|The 20 Year|
The Boston Phoenix called her,
Little Lydia's big self first hit the scene back in 1976 with the New York punk band Teenage Jesus And The Jerks, whose music, branded 'No Wave', consisted of ear bleeding guitar assault with an angry-aggressive little girl screaming 'No!' at all and everything. Over the 20 years since, Lydia has not mellowed. The intensity is still undeniable and the anger, aggression and depression has been focused and tempered.
The sphere of music has never been big enough to contain Lydia's multi-media manifestations. Her creativity soon spilled into spoken word performances, writing, acting and film making. Any such manifestation demands a reaction from its witnesses.
Delivering her spoken word performances on stage, she has been described as a "hideous sreaming bitch", by herself. Her words can split your skull with hatred as cold and hard as an axe blow or split your sides with dark direct scathing wit. A sarco-masochistic onslaught that thrills and unsettles in equal measure.
As an actress she is able to portray victor and victim simultaneously. As a writer she can convey personal experience and confession with a direct honesty that becomes quite discomforting. As a musical performer, her facets and assets are many and varied, unnerving, exciting, swampy, sexy, vicious, powerful, direct, rock'n'roll, blues, soulful ballads or ballistic bombardments...
'Seminal', is one word that has been used again and again to, accurately, describe Lydia's life and work. Indeed, her life and work are indivisible. The openness and frankness with which she talks about her life in her work, though refreshing, is often shockingly off-putting...
Lydia Lunch, born Lydia Koch, 1959, grew up in Rochester, New York State, and later New York City, where she had run away from 'home' to, after her childhood had been stolen... She had been sexually abused by her father from the age of six, or earlier, and from the age of 14 had been running off to New York.
...At the age of 17 she moved into a large house occupied by a kind of commune of friends and acquaintances, among them Lenny Bruce's daughter, Kitty.
Lydia had been writing poetry and stories since she was 10, so the underground creativity of the Big Apple was instantly appealing to her.To begin with she inflicted her rants and speeches on the not-so-innocent by-standers in the streets of New York, but soon realised that thisformat was just not loud enough. What she needed was a contained audienceand some amplification!
She saw Emilio Cubeiro, a poet and playwright with whom she would later collaborate, perform at CBGB's club in 1972, and became a regular patron.
Experimental, indeed 'seminal', bands such as MARS and Arto Lindsay's DNA used the house she lived in to practise, so she came into contact with many important figures in the New York New Wave scene, which at that time was a New Movement! Among these was also James Chance (aka James White), with whom she first started to put together a band for herself. However, the Chance - Lunch meeting turned into a conflict of charisma and personality, though it provided the spark that lit the fuse that detonated the incendiary device that was to be known as Teenage Jesus And The Jerks...
A sound and a voice that could not be ignored had ripped its way out of one girl's anger and dissatisfactions, and into the sub-culture of the City. Teenage Jesus And The Jerks live shows consisted of 10 minute blasts of screech and sound which gave 'the finger' to music scene - but only as a distraction whilst Lydia bayonetted its complacent guts. Remember, this was B P (Before Punk).
The Lydia we know now had begun to emerge. The observer and documenter, able to look back on herself and her problems and speak out for those who had suffered, who are suffering, too. Commenting on her own predicament, and hence becoming the critic of the white middle-class-male dominated culture that had placed her, and all of us, there to begin with...
Before the New Wave New York punters knew what had hit them - and coined a phrase to label it with - Teenage Jesus ripped themselves apart.
The next incarnation, Beirut Slump, was an equally anti-trend assault. Though still at the forefront of the creativity, Lydia contented herself with torturing guitars and left the lyrics and vocals to Bobby Swope, who 'collected' most of the lyrics from down-and-outs on the streets.
The line up also included Vivienne Dick, an underground film maker who collaborated with Lydia on several short films. The sound of Beirut Slump was sluggish, ugly and cruel, exploring the single mindedness and percussive intensity later taken to its conclusion by SWANS on the 'Raping A Slave EP' and 'Cop' album.
The Slump eventually stalled and was scrapped when Lydia moved on to give us her first solo LP, 'Queen Of Siam' - a kind of melancholic, comic-book jazz dream, arranged with help from Billy Ver Plank, who was the composer of the 'Flintstones' theme and soundtracks.
