**All Photos by Richard Kern, Collage by Lydia Lunch
I have written about a few modern prophetesses this year, and Lydia Lunch falls within that broad category. She will provocatively call to the front of our consciousness the impact of our collective violences, those both monstrous and petty. It’s not pretty at times, but it is true. LL has had a prolific career as an artist. The emphasis is given here in that little, if any of her work reeks of the stench of compromise, or the machinations of any market driven scheme. This has not created an easy life in a material sense, but has created one that is able to rest within a world-friendly consciousness, a pattern of forward movement, and ultimately kindness and grace.
I could give the history, the full resume, as it were, but it would take as much time as the interview. An essential player in the No Wave movement of the early 80’s, she has been a profound influence on a generation of multi-genre performance artists, her output spanning the worlds of film, spoken word, music, memoir. From Teenage Jesus and the Jerks to her recent project Big Sexy Noise, and current film projects, she continues to infuse the world with her immovable, beautiful, astringent, and urgent refusal to compromise.
PH Lydia, I’d like you to “tell the tale” if you will. What were the environmental, geographic, spiritual, and familial circumstances that led to the development of your artistic and aesthetic perspectives and output? I mean were you raised in the woods with nihilist hippies or in a convent with fascist nuns or something? Do tell.
LL I was raised in Upstate New York supping on a toxic stew of environmental pollutants thanks to Kodak, Xerox and the Hooker Chemical Company which contaminated Niagara Falls and the surrounding townships. Born to a small time card shark who grifted through a series of door to door (starting with bibles) sales jobs and a long suffering Sicilian psychic, I grew up on the wrong side of the tracks and have not managed to find a way over the other side yet. By the time puberty hit, Glam broke, and after feasting on a diet of Cream, Rock Scene, and Circus magazines, The Midnight Special & Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert on weekend TV, as well as scamping my way in to almost every concert that came to town, it was obvious the direction I was about to take. I blame The New York Dolls for inspiring me to sneak out my basement window, jump a greyhound bus and hitting NYC for the first time at 14. Although literature truly saved me from committing more crimes against humanity than I have already admitted to (Miller, Selby, Genet, deSade) music made me run out into the night screaming and I haven’t shut up since.
PH One of my interests now is the issue of power and the fungible exchange. Flesh for money, or control, or relationship. This exchange plays itself out in porn, prostitution, pro sports, marriage…what are your views on why we trade flesh for goods, money, or power?
LL I can understand why women trade flesh for money, power, control, what I DON’T GET IS WHY MEN ARE STILL STUPID ENOUGH TO FALL FOR IT. Ever since it was invented Pussy has been treated as a magic elixir, a voodoo that some men just can’t seem to resist or get enough of. The hyper-sexualization and commoditization of women in all forms of media, culture and music has NOT BEEN TURNED ON IT’S HEAD by middle aged pop porn princesses running around in lame aerobics costumes playing brain dead disco as they sell mega-units for mega-corporate record company pimps. More useless entertainment which tells us nothing and only serves as a distraction from the real issue…..ahhh…I forgot the original question….
PH You have been very busy as of late, your collaborations with Gallon Drunk (Big Sexy Noise), and Philippe Petit, a re-release of Queen of Siam, a film score, film narration …Please talk about the genesis of these projects, why they have appealed to you, and your working method that allows you to juggle so much intense work at one time.
LL I have been working with Terry Edwards & Ian White of Gallon Drunk for more than a decade in a variety of different live ‘illustrated word’ projects. (Text based performance accompanied by music and sometimes visuals) Occasionally inviting James Johnston into the mix. Gallon Drunk invited me to a duet. I thought they meant duel. Big Sexy Noise was formed. A relief from 3 decades of political ranting and apocalyptic nay saying as the No Wave Nostradamus. All my predictions have come all too obviously true. Especially MOTHER NATURE GETTING PRETTY PISSED OFF AT THE MADMEN WHO HAVE BEEN RAPING AND PILLAGING…although truth be told, global warming and weather manipulation ala HAARP is no doubt to blame as well. It was just time to fricking RAWK. And so Big Sexy Noise does… Collaboration fuels my existence; it takes me out of that dark dirty cubby that writers are prone to lock themselves in. And Percy, you called it…I always refer to myself as a ‘juggler’…just what I do. When I’m not deep in ‘creating’… I’m the laziest bitch in the cathouse. Trust me, I love to loaf.
PH Way before Chloe Sevigny and The Brown Bunny you performed as a character in a film, an actual artistic film, in which the character was having (non-simulated) sex. Back to the issue of the fungible exchange. What was the value of this experience over time? What were the parallel processes that Lydia Lunch was encountering in lockstep with the character, if there were any?
LL The films I did with Richard Kern were an experiment in public psychotherapy, an attempt to deal with my own obsessive desires. A need to express a specific type of psychosexual behavior that I felt hadn’t been addressed thoroughly enough. What’s most interesting to me is the different ways these films have impacted people, or the different reactions they have elicited.
