Tuesday, 21 January 2014

She's In A Bad Mood: My 1999 Flipside Interview with Lydia Lunch

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/ Two of photographer Johnny Volcano's portraits of Lunch taken backstage at The Garage in London in 1999, the day I interviewed her for Flipside. (She did a blistering show at the venue later that night). These are the only two shots I have from the session and I've accidentally scanned them small! If I get the opportunity to scan them bigger, I'll re-insert them here /

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Consider this a sequel to my earlier post Queen of the Damned: The Wit and Wisdom of High Priestess of Punk Lydia Lunch. That was my 1993 MAXIMUMROCKNROLL interview with the volcanic avant-garde-ian angel and punk poetess.  In 1999 I interviewed Lunch in London again, this time for the Los Angeles punk zine Flipside. (In those days I regularly contributed to both MRR and Flipside. Yes, I have punk credibility coming out of my ass! Considering Flipside folded in 2000, this would have appeared in one of its last issues). Note: later in the interview when Lunch and I discuss the jazz-influenced music she was then making with musician Terry Edwards, it later surfaced on the 2004 album Smoke in the Shadows.

Toxic beauty Lydia Lunch is the high priestess of punk with the fierce curves and even fiercer mouth. Call her a singer, actress, performance artist or poetess (Lunch herself prefers the multi-purpose “confrontationalist”), she’s the scowling face and lacerating voice of the underground. Whatever the medium, everything Lunch does is characterized by scalding intelligence, a volatile worldview and a compulsion for confession, articulating her own alienation in order to better understand it. It’s an interesting time to hook up again with Lunch. Now 40, by her own reckoning she’s at the mid-point of her career. Recent work has seen the earlier distraught wails and anguished thrashings tempered into something more soulful and reflective. The first 22 years of her musical outpourings, from teenage scream queen to present day, are documented in the new two CD retrospective compilation Widowspeak, while her two latest missives are major statements from a mature artist. The deeply alluring Matrikamantra CD sounds like tales from the crypt or telegrams from hell, with Lunch exhaling bleak poetry, frequently in a near whisper, over an eerie film noir haunted house soundtrack. Her book Paradoxia: A Predator’s Diary is memoir as raw wound. Fleeing to New York at 15 to escape her father’s sexual abuse, the book depicts how delinquent lost girl Lunch survived by hustling (casual drug dealing, shoplifting, occasional prostitution, stripping) while overdosing on anonymous sex and increasingly violent relationships with a series of psychopathic boyfriends. Lunch did more than just survive her desperate living – she absorbed everything and emerged tough, wise and serene. “Feel free to pry,” she challenged, wreathing herself in cigarette smoke. I took her at her word.

“In every work of art the composer is trying to figure out why he did what he did and what were the injuries that betrayed him. Always it returns to sexual experience.” – Louise Brooks

Graham Russell: Why didn't you wait until you were 65 to write your autobiography? There’s a lot of chapters still to come.

Lydia Lunch: Well, midway point. That’s like asking why do you make any record when you do. It’s a statement, a historical document of where I am at the moment. I had finally the time and the insight to document that. And for the incredible lack of feminine aggressive sexual voices – it screamed out for that void to be filled. I also look at it almost as a bookend  to the films (Right Side of My Brain (1984) and Fingered (1986), the two notorious neo-porn films she made with director Richard Kern. Paradoxia puts them firmly into context as autobiographical). It’s not like a midpoint to my career, Paradoxia, but a bookend to the documentation of certain obsessions.

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/ Lunch in the Richard Kern film Right Side of My Brain (1984) /

GR: Are we meant to regard Paradoxia as your autobiography?

LL: No, and I don’t consider it a novel. I just consider it memoirs in the sense that I consider Henry Miller memoirs.

GR: It really reveals how your life bleeds into your art. They’re inseparable.

