art and music at age 18.

Strigiform: Yes! I lived a really rowdy rockstar sex/drugs/rocknroll life at a very young age, but I did not keep it together AT ALL in any way even close to the way she did.

Ana: She credits much of her toughness and her approach to brutal logistical and emotional situations to being from Yorkshire. She admits that her family was doing economically better than most of their neighbors, but also she describes playing in bombed out sites, engaging in hooliganism, mischief, and petty crime. During her teen and early adult years she vividly describes the scene in Hull- or rather, the array of scenes. She acquaints you with everyone from the skinheads and Hell's Angels to the radical feminists and gay liberation movements. She said she felt more in line with gay liberation than with feminism. Even though she's a straight woman, I wasn't mad, cuz she doesn't strike me as the kinda straight girl who is annoying at gay bars.

Strig: Agreed.

A: Gay liberation was more party-themed, raucous, and its message was more fun and inclusive (in message if not in practice). Meanwhile one of the defining features of feminism of this era was its prescriptivism and trying to identify, define, and enforce the "Politically Correct" way of life (yes, you can blame lesbians for this. On behalf of lesbians, I apologize).

S: A femme dyke friend of mine was kicked out of a feminist bookstore for wearing lipstick and I knew others who had to keep their strap-ons on the down low because they were a no-no in those communities then. So, I agree with you, that some feminists of that era likely made her feel unwelcome as they did other feminists, women, queers, lesbians, etc.

A: Also she put on "phony lesbian" shows for money, hashtag ally.

S: LOL. I admit there were some cringy straight person things in there. But I mean, she's a straight person, so... haha no higher standard deserved than anyone else.

A: But Cosey's theme in life is just like, don't fucking tell me what to do. I don't blame her for feeling alienated from feminism, particularly as it was practiced then. I wouldn't wanna hang out with Sheila Jeffreys either. Plus Cosey's all about the practice (praxis?). She doesn't have time for idle theory when she's got shit to do.

Meanwhile, her compassion for animals is another theme.

S: When she applies for a job at an animal laboratory right out of high school, the researchers ask her if she likes animals. She says she "adores" them. They, of course, deny her the job. There are also many stories about various animals that Cosey adopted throughout her life that are unfortunately in danger in proximity to Genesis, which we will discuss more later.

A: But also when Wax Trax! assumes she and Chris are vegetarian and send them a request for a track along with animal exploitation literature. And she's like, "well, we weren't, but after that we were!"

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S: I love that they were assumed veg and turned veg by Wax Trax!

A: But also where she hides and ultimately gives away her childhood rabbit cuz her asshole dad threatened to eat the creature? And she didn't even have the top tier of worst dads, but bad enough to cause enduring logistical and emotional damage throughout her life.

S: Even while doing all of the domestic tasks, her art work, her sex work, other paid work, dealing with the band, and visiting friends in prison, she's also caring for, and often protecting, the animals she has taken in.

A: THAT FUCKING KILLED ME. All "the boys" got to sit around making art, meanwhile she's out quomodocunquizing, busting her ass at factory work, breathing noxious fumes, taking in piece work, doing office work, sex work, and generally selling her time, labor, and precious energy to keep the band living indoors, eating, and making art.

Then she goes home and has to cook food for everyone, do their shopping, wash their goddamn clothes, clean up after them, and basically be everyone's live in maid. AND she's making art on top of all this, which no one would even acknowledge at the time. Even now, she is robbed of credit for so much of her life's work. She writes, "Home didn't feel like home but like more work."

S: The image of her lugging the cart of laundry up a hill in cold weather is in my head forever. Most of us who have ever struggled know what that is like, but to be doing it alone while an entire group of adults leaves you to it?

A: The "pram" that she uses to haul their laundry gets turned into art and then she's like, "but how do I laundry now?"

S: YES. JEEZ. I know Cosey doesn't want us to be sitting here portraying her as some helpless victim so I hope that is not how this all is coming across.

A: This would be a good time to quote some things she says in a really good Jezebel interview that asks basically everything I wanted to know while reading. Asked about events she describes in her book that a 21st century reader would freely describe as abusive, she all but dismisses it: "I felt strong enough to deal with it. It wasn’t a huge problem to me. It was upsetting at times and I couldn’t understand it, but it wasn’t something that I couldn’t deal with. [...] My problem was making sure I could carry on."

S: I think her approach to modeling and sex work was fascinating. It is interesting because her sex work WAS work. Like, she had very little money and was fiercely independent, so it wasn't some sort of poverty tourism for art. Yet she simultaneously was utilizing the experiences to create art.

