By Carolina Enriquez Swan
There is a small closet in Lydia Lunch’s top-floor Park Slope apartment that, with its hanging light, reminds the spoken-word pioneer of Stephen King’s Carrie. She laments that there is unfortunately no creepy crucifix to complete the scene. Despite the closet, her wooden carved bat, and little skulls on a shelf, the artist’s home, which she shares with musical cohort and roommate Weasel Walter, is open, beautiful, and comfortable.
Best known for her work in the ’70s No Wave scene and for her noise rock with acts like Teenage Jesus and the Jerks and current project Retrovirus, Lydia Lunch is truly a Jane of all trades. Her strong words and raw sexual prowess remain iconic and groundbreaking.
Lunch is currently the focus of a new documentary film, Beth B.’s Lydia Lunch: The War Is Never Over. The two women have been collaborating for almost 38 years. B. has featured Lunch many times in her independent art film endeavors. When B. suggested working on this documentary, a retrospective of past achievements, Lunch finally became interested in a project she had rejected in the past.
For the film, Lunch will focus on curating the right musicians to interview to help tell her story. She brought many artists to her medium. She got actor Vincent Gallo to perform spoken word—the only time in his life—and showed musician Nick Cave the format. Lunch considers herself a “cattle prodder” for corralling various artists into projects. “To me,” she says, “that’s what is important in my life. Not just ‘look what I’ve done.’ Forget it! One documentary isn’t going to cover it (laughs). But [the work of] the people that have been important to me that are also in multidisciplines. Not just musicians, of course. Thurston Moore will be in it. Donita Sparks will have to be in it. I want to mainly talk about both my stubborn resistance, complete independent artistry, constantly political, and constantly musical schizophrenia, and the people that have come into my life. So it’s not just about me.”
The title of the film, The War Is Never Over, has been close to Lunch’s heart for many years. She feels strongly that the slogan “has been my fucking battle cry since, I don’t know, Ronald Reagan. It just seems like it’s my mantra. You know I started talking about the war, which I think there is only one war. It’s like a virus that goes around the fucking world. Based on man’s stupidity and greed.” Donald Trump’s presidency set the stage for this project, making it significantly relevant. Timing is necessary for the documentary to make total sense. Lunch feels passionate that this is not the time to lie down in the face of the current, conservative administration but instead to put up a fight in true Lydia Lunch fashion.
Lunch, though, does not consider herself a feminist. “I consider myself a lot worse than that. It’s just too generic a term. It just doesn’t mean anything. They are too many breeds and brands of it. I mean, I consider myself a vocal champion of individual rights, freedom of fucking liberty. I don’t put myself in any category.” Lunch prefers the term “feminazi” to feminist. She doesn’t hate men, she explains; her distaste is specifically for the “men in power.”
To raise funds for the documentary, there was a spoken word and music event at the Slipper Room in the Lower East Side of Manhattan starring Lunch herself, along with writer and fashion designer Zoe Hansen and musical guest Birdthrower. All proceeds from the show, like a recent Kickstarter campaign, went to fund the documentary. The evening opened with Hansen reading from Lunch’s novel Paradoxia: A Predator’s Diary. The passage explicitly describes a sexual evening involving a fake breast versus real breast contest. In between sets, items auctioned off included a highly desirable flag with the alluring faces of Nick Cave and Lydia Lunch. When Lunch finally took the stage, censorship be damned, she blew the place away. Director Beth B. was also in attendance assisting with the auction. The evening raised over $5,000.
And even with all her projects, Lunch still managed to produce Philadelphia noise rock, punk band Pissed Jeans’ fifth album, Why Love Now. Frontman Matt Korvette approached Lunch to produce the album. She says they harken “back to a sound like Jesus Lizard and Butthole Surfers. Hard, raunchy rock that is fat free. That is excellent for me. Love that kinda rock.”
Their lyricism also intrigued Lunch. She was drawn to Pissed Jeans’ older songs, specifically, “It’s Your Knees.” “Because it’s twisted in the reverse to what women do to themselves,” she says, “‘I’m too fat,’ ‘My ankles are too fat.’ It’s a song about a guy finding a chick on the Internet, and she’s perfect except for her knees. They’re not as perfect as he is, so he can’t see her. Men are not like that for the most part. Men take the whole package. It’s women who pick on themselves more. Women are far more critical [of themselves].”
She continues, “For women that have sex with men, the bar is low. [With] men, there’s a lot of fault there. Women, we try hard. We basically look pretty good. We are looking good, gals! Obviously, I have my own beauty standard. I will never lose ten pounds, thank you very much. I will always be voluptuous. I think it’s my duty to represent.”
When she isn’t producing albums and working on the documentary, Lunch is usually at the art gallery and nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the arts, Howl Happening, in the East Village. All of Lunch’s archives are owned by the gallery, and the owners of the space are looking to expand into a museum. You can catch her there belting out her empowering growls at full volume. When it comes to performing, Lunch enjoys these smaller venues. She will most likely be returning to the Slipper Room, as well. According to her, “I like an intimate performance space. I like to be able to look into people’s eyes.”
And even with all of Lunch’s projects in the works, she still makes time for her band Retrovirus. She assembled the group after doing an introduction for a DIY T-shirt book, Ripped: T-shirts from the Underground by Cesar Padilla. She was asked to do a performance when the book was released. Since her other band, Big Sexy Noise, was unable to make it over from the UK in time, she assembled Retrovirus. She knew who to call first: Bob Bert of Sonic Youth and Pussy Galore. Lunch says, “Bob has been there since the beginning. So, I called him, and then I called Algis Kizys (Swans) before Tim Dahl (Child Abuse) and Weasel Walter (the Flying Luttenbachers, Cellular Chaos) volunteered for it. I had a list of 15 guitar players, but I knew none were appropriate.” Retrovirus allows her music to be heard by a new fan base alongside longtime fans.
This year, the band will expand from its usual summer tours in Europe and scattered New York shows to hit the Northeast and Midwest, including Boston, Rochester, Toronto, Chicago, Detroit, and ending in Minneapolis. It’s there that Retrovirus will play Amphetamine Reptile Records’ Bash 17 on July 22. Iconic ’90s rock band the Melvins will be starting off the show per tradition followed by Mudhoney, Cherubs, Whores, and Blind Shake. Retrovirus will wrap up the tour in its hometown at a July 28 show at Brooklyn Bazaar.
Most of the time, Lunch has worked with European labels. Her music and spoken word have gained popularity there, and she herself lived in Barcelona for many years. Lunch returned to the States and specifically to New York, because she felt New York needed her. And the truth is New York does need her. New York needs the artists to return and continue the fire that it’s historically famous for. The documentary is only the beginning of many new projects for Lunch. It’s not certain she’s here to stay, but for now, the artist continues to inspire other women to do what they are passionate about and to learn to love themselves.
This article was featured in the Nepotism issue of Tom Tom. Purchase it online.