Please note that this is an archival interview and much of it previously appeared in the Questing Beast Grimoire Edition, Lydia’s 20-Year Lunch Time, and appears here in a revised and extended version (now, it should really be the 40 year Lunch-time!)
The Boston Phoenix called her, “one of the 10 most influential performers of the 90s,” now The Scrawl nominates her as, “the most potent writer of the past two decades”
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!
It was while she was in the UK for the Shotgun Wedding dates that Remy Dean first met Lydia Lunch in a dungeon-like bar just off Oxford Street.
The main body of this conversation occurred there and then, though more recently it has been supplemented and updated with comments from Lydia when she was once more in the UK, along with Richard Kern, in 1996 to discuss and defend their collaborative movies at the National Film Theatre — a record of some ten years earlier when the films had been their first transgression together.
The year also rounded off Lydia’s second decade of ‘No-Wave’ confrontation and documentation.
How do you feel about the interview situation?
Oh, I like it.
You seem to have little fame and fortune considering the type of work you have been doing for a relatively long time… Do you have an anti-commercial-success policy?
I have to do what ever suits me at the moment. I don’t have a strategy. As far as a career… I consider my career as what I do… but it certainly doesn’t pay like a career. I have to amuse and entertain myself and express myself, so usually that means a different thing every two or three months. Which has always been the case, I didn’t set out to become a commercial pop star and don’t see why I should change at this point.
The mainstream just doesn’t interest me — nothing creative is being done in that format — and I have to jump from one vehicle to another at a fast pace, as fast as possible. So it’s not really an issue.
It’s not a definite policy…
Well, I have to say that there are very few people that are successful that I can respect. What is there to respect when people are propagating the lowest common denominator in order to reach a success. I am completely successful — I’ve documented everything I’ve had to, and have managed to do that for 13 years.
Just because my bank account hasn’t swelled astronomically I don’t consider myself any less of a success.
I’m very successful in the sense that a lot of people who create on a similar level of intensity and diversity don’t have the opportunity to find a vehicle for release of their material. I’ve been stubborn and tenacious enough to ensure that every thing I’ve done has been documented on record, film, or some kind of release. That’s where the success comes in — I’m more interested in documenting these periods of emotional instability than making sure everyone gets a copy.
I’m speaking for a minority in the first place so why should that translate into majority appeal.
What is the worth of your work — why do that minority like it?
Because they’re frustrated, angry, hateful, confused and they need a voice to articulate their problems and my problems are not so unique. All problems are universal, and I think the appeal comes in from just being a voice for the dispossessed.
Why is that more valid, rather than trying to fight those problems and depressions with positivity?
Well there’re enough happy assholes out there, why should I be another one in the line… There’s a lot of mopey bastards too but I mean, how many are really delving into the root of the problem instead of just crying and whining about it. I’m trying to analyse the situation as I document it not just whinge and complain… So I think the validity is that I go in as deep and as far as I can with it, taking it to the extreme with complete intensity and compassion. I think that’s what people latch on to…
I’m only dealing with what I know — I can’t espouse thoughts that have no relation to me like happiness and complete positivity in spite of absolute adversity. I’d be a liar if I started speaking about flowers and sunshine. A complete fucking liar — which is not to say my life is so drastically miserable, it isn’t, but I have a conscience. I see what goes on and I see how people continually fuck themselves over in their private lives what they’re not being fucked over by the government and anyone in a higher and better position than they are. So I have to deal in reality — that’s all I’m dealing with, I’m not making any of it up.
I’m not saying that I won’t one day release a more cheerful presentation, but I can’t imagine one at this point. It wouldn’t impress me, doesn’t amuse me or interest me.
Don’t you think there’s a risk that people who are feeling pretty bad might just be dragged down further by it?
Brings me to the ‘Suicide Sundays’ that some girls in the mid-west held in my honour… is it going to be the last straw that broke the camel’s back? I wouldn’t be sad if it did, I mean if you can’t take it any more then you have every right to get the fuck out — but it’s possible that these spates of depression are just temporary and environmentally controlled and if you removed yourself from the environment that compounds your misery you would, no doubt, be able to be a lot happier. I mean, living in a place like London is a very depressing environment. Places like New York can be very depressing. In spite of the energy that is intrinsic to these places that offer up a lot of alternative vehicles, it’s still the amount of brick mortar concrete corruption that’s gonna compound it — remove yourself.
