The nine lives of Lydia Lunch

The urges and purges of the avant-garde priestess and No Wave predator

Lydia_Lunch_web

Taken from the November issue of Dazed & Confused:

Avant-garde priestess Lydia Lunch got her name from cooking food for NYC’s penniless artists in the late 70s. Using ingredients nicked from the murky strip club where she worked, she served it tongue-numbingly spicy to her starving compatriots, who would go on to form the likes of Sonic Youth and Butthole Surfers. She’s been a shock to the palate ever since. Her seminal short-lived No Wave outfit Teenage Jesus and the Jerks obliterated sonic conventions, not least through her startling, spiky vocals – unlike punk, No Wave wasn’t so much about opposition as annihilation. Barely a year has gone by since 1978 in which Lunch hasn’t put out a release, be it the girlish nursery rhymes of her debut solo LP, Queen of Siam (1980), collaborations with the likes of The Birthday Party, Foetus, Einstürzende Neubauten and Sonic Youth, her ravenously sexual semi-autobiographical book Paradoxia: A Predator’s Diary (1997) or the new double album by her band Big Sexy Noise. We met the 54-year-old dark mistress over Gauloises in London to recall her nine darkest moments.

Transgressive cinema
The making of a brutal underground classic 

You’re watching a 20-minute version of shit I’ve lived through for decades in Fingered (1986). It’s fucking harsh. When I first saw it I said to (director Richard) Kern, ‘This isn’t hard enough.’ He almost fell off the chair. As divine as my personal physicality is, that film is not about the beauty in anything. Part of what I have to represent is an alternative to this perverted fashion industry concept of what beauty is. What I like to say is, ‘Don’t be afraid to be fucking ugly.’ People have very different opinions about that film, from the most misogynist thing ever to the ultimate feminist statement. The Whitney had it as its top underground film at one point, blah blah.

Ghost towns
Spectral voices

Living in Barcelona I have my own little ghetto utopia. There are 3,000 ghost towns in Spain, and I’ve used the images of them a lot in my backdrops for my solo spoken-word stuff. The ghost towns could be from two buildings to 40 ­– things died out, or there were plagues, the roads don’t lead there, whatever. Every town has a different fucking story. I published a CD and bilingual book called Amnesia (2009) because amnesia is part of the Spanish constitution – ‘don’t talk about the civil war’. I have a piece called ‘Ghosts of Spain’, and it compares the ghosts of Spain with the ghosts of the Middle East and the ghosts of America’s haunted ghost towns as well. I feel that I have to give voice to the ghosts that are there.

Read that bitch
Lunch’s reading list

Two of my favourite books are Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn. The way that he deals, in the 1930s, with sex, life, his own negativity and his insistence to carry on with his stubbornness is really beautiful. It’s from somebody whose life was driven by sex, and it’s mandatory reading. And The Temptation to Exist (1956) by EM Cioran is about the dilemma of life day by day, second by second, from a very negative worldview. One liners. It’s hilarious!

Paradoxia
The ballad of sexual independence

I wrote Paradoxia as part of my own public psychotherapy. There’s a vast hole in literature detailing psychosexuality from a feminine perspective. You have to learn to satisfy yourself and if you don’t, you will be forever unsatisfied. The more satisfied you are yourself, the more you can show others what satisfaction is. I never want to get rid of any of my obsessions, I just want to be the one in charge of when they come out of the closet to play! (laughs) And I hope that’s what Paradoxia sheds some light on.

Getting ‘Spooky’
Lullabies for the dead

The Queen of Siam (1980) album was a real departure from Teenage Jesus and the Jerks. I was requested to do that song ‘Spooky’ to get the record made. It was a dreadful song, and everyone loves it! That album is really bizarre, all this infantile nursery-rhyme shit. It was just an act of instinct, as all my music is. I was stoned and watching a lot of cartoons, I’m like, ‘Let’s do a record with some cartoon music,’ and I got to work with Bob Quine, who was the guitar player from Richard Hell & the Voidoids. It was very unusual at the time and I guess it still is.

I have my legs crossed now only because if I open them I’d poke you in the eye with my dick. You like the thought of that, don’t you?

Goth mother
Dark beginnings

I’m a goth mother. I was a goth at 14 in Rochester (New York) before goth existed, in ’73. I have the photos to prove it. But I was much more hardcore than ‘goth’ really, much more than my minion from across the street. I guess I made one goth psychedelic record, 1313 (1981). I mean, why do you have to call it ‘goth’? Why do you have to give it a name?

The power of pussy
Torture and ecstasy

Why is the pussy an instrument of torture? Honey, when you’re that tight it’s going to hurt some of the guys! I was flashing it enough last night and I had no fucking takers, like, ‘Here it is if you want it any time!’ There’s so much fucking cock rock, but not enough poetry written to the power of the fucking magnificence of A) my pussy but B) pussy in general. There’s not enough literature, songs, proclamations on t-shirts. Well, of course gender is a fucking illusion. I mean, I have my legs crossed now only because if I open them I’d poke you in the eye with my dick. You like the thought of that, don’t you?

Charles Manson 
Keeping it in the Family

I’m American of a certain age, darling, we didn’t have a choice but to be interested in Charles Manson. He and his dirty hippy troupe killed the summer of love when I was ten years old. We loved him for that! At that point a lot of people in my generation understood exactly what America was all about. The darkness of the summer of love ending and the summer of hate of the Vietnam war had a very big impact on my need to fucking protest and create. My new record with Big Sexy Noise ends with ‘there’s something witchy in the air’, which is a Charles Manson reference. When his followers went to do the Tate murders, he said, ‘Do something witchy.’

Don’t rip yourself off
The beauty of hedonism

My middle name is pleasure! I guess the greatest misconception about me is that people just have no fucking idea what an ultimate hedonist I am. I think hedonism needs to come back full fucking throttle. There are 24 hours in the fucking day. You owe yourself a few hours a week to go into full fucking throttle or you’re ripping yourself off. I’m going to go and have some fun right now.

Collision Course / Trust the Witch by Big Sexy Noise is out on October 28 on Cherry Red

More Arts+Culture