Lydia began the 1980s with a return to a more traditional rock format with the sticky-steamy-swamp-sex combo, 8 Eyed Spy.
Though the five piece set-up can be described as 'traditional', and indeed there was a nod to trad rock with a couple of cover versions, including Jon Fogerty's 'Run Thru The Jungle', the outcome was far from. The intensity of Lydia's own lyrics, and voice, combined with frenetic sax and guitar couterplays to create a fusion reaction that melted through rock... 8 Eyed Spy was primarily a live phenomenon and little material was released on vinyl.
After the Spy defected, Lydia formed the short-lived Devil Dogs. The line-up included Jim Sclavunos and Kristian Hoffman and the material was mainly re-workings of standard blues songs. The Devil Dogs did a handful of gigs, one show in Italy was recorded with the intention of releasing an album, but the master tape went (a)stray...
Lydia then became the nucleus of an amoebic collection of collaborators. Her 'career' henceforth took on the form of a slowly spinning diamond: hard edged, clear and reflective, bringing each facet into the light in its turn...
One of the most notable releases in the next few years that followed was 'The Agony Is The Ecstasy', an epic 16.5 minute track which is both musically and lyrically quintessential. A wound in progress, laying open many obsessions and fascinations that she would return to again and again. The version of this ever-developing, mutation of a song, was recorded live and appears on the shared EP with the Birthday Party's 'Drunk On The Pope's Blood'.
The album, '13.13', was another flirtation with the mainstream. Of course, Lydia jilted it before there could be a favourable response and continued to work with others who operated in a similar mode, or who she respected, among them Birthday Party guitarist, Roland S Howard - with whom she has worked with repeatedly, No Trend, Thurston Moore, Sort Sol, Lucy Hamilton, Nick Cave, Marc Almond, and consistently with Clint Ruin (aka Jim Thirwell).
There was a one-off show with an all girl guitar trio comprising Pat Place, Connie Burg and Lydia, Again the show was recorded but never saw release. The only vinyl evidence of the event is the instrumental soundtrack album 'The Drowning Of Lucy Hamilton' - a Lunch-Burg collaboration which became the debut release on Widowspeak - Lydia's own record and publishing company.
By the mid 1980s, it was difficult for anyone to deny her credentials as a musical innovator. The next facet to catch the light was as writer, when she collaborated with Exene Cervenka of LA band X, to produce a collection of writings, Adulterers Anonymous.
From the written word and the lyric, Lydia quickly moved on to the spoken word performance. She put her self on stage and spoke: it was a powerfully bitter and malevolent manifestation. Honest though aggressive. Sensitive, yet abusive...
She hissed and spat and spake. The audiences trembled and quivered. Lydia's stories recorded on the first collection of spoken word pieces, 'The Uncensored Lydia Lunch', were autobiographical and cruel in their detail. Lydia has since shared vinyl with other speakers of the word, including Henry Rollins, Don Bajema, Hubert Selby Jnr and Emilio Cubeiro.
Her ability to spin a brutal yarn led to her, now notorious, collaboration with another underground film maker and musician, Richard Kern. The Right Side Of My Brain, made on a budget of around $500, was an expose of abuse addiction in the form of a filmicly illustrated monologue. Equally infamous is Fingered, a kind of black and white Lynchian hybrid of gritty sex and violence.
To round off the 1980s, Lydia paid homage to Harry Crews, a writer she particularly admires, by forming a band with Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth, and wrestler-drummer, Sadie Mae. The band, also named Harry Crews, released a one-off LP and toured with a collection of songs inspired by the spirit and words of Harry Crews, the writer.
With Shotgun Wedding, her more recent collaboration with Roland S Howard, she went for the whole rock trip. After recording the album she took the band on a promotional tour... The material was uncharacteristically accessible, even acceptable, though the dark desires and dissatisfaction still lurked beneath the surface.
The 1990s revealed yet more facets of the Lunch phenomenon: she released a retrospective compendium of prose and plays, Incriminating Evidence - collaborated with award-winning comicbook artist, Ted McKeever, as writer for the graphic novel, Toxic Gumbo - she has merged spoken word with atmospheric soundtracks to create 'illustrated word' performances such as Mantrikamantra - penned a full-length biographical novel, Paradoxia, A Predator's Diary - and delved deeply into sculpture and photography...
...and she ain't done yet!
Extensive (and exclusive) Lydia Lunch interview begins on next page