Are you occupied in the pursuit of happiness at all?
I’m a total pleasure seeker. I pursue anything that satisfies me. I usually get it. I have specific needs and I know what they are so I can achieve satisfaction. Most people can’t be satisfied because they don’t know what the fuck they want. They know they don’t want this, but they don’t know what they do want. My life is very simple in that I want to create, I want to document it, I want to do exactly what I want to do, where I want to do it, with who I want to do it with — and I achieve that.
Setting an example?
You seem very existential — all very much from within. Do you ever think about tackling wider issues, like politics?
I tackle them in the spoken word format. I wouldn’t do them musically because what’s the point: there’s nothing worse than political music, it’s a complete fucking bore. It’s bad enough to give a speech that deals with these issues, but through the vent of my spoken word performances I am tackling the basic white-male-middle-aged-power-structure which dominates and destroys everything. How much wider a breadth can you cover?
Have you seen the work of Candida Royalle?
Yes. I think it’s good. More women should delve into pornography formed by women, I mean they’re very sensitive. I have a lot of respect for Annie Sprinkle, though she’s coming from what I call the hippy-tofu-sexuality genre, I’m coming more from hate-fucking and trying to understand that aspect of personal relationships. What causes people to destroy each other and love it.
There should be more women speaking about their sexuality and their problems and frustrations and there are just so few examples…
You don’t go with the view that all pornography exploits women, then?
No pornography exploits women. It exploits men. It’s the men that are made to look stupid, silly and ridiculous, chasing after the golden elixir. Women look beautiful, do what they wanna do and get paid for it. It only exploits men, the fact that more women don’t produce it is disturbing to women who enjoy pornography because there’s not much erotica out there. Fortunately in America there is Candida Royalle, there is On Our Backs — a lesbian magazine — there are some lesbian film makers, but I mean, lesbians and the average woman might not have a lot in common, so all factions should start speaking up.
Have you been making any more films since the Richard Kern stuff?
I did a ten minute film with Beth B about war, the day to day abuse of being privy to the consequences of war. I’m planning another film with Richard Kern set in New Orleans about a woman who marries a cop to set him up for her gun running schemes — la a 50s noire detective… It’s the first time I’ll be dealing with fiction with Richard Kern, so that should be interesting.
What do you think about the films you made with him before, being viewed as pornography?
I guess it’s whoever’s opinion you’re listening to… Pornography is not an insulting category to me. Fingered certainly is pornographic, it’s not erotica it’s meant to be very ugly, which I think it is, and funny. It shows how a woman under the strain of abuse is gonna turn that around, but at the same time be trapped by the intensity, the emotions the fervency of it all. It’s hard not to be addicted to adrenaline, which I think most people in abusive situations are. Addicted to the adrenal rush of the possible violence and then the lull and psychology of the make up, it’s all drama and I think the psychology of abuse is based on adrenal addiction, speaking from my own experience.
To me, pornography is erotic, beautifully shot and sexually stimulating and titillating and the point of it is to get off. The point of my films is not to get off — if that happens to you and you’re sexually stimulated, then ask yourself why. The point of the films I made with Richard (Kern) is not to erotically stimulate, but to show a psycho-sexual dynamic in a drama of real life experiences and try to understand the psychology of this kind of behaviour.
In doing these films, it really helped me to understand what my own afflictions and twisted desires were about. It’s very hard to read the subtext, which I hope Right Side Of My Brain delivers, which is: If you’ve been placed in a victimised position, eventually you will become the victimiser.
For me, doing these films was therapy to try to break that cycle. I’m not trying to say there’s anything wrong with being titillated by something like Fingered — which I see as an atrocious depictation of a perverse sexual reality which a lot of us are afflicted with and enjoy — great when you enjoy it for the right reasons , horrible if you’re sucked into that lifestyle without any idea of what the basis is.
I think there is a big difference between these films and pornography for the sake of pornography — which I am all for and watch copiously. In America, the quality of pornography is incredible — sorry, you probably luck out over here in the UK — the budgets are huge, the storylines are great, the themes are really outrageous, so I enjoy pornography whenever I can.
How much of your work is actually the truth about your experience, your own life?