LL: I don’t speak about the art in the book, I speak about the obsessions that drove my life, which then caused the documentation and creation to come forth. Leaving all that out was urgent because I don’t want to write a rock autobiography. (Spits the words “rock autobiography” with scathing contempt). I’m not fucking interested. That’s left to people like you, to document what I've done. But to get to the bottom line, to really deal with the issue, like I have done for two decades now, of my father, but in a new perspective. From where I could understand the benefits he imbued in me. A lot of the personality traits that are so intrinsically me are my father. So love or loathe the bastard, he had to be put into a perspective that wasn't just a tirade against him but to really start to understand how much influence he’s had on me. Eventually, intellectually I've had to curtail his influence without becoming a raving lunatic. Some would argue otherwise. I also do have a deep understanding of what drives addictive personalities, what drives the sexually insane. It’s a lot of what I've concentrated my work on. But ultimately the book is about what led up to the eventual healing of all that, to a calmer state, to not any longer be a victim of your desires or influences. That’s a very important state to arrive at.  Then you’re in control of the driving, you’re not just being driven. Obviously I had to arrive at that state long before I could write the book. And then I had to go back and view important incidences almost like a picture postcard memory the back of which needed to be filled in, to recollect exactly what kind of impact that relationship had on my life.

GR: You told me years ago you were intending to write a book called My Father’s Daughter. Is Paradoxia what that evolved into?

LL: Exactly. And the line “my father’s daughter” is even in there. I think also there is a humongous void in literature: it’s always men we accuse of being predatory, but women are very predatory. It’s just they do it in much more subtle ways. I had no subtlety in my predation whatsoever. I was ferocious. Part of that was my own sexual rebellion, revolting against what women are supposed to be like. My sexuality was always very masculine. It was very macho.

GR: What about your mother? You've said she forced religious delusions on you.

LL: My mother was very psychic. She was kind of a Catholic mystic. It’s interesting you mention her, just because of her sex. That’s the next line of attack. I've spent so many decades describing the male condition and the ills that species has fostered upon us and now it’s time to take upon women and the problem with what they propagate. That’s a very important issue for me to start dealing with. Tonight in one of the songs I’ll be doing I say that although no woman has ever started a world war they've never ended one either. Although it’s women and children first – first to be raped and exiled and sacrificed and widowed and refugeed – we can no longer afford to be passive victims. We can’t allow the world to continue on this patriarchal down-slide. We’re a bigger percentage of the population and we shouldn't be forced to withstand this abuse any longer. There’s plenty of things we need to iron out about what’s wrong with women according to the Lydian method. I've spent two decades now picking on what’s wrong with God the father, God the fucker, the father of my country and my own father specifically. My mother like so many mothers was a facilitator and that is part of abuse. Mothers tolerate what happens within the family often and that’s part of the ongoing cycle of familial abuse. My mother wasn't the guilty party but I didn't allow her to be guilt-free, either. There’s no way you cannot know what’s happening within the family. What I've gained from her – since I've documented quite accurately what I gained from my father – is she had an incredible amount of patience and tolerance and so do I. I've worked with infants my whole adult life – I work with musicians! That’s what she imbued me with and that’s what truly kept me sane.

GR: Your mother was Italian. You inherited her Italian looks.

LL: I do look frighteningly like my mother. It’s scary. (Lunch has joked about her heritage "The surname  (Koch) is German. The nose is Sicilian").

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/ Lunch on the cover of the zine Forced Exposure (1986). The photo is almost certainly by Richard Kern /

GR: In both the book and the song “Escape”, you eloquently spell out the motivation for your work: the cathartic quality of confession. (On “Escape” Lunch hisses “My sanity insists upon expulsion. Purgation. Insists I wring from every cell the poisonous thoughts, polluted deeds, malicious intentions, that would, if not puked forth, riddle me with disease. With sickness. With death. My incredible well-being is a testament to the curative of confession, the healing power of the words. And if it makes you sick … so much the better.”). Part of the release is making it public, otherwise you’d leave it in private diaries or journals.