A: She doesn't say when she left the sex industry. She just says she resumed stripping 5 months after the birth of her son. I don't know about you, but I pulled up all the songs she mentioned stripping to. It gave me great amusement to imagine how a spooky 70s art lady would dance to those tracks.

S: Oh my. I didn't think to do that! I don't even remember what they were.

A: Just check this one.

S: Amazing. Reading this book and this stuff about Gen I was thinking "Jesus Christ, what a tool! I wonder if everyone else is also a massive tool including my beloved members of Coil." And I'm ok with the truth. Like, even if the truth ruins my two Coil tattoos for me, I still wanna know. In short, I was very relieved when we get to meeting Peter Christopherson (who got his nickname Sleazy FROM COSEY) and he becomes one of her old dear friends. I do think Sleazy should have done a way better job, as I believe all of the people around Gen should have, in standing up to that twerp, but we'll get into Gen later.

As far as I am concerned, Chris, Cosey, and Sleazy were Throbbing Gristle's core, and Genesis was the part time singer and stage performer- an important part that Gen was good at, but one that audiences tend to give way too much credit.

A: I uphold your assessment.


S: To have a glimpse into those things was really good for me as a huge Coil fan. And also understanding just how bad John's alcoholism was. Near the end of the book, Cosey details her experiences at the funerals of both John Balance (Geff Rushton) and Sleazy (Peter Christopherson) and I read these parts with tears in my eyes. These accounts were beautiful. The Coil song played at John's funeral, Going Up, has been a song that has meant more to me than I can really express. I got really into Coil shortly after John had died. Ironically, I got into them right after I got clean, which is funny to me. And it was somewhat sad to know I could never meet them or see them live. But I have watched lots of videos thank you internet.

But any time it looks like cool people are cool and together, everything is probably terrible for them too. Because everything is terrible and the world is terrible.

A: Yup! Speaking of which HOW WERE WE INSULATED FROM GEN'S SHITTINESS FOR SO LONG?!

S: Because:
1. Gen fronts bands and is therefore near immune to criticism
2. Music culture lifts up shittastic abusive behavior as does most popular culture.
3. Gen is a whiny baby narcissist who wanted the spotlight while the other members were more interested in the art.
4. Narcissists and abusers often make themselves out to be victims and make people care for them while they abuse.

A: Also Gen is merely a minor cult icon, so information is scarcer than it might be for, like, Christian Bale or Johnny Depp and other celebrated famous men who hit women for fun. Without giving too much away for anyone who hasn't read it yet, Cosey describes violent, manipulative, and generally despicable behavior from Gen, including the use of self-harm/suicide threats as manipulation, cat throwing, and at least two events Strig and I recognize as attempted murder. I can't say that any of it really surprised me once I read it, but JEEZUS FUCK.

S: Her story shows how people in abusive relationships are often forced to choose between abuse and dissolution of everything in their life. Basically she had to choose between leaving Gen and losing all the art shit with COUM, TG, etc., or staying there and getting to be present with that stuff.

A: As she responds to Jezebel, "What was I supposed to do, give everything up? [...] It was an extremely complicated situation and I was out there on my own. I had no family or anything. That relationship was my family, so I protected it."

No reason to believe Gen will ever change. Gen slapped Cosey & Chris with a frivolous lawsuit in 2013. And in 2006 Gen was publicly taking credit for all of Cosey's modeling and tampons!

S: Oh yes, the lawsuits! And the tampons. Seriously. SERIOUSLY TAMPONS. Gen believed they owned Cosey's body so much that Gen literally owned the cotton used to mop up menstrual blood. Are you fucking kidding me?

A: The whole thing is nauseating. The financial stuff especially infuriates me. Cosey, Chris, and Sleazy were POURING out their time, energy, and money from their own pockets to make the TG reunion work, and Gen could barely be arsed to show up. When Gen DID show up, it would be with a demand for extra special payments, clauses counter to everything the group had previously agreed to, it was just endless.

S: And here's where I get angry at the other men. Sleazy and Chris and all other men- I knew you were all also under Gen's grip and manipulation, but when you see someone doing this to a woman over a period of years, how could you stand by and do nothing? I mean, at least Chris talked to Cosey and stuck up for her a little bit. But overall, they didn't do enough. That's normal, though. No one ever does enough.

A: Yup! Abysmal that that's just what you get for building your life around men.

S: I wish she said what heart condition it was! I want us to be heart electric abnormality friends. That doesn't sound very fun actually.