All of it’s the truth about my own life. Depending on which day of the week you catch me on…
But is it symbolically paraphrased?
No. I deal with reality. I can’t speak about abuse that I don’t know. I can only speak about what I’ve seen, what I’ve experienced, knowing that a lot of other women have gone through it too. And men.
Pornography may not be an offensive category, but you feel that ‘poetry’ is?
It’s a very weak title… What was the last good poem you read and when was it written? The last great poets must have died about 100 years ago and I couldn’t even think of one if I had to. I think it’s an inappropriate title… I don’t like most titles.
Most of my songs are not written like poetry any way, they’re prose to begin with. I like the term ‘writer’ because it’s more ambiguous.
The people you admire tend to be writers…
Absolutely. Because the words are the most important thing with what I do, the music is there to illustrate that.
Does the sound of the words ever come before their meaning?
I’m not speaking that much gibberish… I think the meaning comes first.
Why do you think people are offended or disturbed by your work?
I think because there weren’t many other aggressive, powerful icons that were women before, so they have nothing to compare it too. So when they see me they’re a little intimidated, also the fact that I’m not smiling and kissing their asses might scare them: I’m not an entertainer, I don’t like the term ‘performer’, so I think that it’s my unrelenting lack of compromise, they might find hard to swallow. I don’t know why they’re affronted by me…. If I was a man doing this they certainly wouldn’t find anything to complain about.
What about the references to the Church Of Satan on the Shotgun Wedding album? Are you a Satanist?
I’m not a Satanist… No religion, I’m atheist. What is that song really about? Just because Alice Cooper left it out in his version, doesn’t mean I’ll leave it out in mine. Basically it is about death destruction and power, so the Church of Satan in that one specific prayer, which is quite a beautiful one considering that most of the literature is ridiculous, I just thought it was appropriate to the song… and it’s appropriate to my feelings toward the audience in the general sense, I do not condemn them, they condemn themselves.
Why do you put yourself on stage? Is it as a service or do you get a kick out of the power?
I get more power on a one to one basis, than I do on one to 400, although I often feel I out number no matter what the crowd size… I often feel that I completely out number them, because it’s one mass, one body and when it’s one body to one body, I know mine is going to be infinitely more powerful, ever ready and long lasting. Having complete faith in my power source and its regeneration.
I think more of it as a service. With Shotgun Wedding, it was different, because I know Rowland really shines in the live format and it’s a pleasure to work with him, and I would be too disappointed to just release the album and not give him the full treatment. Recording the album is one thing, playing the songs live is another, and I wanted to see how that transmuted and to continue the collaboration with Rowland. It’s the first time I’ve ever recorded an album and gone on tour. Totally against my rules before this point because I find that it’s too commercial, too easy…
But just to work with these specific people in live format and see how that goes, and see how the songs transmute from the static and staid studio situation.
What is Jim Thirwell (Clint Ruin) like as a producer?
Is he a contributor or a megalomaniac?
Absolute contributor — he’s not a megalomaniac: his way is right and he knows it. Megalomania doesn’t really come into it.
He always seems very much in control of his own projects.
Absolutely! He’s an ideal collaborator for me because usually in my collaborations I have to conceive, execute, find the people, document, see it out, birth it, shit it out… and wait for the repercussions, but with him he can take a lot more control. I can say ‘this is the concept, these are the words’ and he can create the music around that. I don’t have to birth every process.
It’s very easy to collaborate with him and also we’ve known each other for eight years and are very close and intimate friends so that’s an ideal collaboration where there’s only one other person to deal with not four musicians. It’s a lot easier to translate things that way.
My job is a lot easier when I work with him. I like to relinquish control some-times, you know, and he’s one of the few people that can take on the burden of what needs to be done to see things out… Most people are just guitar players, or bass players, or drummers, they want to do what they do and not have to burden themselves with all the details, which is extremely tiring.
A thankless job.
Is that the case with Rowland at all?
Well, Rowland should just play the guitar. No one’s asking him to baby sit the rest of the band or do any of the details. A talent such as his should be mollycoddled to do exactly what he does best. But my job is the mother of all of them and is far more exhausting.
Because I am the stubborn one that makes sure it’s gonna come out the way I want it to, that’s just a job I have to take on, no one else to… It’s part of the procedure, the creation, the execution, the documentation, although it takes up most of the energy, what comes after that is usually the head ache… the pain, fucking constipation, waiting… waiting is a very irritating past time.