PH In Will Work for Drugs you detail a life that has been a constant balancing on a razor’s edge of danger. A life begun in the dark tunnel of the womb that has seemed to only take occasional forays into the sunlight…. Have these experiences been resonant of somewhat constant despairing for you, or fuel, fuel to give you impetus to regurgitate stark reality or… am I full of shit and barking up the wrong tree?
LL I focus on intense emotions, situations, experiences that may appear negative, but that my stamina and stubbornness do not only survive but blossom is the root of why I continue to exist. If extremes of passion, love, desire, and genius often wound with their inability to contain a primal violence and an insane urgency (resulting in a temporary agony), I will go to the mat again and again.
Pain always subsides, but wisdom, love, intensity, and genius feed the soul. And the soul is a hungry motherfucker. In my day-to-day reality, at this point at least, the demons are kept at bay. I’m incredibly steady, patient, encouraging, supportive, and funny. But who the hell wants to hear about that shit?
PH You have been long thought of in some circles as a sort of Queen of Punk…I’ve never quite seen you that way. I don’t see your work as any more punk that I would that of Rimbaud, or Baudelaire, or Andre Gide. Punk has always struck me as reactionary fashion and what you have created and how you have lived seems more psycho-emotionally expressive and well, dangerous, for lack of a better word. What are your thoughts on this?
LL I AIN’T NO PUNK YOU PUNK. Never played punk rock. Never dressed punk rock. No Wave all the way. I view myself as more DADA, a surrealist, a situationist even, or just straight up CONFRONTATIONAL. A CLASSIC IN OTHER WORDS. hahahah
PH How do you receive love in this world Lydia? Who do you love, how and why?
LL A Beautiful question. My loves are long and many. Even though my nomadic nature insists that I relocate every few years, my dearest friends have been such for decades. And I keep in touch with them. Traveling allows me to connect with people I care most about, as well as allowing me to meet new people all the time. I give a lot of love so Darling, I GET A LOT BACK. I’m loving you right now!
PH You have long operated deep within the confines of DIY when it has come to promoting and selling your work. The music, publishing, and to a lesser degree film industries are in complete decline. The internet has not proved to be the environment of salvation for artists that it was promised to be. How does an artist that wants to make a living as an artist move ahead in this environment?
LL The only way I can manage is to live in Europe which supports and understands the ‘artist’ as an ‘artist’ and not a mere commodity. Between spoken word shows, solo multimedia performances, festivals, rock concerts and all my releases, it’s still a struggle and I’m still poor. But I didn’t start creating thinking it was going to be a moneymaking venture. I do it because if I didn’t the world would be even LESS SAFE. And I would be even LESS SANE.
LL Unmitigated ambition. A pillaging and plundering of every last cultural icon. Pop Pornography as spectacle. Robotic hypnosis. Immense amounts of money spent to make immense amounts of more money. The most insulting aspect of Gaga, Beyonce, Kylie Minogue, Madonna…is the fraud under the extreme exhibitionism. They’re all selling SEX (showing us everything, telling us NOTHING) but none of them are having much of it. At least Gaga admits she’s celibate. It’s still ridiculous and creepy. Fuck Lady Gaga. I’m coming out as LADY GAZA, Bitch.
PH I am interested in your definition of the word obscenity. I think that it has been misappropriated, and there are some potentially good uses for the term that some dilemmas of the present age present, like describing the motivations and actions of the players behind the universal economic meltdown.
LL THE REAL OBSCENITY is the war whoring, greed and incomprehensible disregard for human suffering that The Amerikkkan Corporatocracy in their race for a NEW WORLD ORDER is perpetrating against the entire prison planet.
PH Who are some present artists (writers, filmmakers, musicians) who you consider to be making vital, timely, and significant work, who are in short, contributing to a more meaningful understanding of the human condition?
LL Music : Bryan Lewis Saunders (the finest stand-up tragedy performance artists out there) Sage Francis, Carla Bozulich, JG Thirlwell, Sandy Dillon, Oxbow, Scarface, Eminem, Ice Cube
Writers : Charlie Smith (Three Delays, Chimney Rock), Craig Clevenger (Dermaphoria, The Contortionist’s Handbook), Virginie Despentes (Baise Moi, King Kong Theory)Jeremy Rifkin (Entropy, The Age of Access, The Biotech Century) Naomi Klein (Shock Doctrine, No Logo) John Perkins (Confessions of an Economic Hitman), Mike Davis (EVERYTHING), Jerry Stahl (Permanent Midnight, I, Fatty)
Films: Intacto by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, 21 Grams & Babel written by Guillermo Arriaga, directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, The Devil’s Backbone Guillermo Del Toro, In A Glass Cage, Augusti Villaronga
PH Do you have what some might consider a spiritual practice? What sustains your soul, replenishes your motivation, keeps the blinds open in the room of your heart?
LL Meditation, spending a lot of time alone in silence, unplugging fully, living in Barcelona, boxing, random acts of kindness, a cat’s smile, the smell of calla lilies, the irrepressible urge some people have to hug me and a sense of duty, a calling, that somehow what I have been trying to express for 33 years is rooted in an ancient, universal plea for, if not justice, at least to give voice to the screams of our collective refusal to go quietly into the gaping grave of man’s violence, ignorance, greed and domination.