A: You mentioned you saw people on the internet talking about her book? And they're all mad that she's "grudging" and "trashing" Gen?

S: On goodreads there are some men on there upset by the book. They say it focuses too much on the abuse, or is "one-sided," or is "grudge" bearing, or didn't focusing on the technical aspects enough. I guess these bros wanted her to be like, "everything was good and nice! Then we plugged this synth into this thing and this other thing made noise. Then we did this, and then we made noise with this. And then we did an interview here, and then we played this show."

A: LOLOLOLOL

S: And yes, there was some of that, but how fucking boring would that have been without context? I don't know if they are coming from fanboyism or if they just wanted a computer science book, but I found their comments to be annoying and showing a lack of comprehension. I am annoyed by gossip when it is only for the sake of gossip or shit talk.

A: I love gossip and shit talk. It's why I'm so attracted to the genre of memoir!

S: But Cosey is obviously not doing this to ruin Gen's life. She did this to tell the story of these art forms and her life- her actual story that includes all the artists and the obstacles they faced. One of the biggest fucking obstacles was Genesis P-Orridge.

Part of the problem with these men: Cosey is only allowed to function as a part of TG. Which is exactly what Gen wanted her as- a tool.

A: And a used tampon generator. CUZ THAT WAS ALL GEN'S IDEA.

S: Art Sex Music was Gen's idea, I am sure we will find out.

A: "But you're my battery- I feed off you," she quotes Gen as saying when she's trying to leave their relationship. Shudder.

Early into the book, it was quite obvious to me that she was trying to fairly redistribute credit and attribution for COUM and TG works wherever it was due- even for her own name. While she'd been going by Cosey, short for Gen's naming her Cosmosis, it was one of her mail art buddies who took to calling her Cosey Fanni Tutti (a reference to Mozart's 1790 comic opera Così fan tutte, which is about how you and your buddy can seduce each other's fiancees if you dress up as Albanians).

S: I thought about the name a lot and I am very glad that a mail art friend rerouted Gen’s culty name bestowal. She recounts such fun exchanges between her mail art friends, in stark contrast to Genesis’ Manson-esque re-naming.

A: Right? Like naming someone is generally an act of ownership.

Meanwhile, you and I talked about how to reconcile Gen's lived trans-ness with a long docket of bad deeds that men do, and the fact that Cosey calls Gen "he." Indeed, everyone close to Gen I've heard or read, including Lady Jaye, called Gen "he." It's probable that Gen doesn't give a fuck. The Jezebel interviewer asks Cosey about this, to which she responds, "I know some transgender people and they’re not like Gen." I giggled, cuz basically yeah. Also this whole thing makes me feel dirty for appreciating the Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye documentary when I saw it, and also for attending a Psychic TV show last fall.

S: As the Resident Trans Person on the Panel who speaks for all Trans people,* all trans people are different and come from different backgrounds. Some trans people have fluid genders- meaning that their gender changes throughout their life whereas other trans people have a more static gender identity.

Transgender people, like all people, can also be horrifically shitty despite their marginalized status. So, I do think Cosey walks a very dangerous line by claiming Genesis cannot be X gender since Genesis was/is abusive. She doesn’t directly say this but gets close. But, there also seems to be a common thread in Genesis’ “Pandrogyne” identity that opens it up to this kind of criticism.

We discuss trans people's life experiences through cisgender lenses. Often, in trying to make cis hets** and gatekeepers*** believe we are real people deserving of respect and validation, we reduce our lived experiences to shorter soundbites. Our actual experiences tend to be long ranges of nuanced events with big changes throughout that cis people don't have, even though we use their gendered narratives as our guide for validation of our genders. Gen was allowed to act that way because Gen moved through the world as a white man, facilitating, allowing, possibly motivating Gen’s abusive actions toward women. I know it is dangerous to talk about that way because Gen now moves through the world being seen as a trans feminine person. But there is no way Cosey would have been allowed to act the way Gen did in TG. That's just a fact.

A: Ha! This is the first I'm seeing of it. But yeah, this book is amazing, Cosey is amazing, read the fucking book, and don’t let its heft frighten you because it goes quickly. 
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*This is a joke alluding to the reality that randos often assume a marginalized person is representative of their entire demographic.
**“Cis hets” is LGBTQ slang for “Cisgender Heterosexicals” and means people who identify with the sex and gender they were assigned at birth (for example: a woman who is not intersex who was assigned female at birth) who are straight.
***Gatekeepers are mostly medical professionals, along with some other authority figures, actuated by an interest in making trans people fit normative gender roles and parrot specific trans narratives to gain acceptance.

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