I saw you over here with Harry Crews, which must have been your first gig with a band here for years…
Well, not really… seems that way.
Is there something you don’t like about the UK?
Yeah. I don’t particularly care to perform here… The press is too fickle: they like what’s trendy at the moment, not that I’m playing for the press. The audiences are quite often drunk, what else is there to do here but get drunk anyway? They’ve seen it all, the clubs aren’t all that great, whatever, not that I just want to go and play to the converted, I don’t know… I just try to avoid this country. There’s no real need for me here. I don’t like the politics of the music scene, it’s all politics, all bullshit, all ass kissing, all start a fad, it becomes a trend, it’s over next week…. I don’t really work in fads or trends, though I may have created a few unknowingly, I certainly don’t work to that format.
Also, the problem I find with the English music scene is that although there’s not much of a difference between the underground and the over ground, people are more likely in a so called ‘alternative’ vehicle to try to penetrate that, whereas in America there’s a huge difference between top 40 radio and the underground. People are not afraid to stay in the underground. Here it seems there are a lot of people trying to get over, which I think is not an integral part of creation.
I think what you have in America is such a large number of people, that however underground you are, you’ve still got the culture to support it, whereas in Britain, there are not enough people to support some cultures…
In a sense…
Do you like being thought of as a musician?
You prefer to be a ‘writer’?
Yeah… ‘musician’ is not a very respected title. I’m not a musician.
You’re a kind of all rounder…
Oh yeah, Jack of all trades, Master of none…
Who or what were the Immaculate Consumptives?
Nick Cave, Marc Almond, Mr Foetus and myself…
Will there ever be a reprise?
No-no-no! No: one time is enough for a lot of these projects. you go for it with gusto, you get it, you do it, it’s done. Why beat a dead horse? Even if it was great at the time, enough is enough. I think there were three performances and it was just a concept of mine to do these Halloween shows in New York with certain people… to see what would become of it when we were working in different formats, no bands, just songs that somehow strung together this attitude. It was an interesting project at the time.
Another band you worked with, one of my all time faves but very obscure over here, is No Trend.
Mmm… The most hated band in America.
What happened to them?
They’re over. Deceased. When I tell people I was working with No Trend, they just go ‘Oh, my God! I hate them!’, I’m like: ‘Well, that’s one vote of confidence…’ Great, anyone who’s that hated — even Sonic Youth banned them from playing with them — they can’t be all bad! Mostly it was their lyrics, I loved the No Trend lyrics… they had sent me a tape asking me if I would sing some songs and the lyrics were just so basic and so right: ‘Quick! Two seconds to non-existence, so what the fuck do you want?’ — how can you beat that, I mean the curtest lyrics I’ve ever heard, ‘Too many fucking humans, You breed like rats, And you’re no fucking better!’ — brilliant, y’know, great! So they were just a band who could not really find their niche, put out a few records, I helped them get out a record or two and then they just disappeared into obscurity, and hence forth the lead singer and main man, Jefferson Scott, went on to make a film about John Holmes life, the porn superstar, Johnny Wad — can’t vouch for it, haven’t seen it. Love ‘Johnny Wad’ though, absolute hero.
What about your visual content? Your self image, how conscious of that are you?
I’m vain. Why not, most women are, they should be. The female format is a beautiful one in which to function. Foolhardy as it may be. I change my image all the time, it’s whatever suits me at the moment… I was a long-haired, shaggy red-haired hippie before I came on tour this time. The way I look just depends on my mood, basically. The image, or personality, is propagated mainly by the press, who don’t know jack shit about me anyway… That’s why I like doing interviews, at least you have some personal contact with people — they realise you’re not a man hating, man eater and that you’re quite reasonable and sensitive underneath the scowl.
You want to be known for what you’re doing and what you are… are you worried about the glamour and sexuality of you image detracting from that?
I’m not sure about a glamorous or sexual image, but I’m not hiding my sexuality, but then again I’m not sticking my crotch in people’s faces or rubbing myself like Madonna either… I think it’s an aggressive sexuality because I’m not hiding it, but it’s not perceived or put forth in the usual fashion of a smiley hot go-go dancing chic on stage, I’m not trying to please anyone out there. I’m just being the way I am.
