Books and Music at the Heart of Independent Publishing

All Names are Part and Parcel of my Metamorphosis

May 4, 2017 | by johng

Tags: art sex music, cosey fanni tutti, david keenan, this is memorial device

Here’s an exchange between Cosey Fanni Tutti and David Keenan. Cosey’s book Art Sex Music and David’s book This is Memorial Device are published by Faber Social in 2017.

David Keenan: To kick us off: was wondering what your experience of working on a book was. Did you have any visions for how it would turn out, some idea of the form, favourite writers who suggested things stylistically to you, or did it come together as you worked on it? In my experience writing a book was like skirting a black hole, at first. It’s an act of faith as you have to trust that as you work the form that is right for the book will start to emerge and suggest itself.

Cosey Fanni Tutti: I considered the style of writing merely because the material (of my life) was intense in parts so I wanted to present it as it was and not embellish it for the sake of my book being ‘entertaining’. But I was also aware of the reader – it had to be ‘readable’. And also because my life was/is pretty full on I needed to explain things and not assume the reader knew about certain aspects of my life and events, art movements and so on. That kind of added to the emerging of the final style – as well as the diary quotes I used as starting points.

DK:  Did you re-read your diaries regularly? Did you go back to them a lot or was it the first time you have really gone through them when you were approaching this project? How do you feel about the younger Cosey?

CFT: I’d already accessed my diaries for Art projects and information on TG for releases like TG24 and TG+. But writing the book meant I read through them properly, page by page. That gave me a much better feeling of the mood of a particular time. It was really important to me that I capture that. Reading my younger self writing about what was going on wasn’t as odd as you might think. I still recognised myself, my feelings of the time were still palpable, in some instances I could even remember which chair I sat in to write a particular page which then brought recollections of the atmosphere, the smell of the room and so on. My diaries and writings were a fantastic pure resource.

DK: I’m remembering the charged and evocative image of you trying to ‘find yourself’ by searching through the porn mags in sex shops… are you still interested in pornography? Do you keep up? Who are your favourite porn stars?

CFT: I don’t really have an interest in pornography in the same way as when I worked in the industry. Sex is a different matter. When you’ve been behind the scenes you tend to be more critical when you watch porn. I can recognise direction and faking it, discomfort and signs of coercion which I don’t like to see – having been there and done it. I can appreciate good porn though.

DK: I keep thinking of all the names you have had across your life and wondering again, do you think it was necessary to re-name yourself in order to become your own creation? Also – my life is my art, my art is my life – but does it require documentation in order for it to be art? Could/can an undocumented life be lived as art or seen as art? Is art something akin to Schrodinger’s Cat and it only becomes art when it is looked at like this or that or when it is framed or documented in a certain way?

CFT: Re-naming myself just evolved and in line with what I was doing. I don’t see myself as my own creation. I’m just myself. My name emerged from as a result of being ‘me’. All the names are part and parcel of my metamorphosis if you like.

DK: I was thinking about the example of your life and wondering if there were people’s lives that worked as an example to you, of what was possible, artistically and in how you lived your life – I’m thinking of friends, peers and heroes…. the Beats were and still are really big for me, in the way that their artistic identity became their lives and that has always been inspiring to me, when you see people whose lives are completely their art, I’m thinking of people that I used to know who I got such a strength of vision from, of seeing possibility, people like my old friend David who lived his life as a complete outlaw, a true bohemian, in a wooden hut without heat, electricity and running water in Carbeth, I’m thinking of examples…

CFT: I can’t say there were any individuals in particular so much as the culture of the 60’s and what preceded it (like the Beats). Being in a group of like-minded friends certainly had an influence in terms of validating a lifestyle that put being an artist at the centre. That’s how I’ve always lived since leaving home. I know no other way to be.

DK: On a different note, I wanted to ask you about the new hook-up with Mute and Throbbing Gristle. How did it come about? How do you feel about streaming sites? I mean it feels perfectly in keeping to me in terms of the TG mission that all the TG recordings would be available through streaming sites, that was always a central ethos of TG, making everything completely available, the focus on total documentation and full liberation of the body of work. Any plans to get 24 Hours of TG on there as well? But getting paid is a bummer….

CFT: TG re-activating their relationship with Mute was a way to safeguard the TG legacy in the wake of the repercussions of the last TG regrouping and the loss of Sleazy. If we hadn’t signed to Mute the TG back catalogue and unreleased material wouldn’t have been made available. So it was wonderful that Daniel and Mute were thrilled when we asked if they’d like to take on TG once again. So yes, that and streaming safeguarded the TG recordings and the central ethos of having TG accessible… even if I’m not an advocate of the minuscule royalty rate of streaming sites.

