As part of its Halloween week, BBC 6 Music asked for listeners’ scariest songs, and Hamburger Lady by Throbbing Gristle was played – a massive surprise in itself, as the station isn’t as radical as it likes to think it is. I’d heard the track a couple of times before, but this time the volume was up high on my stereo and I was sitting directly in front of the speakers, so it was a very different experience. A pulsing began in the dead centre of my forehead, where the Third Eye is located, of course, and it felt as if my head was expanding. I managed to get hold of D.O.A.(the album which includes the track) at a very reasonable price and played Hamburger Lady again at high volume. It made my Third Eye feel very sensitive, almost ticklish, this time and my head feeling disconnected from my body.
Both experiences – which may have been purely physical rather than spiritual – have been unsettling but very interesting and I want to go further with this. The subject matter of the track – a woman horrifically burned on most of her body but somehow still alive in hospital, in the utmost, endless agony – is nightmarish, the worst existence anyone/thing could suffer, I think, and the ‘music’ on the track, along with Gen’s vocals, which gently read out the woman’s terrible suffering, makes me feel nauseous. Which it should, of course. To me the track seems compassionate, with sympathy for the poor woman (who I hope died sooner rather than later), which is what makes me able to listen to it.
The whole of D.O.A. is strange in that there is a familiarity about it. I’ve heard a few tracks from it over the years, but I can’t remember having heard the complete album, although perhaps I did, some decades ago, during my time hanging around the Stoke Newington squatting scene. But it feels as if this album’s been returned to me, somehow. I’m playing it frequently – as you can imagine, it’s very good for writing to.
I’ve recently been in communication with Cosey Fanni Tutti. Her autobiography is fascinating for many reasons, but I wanted to acknowledge her honesty in writing about her relationship with an abusive person and her strength in not only surviving it, but not being completely ruined by it. She emailed me back within a couple of days. I won’t quote what she said here, but she was kind and supportive. My respect for her just grows and grows.
All text © Julie Travis apart from the title.