Some of your album covers could be considered erotic…
Why thank you… Well the Stinkfist cover because of what could better suit the music — which was to illustrate the final fuck of all eternity — other than a nude shot bathed in mud with mon amour, Mr Foetus?
As far as the Queen Of Siam re-issue cover, I wanted to do something that was based on the exotica albums of the 1950s — which were this instrumental Hollywood soundtrack that always had exotic women in bizarre floral locations on the covers. That’s what that was based on, but again, with Queen of Siam or Stinkfist, you’re not seeing anything except for naked arms, torso, and thighs. Yet because of my attitude, people immediately find it so obscene when you don’t even see nipples, don’t see fur, you’re not really seeing anything… What’s a little butt cleavage?
I think it’s because my attitude is so aggressive that people find it more obscene than if I was doing a full open thriving beaver shot, with a smile on my face. I think if it was just a close up of my face on Stinkfist, people would still be perturbed, those who are going to be perturbed…
You just mentioned Madonna — what do you think of her?
I wish she’d get a better band! I like her outfits. I think she’s playing a good trick on everyone. Anyone who makes $60 million a year I’m not gonna argue with, I just think that the music seems secondary to the image. She’s a conceptualist in that way too, but I don’t really have much of a comment on her. She does what she can.
She is a charitable character to a lot of organisations, she is conscientious, she’s a business woman, she is in control. It’s just unfortunate the music suffers, ‘cos it’s fucking shit, pop pulp pap, crap! But she’s very good at what she does. Also she is really in a field of her own. I consider myself the anti-Madonna! There you go — I wish she’d collaborate some of her $60 million a year in my direction. But I’m not gonna force the issue!
I think we could be quite good friends if we knew each other… Because I don’t think she takes any shit either. However, I think she likes her ass kissed a lot more than I like my ass kissed. I really don’t like people kissing my ass — it annoys me. I’m not out there looking for that, and I think that she can’t live without it. Can’t live without the camera, without hundreds and thousands of people kissing her ass. That would be the most repugnant thing I could think of — people hounding after me… especially 12 year old girls. God forbid.
I only have interest in being true to the way I feel. And to the way other people feel .
Who do you admire?
Hubert Selby Jnr, Henry Miller, the Maquis De Sade — who I think is the greatest philosopher of the last 400 years. Juan Goytisolo — a Spanish writer — is one of my absolute favourites — Serpent’s Tail puts him out. I enjoy a bit of pulp detective fiction too like James Ellroy, James Lee Burke — from Louisianna, Seth Morgan’s Homeboy, Anais Nin…
Most of those were male writers. Not even mentioning Harry Crews…
Yeah, because they’re dealing with reality… the harshness of reality, OK. The problem I have with Anais Nin is that it’s just not real enough. Not harsh enough. It’s very dreamy, very beautiful and erotic, but it doesn’t really get down to the nitty gritty and that’s what I need in writing. I wanna read it as non-fiction. These people like Henry Miller and Hubert Selby — they may be fictionalising the examples, but they’re dealing with real situations. That’s what I really need — I’m not that big a fan of fiction.
What film-makers do you like?
Polanski would be my favourite until his last two films. Odd films like In A Glass Cage, the Spanish film that won a lot of awards, Santa Sangre, I like the Peter Greenaway films because they’re so fascicle and so huge. Giant films, annoyingly British but so massive, and the massiveness and the glamour and beauty of them are just undeniable. I love a film called Possession with Isabelle Adjani who’s sexually possessed by this being, which is basically her own urges…
Is that a recent one?
It’s old, I tried to get that one for the Scala, but it’s hard to obtain a print — it is on video though, here.
Any musicians you admire?
I like The Unsane and Cop Shoot Cop from New York, on Matador records in the States. Not that I don’t pay attention to what goes on, but it’s been a long time since I heard anything that really sounded new to me. I like Die Haut from Germany, and Matador — an all girl group. I like John Zorn, I’d like to work with John Zorn — I think I might in the future. I like Diamanda (Galas). But it’s few — you don’t hear anyone doing anything really new that you haven’t heard before. That’s a priority in music for me.
Basically I listen to Ligeti, Penderecki, Stockhausen… instrumental music in my spare time.
2001was an influential movie then?