GR: The only reason I began in the first place was because I knew my trauma was not so fucking personal or individual or unique, which is what a lot of artists suffer from. They feel their pain is so incredibly unique. Pain is pain – hello! The issues I've tended to focus on are very universal themes and there is a void that speaks directly to these problems. It started as primal therapy and it ends as a social duty. That’s one of the reasons I feel the need to continue to release in a public format. I don’t see my cultural influence. I don’t see other people adopting the formats, so even if it’s just to five people a night out of a hundred, five hundred or a thousand, that you know you’re speaking directly to, there is a real urgency. When these people come up to you and you know how much it matters to them you’re saying what you’re saying. Without being too femocentric, it’s a feminine social duty just because of the void in female music. There’s so few aggressive female icons and even fewer aggressive articulate female icons dealing with any important issues. There’s Diamanda Galas, Karen Finley, Wanda Coleman, Exene Cervenka – the same fucking people there’s always been. And in place of them there’s no one. Or in place of them we don’t know who the other women who might be creating because the people who get the concentrated attention in any format has gotten smaller and smaller based on fucking kick-back. That’s why thank God magazines like Flipside still do fucking exist. Because I doubt the corporate sponsors who buy the ads are getting in. Unlike Rolling Stone or Spin where you pay to be featured. Hence why I've had one review in Rolling Stone by fucking Lester Bangs. That’s the last time Rolling Stone has ever mentioned my name. In Europe they have a different cultural concept of my place in history. In America I’m the footnote in everyone else’s career. Turn to Rolling Stone’s Women in Rock (book), other than Patti Smith I’ll have more footnotes than anyone else. And I’ll have the shortest chapter.

GR: But you also never aspired to that kind of stardom or acceptance. Not even in terms of other women, but Henry Rollins and Nick Cave are your peers and started at the same time and they’re accepted on an establishment level in a way you’re not.

LL: Part of it is the male-female divide. Historically it’s just a gender issue. Take the Surrealists, the Dadaists, the Situationists, take rock’n’roll, take movies. Also I’m just more intense than they are. And I also diversify more. It’s not like I’m promoting one album or one book like Rollins over and over again, with very little diversity within that. Or Nick Cave who’s just become a balladeer, which is the ultimate perversion. How he gets Goth teenagers to buy these saccharine ballads is bizarre! It’s wonderful. No one can get a handle on what it is I do. If they've heard one thing they assume that’s what my entire career sounds like. If they've heard Teenage Jesus and the Jerks they think all my records must be that. If they've heard Queen of Siam all my records must be that. Even though you might be able to recognize my voice, always the flavor is going to change even if the subject matter consistently remains the same. Which it does. Also part of that is just the rate at which I create is not fit for public consumption.

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/ Lunch in the 1986 Richard Kern neo-porn film Fingered. If you've seen it, you know what's happening just outside of the frame in this shot /

GR: Paradoxia is mostly about your relationships with men, but you’re quite selective. There’s no Rollins …

LL: Rollins was only a friend of mine. He was never a boyfriend or lover, so why should he get a chapter? He’s written his own fucking books. Again, I left out my creative side. Our relationship was based on the spoken word tours we did together. He didn't play an active part in my sexual or social reality. That was the dividing line. Other than J G Thirlwell (aka Foetus, aka Clint Ruin) there’s a big difference between the people I live with or my relationships and the people I create with. The two just don’t cross.

GR: There’s no Nick Zedd.

LL: Again, why? It was a month-long affair that’s lasted his whole lifetime. I’m his obsession, he’s not mine. He never was. (Cinema of Transgression filmmaker Zedd gives his won account of their relationship in his autobiography Totem of the Depraved. Lunch was the subject of his obsessive neo-documentary The Wild World of Lydia Lunch (1983)).

GR: There’s no Nick Cave.

LL: Then again why, too? We didn't have a romantic involvement. It if was a rock autobiography their names would've been written in blood. Theirs. Thirlwell made an interesting comment. He asked, Why is my chapter so short? I said, Consider yourself lucky, boy. We didn't have a traumatic relationship. I tend to concentrate on the driven obsessions not on the satisfying relationships.