DK: Who/what are you listening to now, all-time faves and new discoveries…

CFT: I’m just re-emerging into playing music again after the self-imposed silence while I wrote my book. Heard some great tracks when John Grant DJ’d for the book launch the other night so that got me fired up again.

DK: Also, what are you reading – again all-time faves and recent reads…

CFT: The writing process also had me so tied up and with so little time for reading – also I didn’t want to read anyone else books until I’d found the style I wanted and I’d more or less finished it. So I’m just reading again. A great book of fantastic small stories called POND by Claire-Louise Bennett – a much treasured Xmas present from my friend Andrew that I’ll delve into again and again. Other than that I’ve read Chris Kraus’s 1997 novel I Love Dick and Gordon Burn’s Happy Like Murderers. Quite a heady mix really.

DK: I know you are a keen gardener, as am I, what are your plans for the garden this year? We just got our potatoes and our onion sets down and the broad beans are in…

CFT: Ha! – we’re onto gardening now are we? Good timing I guess because I just planted potatoes – too cold for anything else yet. Feeling the urge to sit in the garden and read – look around and plan what to plant where or transplant if it looks like its unhappy where it is. At the moment it’s my fave time of year with the daffodils, hyacinths and primrose scattered all over the lawn and some amazing fire orange tulips amid lime green euphorbia. The garden looks so alive and inviting but it’s too bloody cold.

DK: I know you have your studio just off the living room – does that mean you are recording all the time? Do you tend to just jump in there when inspiration strikes or do you plan and execute and build up to a recording. Just wondering how the writing/recording process works with you and Chris…

CFT: We work in different ways, there’s no one method. Sometimes we make a ‘plan’ to go in the studio and start working, other times we can just be playing around with equipment manipulating sounds for the fun of it and a sound triggers off an idea so we take it from there. We tend to have a bank of ideas that we file away and come back to, build them into finished tracks and from there an album – usually with some left over for another time.

DK: Talking about gardening, I think many people develop kind of a dissonant image of people like yourself who play this kind of very challenging music and who are damned as ‘wreckers of civilisation’ – they don’t expect you to be gardeners, ha ha, we talked about this before but it is possible that Balance’s death was hastened by his playing the role of himself, the psychic explorer, the excessive visionary. Is it important to maintain a distance from the ‘you’ that exists as Cosey, as a member of TG, as a member of C&C and CTV? Is that difficult because as you say your life is your art, so do you then have to compartmentalise a kind of space where you can retreat from that image and those ideas yourself – ie the garden, ha ha?

CFT: Yeah, taking time out to ground yourself is essential. Otherwise you fall into the trap of your true self being taken over by the persona you are publicly perceived as through your work – like Geoff. I had a few phone conversations with him when he was really depressed at feeling that he had to live up to his Coil reputation – playing that role as you say. He felt a sense of responsibility to the fans even though he recognised, and I pointed out that it could kill him. I believe that conflict played a part in his premature death. Back to gardening… you wouldn’t expect it to crop up in those kind of dark conversations but it did. At one point Geoff and Sleazy joined a campaign to save endangered varieties of vegetables and the preceding months before Sleazy’s death he talked with me and Chris about his plans to retire to a quiet part of Thailand and lead a tranquil lifestyle growing vegetables and raising chickens… well he’d have someone do it for him. But there was a shift in how he wanted to live especially when he’d taken up Buddhism. Having said that I’d say he was on a slow transition as he was still prone to his hedonistic moments. Life is about balance. We all go about that in different ways. I’ve always loved nature, I enjoy being ‘in’ it, working with it. That connection gives me a great sense of peace and oneness that goes way back to my childhood when I’d sit alone in the countryside and let my mind drift.

DK: That’s interesting Cosey. I’m thinking of your time living with/as Coum/TG – did it feel like living a life experiment, you know, like being in an experimental think-tank – I wonder about the opportunities to escape that – at the time I’m guessing you were part of an experiment 24-7 in a way, what do you think you took from that, from the rituals practiced and the ideas lived – what parts of that still feed into your life now? I know there were a lot of negatives in that situation as you talk about in the book but I’m wondering what positive life and art lessons were learned as part of this commitment to submerging yourself into life as art as ritual as magick etc at the time, all of the time…

CFT: It didn’t feel like some kind of experiment – it was just how I lived, what I was interested in pursuing, what I chose to do, what challenges presented themselves. That was my lifestyle and I’ve carried on living that way – maybe not so much of the extreme activities any more. I’ve been there, done that and taken from it what I needed – moved on, grown. The biggest plus from the past and my continuing way of living is having managed to find and listen to myself, that inner almost intuitive response to what life delivers you or during the creative process – as opposed to a reactive and ‘useful’ approach, say when you base you actions on what you ‘think’ would be the right thing to do according to expectation – or for monetary gain, investment, status.