I just prefer instrumental. I don’t need to hear what other people are singing. And if I need music as a backdrop to work or to think, I need to have that part of the brain clear — I don’t need people feeding their fantasies into my vision.
What has been the most asked question?
They’ve all been pretty unique…
You chose to live in New Orleans for a while… Why?
There’s no alternative music scene there. It’s very hot and humid and lush, and lurid, thick, sweaty. A very false sense of quiet and calm, relaxed slow paced lugubrious, lengthy long days. It’s architecturally divine. It smells fantastic. It’s cheap. I didn’t know anyone there… All good reasons to go.
You’re usually thought of as very New York.
Yeah, they forget I lived in London for two years — as I would like to also — and they forget I lived in Los Angeles, and I’ve travelled extensively, it’s not like I feel that any one place is my home. I don’t feel like a New Yorker, even though I could probably be the epitome of the ultimate New Yorker… I feel it’s important to move around.
New Orleans has a very violent reputation over here (in the UK)…
Absolutely violent. It’s the fifth highest crime rate in America for murder, rape and burglary. But it doesn’t have that appearance. In New York you see this every day, but in New Orleans you never see it, you just know it’s there waiting to happen. It’s very integrated, but the violence happens in the most segregated areas.
It’s very South…
Bible belt… Very conservative. Louisianna is one of the most conservative states in the nation — the worst politics, most corruption, strictest abortion rules. It’s a fascinating dichotomy there because it seems so placid and enjoyably luxurious on the surface, but you know all this stuff is boiling under the belly. You can lead a very laid back lifestyle, but you know that at any time you’re bound to be curtailed by the legislature.
But that doesn’t really affect my life as an artist — I’m living outside the law anyway. But it has the worst education in America, 50th in position of education! In spite of two of the best universities in the Country being there. It’s a very contradictory place.
That contradiction drew me to it. It was one of the first places where people cross dressed, it has a very large gay population — it has a very liberal overtone in spite of all the corruption and bullshit.
The videos and films you made — what sort of exposure did they get in America? We can’t get hold of them over here except by mail order.
Well, they were kept pretty much under wraps though they did play in a lot of cinema festivals and we showed them where we could — Foetus, Richard Kern and I used to do tours together but we like to keep them pretty much underground. That’s what they are, they aren’t feature films they’re small art films, basically.
Film and video are almost by definition a mass media –
– Until you get to my back yard.
They played in a lot of festivals — in Europe too — it’s not as if we kept them under wraps. It’s right time right place… I think the right place for them to be viewed is privately in people’s houses, but I’m not going to deliver them door to door… Sorry pals.
What are your views on the subject of censorship?
Well it doesn’t affect me personally, although it has affected a lot of people that I have either worked with or have knowledge of. As for as I’m concerned they haven’t really latched onto what I’m doing either because they think I’m too underground or I’m just a single woman screaming into the void how dangerous can it be.
Of course they don’t know what the fuck I’m saying, but that’s the problem with censorship! Most of the things these people like Jessie Helms or the Bush administration want censored are things they are not exposed to. They don’t know what the fuck Maplethorpe did, they don’t know what the fuck Andre Serrano did, or Karen Finlay. They only know that it’s a threat…
So not really functioning in the art circles, and being only as underground as I am, they haven’t really picked on me yet. Let’s hope it stays that way… Although I would go with them tongue to tongue on any kind of debate no problem, absolutely no problem! I’m just glad I haven’t been involved in it. I mean why the Dead Kennedys had so much controversy with art they didn’t even create only propagate, was that the name was the Dead Kennedys and that, right there, was a slap in the American Government’s face.
I mean with a name like Lydia Lunch they probably just think I’m a porno star anyway so they probably just leave it out.
OK, can you do my work for me now, take control with one last statement to draw a conclusion to our conversation?
No …I just think that it’s important for people to know that they should seek out the things that aren’t readily available and they shouldn’t settle for what’s shoved down their throat and there are various formats of artistic creation and documentation in all forms — music film literature — that are going to speak to them that are going to speak the abused and the victims and people who can’t take it anymore and they should seek that out as a form of relief because that is what people like myself are offering: an oasis from all the other forms of abuse that’re pounding in — even if it’s only that we articulate that frustration. And there are other people like myself…
Thank you Lydia Lunch!
Lydia Lunch was talking to Remy Dean
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