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/ Lunch with her former boyfriend and frequent musical collaborator J G Thirlwell /

GR: There’s more drugs in the book than I expected.

LL: We did a lot of drugs in those days.

GR: But your name’s not linked with drugs like Johnny Thunders’ is or Nico’s is.

LL: Thankfully in your book, no. I have guilt by association. Everyone I've ever collaborated with has either been a junkie or an alcoholic, it appears. With a few exceptions. I've just never had an addiction and I've never done heroin that much. I did heroin twice and that was enough for me. I’m certainly not completely straight edge, but I don’t drink and I don’t do drugs. If I feel like having a drink, I’ll have one cognac, whatever. I don’t think anyone has to be straight edge unless that’s the only way you can be. I’m happy I had the opportunity to do it when I was very young and purge it from my system early  and I’m happy I experimented with everything I did. I did a lot of acid. A lot of mescaline. Tuinals. Placidols. Barbiturates. Seconals. Quaaludes. Cocaine. Jack Daniels. I loved it all! But I just didn't do it on a daily basis. I've asked a lot of my friends who’re now in Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous what’s the defining difference between you and me? It’s not that I’m not obsessive. I guess I just don’t have an addictive personality, but that’s down to my fickle nature – I’m too fickle to be involved with one drug for too long. To me doing the same drug for a long period would be like making the same record two or three times! And they don’t make the drugs that I like anymore anyway, so that solved that! They just don’t make those good barbiturates anymore. And personally if I was going to turn to drugs it would be barbiturates because I’m at such an accelerated speed. Heroin? It’s too much of a knock-out. Speed? No, I’d become totally violent. I’m not against drugs – just against them as a lifestyle.

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GR: What do you make of Prozac?

LL: And Ritalin. It’s just trying to salve the wound. But there are also a lot of people who’re physiologically and chemically damaged by the bad food their parents and parents’ parents ate. And the alcoholism and cigarette smoking and the caffeine throughout the generations. There are people who’re neurologically damaged who do need a chemical re-balance and if that’s going to make you feel better and easier for you to live, fine. I never had to go on psychoactive drugs. I never went through therapy. I think I've sorted myself out pretty good. Karen Finley was asking how I could’ve managed to never gone in therapy and I said I’m in therapy every time I’m on fucking stage, what’re you talking about woman? I've been in therapy for 22 years.

GR: I get the impression from the book you had to do a lot of things in order not to do them.

LL: I had to gluttonize ‘til I made myself sick. Of a lot of things. Alcohol included. I had to suffer alcohol poisoning before I could finally say, “this is not the drug for me.” I had to make myself sexually horrified. It wasn't just the sex that was always the issue. It had a lot more to do than just being sexually promiscuous as a rebellion against abuse. Some victims do turn to promiscuity as a way out, to redress the imbalance. To me it was an experiment with mind control. With anonymity. With power plays. Transformation. A vampirism of energy. There was a lot more behind it than just, I think I’ll get fucked tonight. Which is also good every now and then. Sometimes you just want a good, dirty fuck, face it. But there was a lot more behind it than that.

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/ Portrait of Lunch from the back cover of her 1982 album 13.13: a panicked, claustrophobic masterpiece /

GR: I love the idea that it was your English teacher when you were 15 who encouraged you to quit school.

LL: Beautiful. She was great.

GR: The idea of you as self-educated and self-created. And you needed to read writers like Henry Miller and Hubert Selby and de Sade in order to understand your own life and they wouldn't have been on the high school curriculum, anyway.

LL: Exactly. I've always managed within the chaos of my life to read an incredible amount. That’s my main activity, reading or creating. There’s a lot of time in the day to read when you’re not busy entertaining yourself with other peoples’ imaginations. Which I’m not.

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/ Pout-y portrait of Lunch from the wonderful book We're Desperate: The Punk Rock Photography of Jim Jocoy, which grungily documents the early San Francisco and Los Angeles punk subcultures between 1978 and 1980 /

GR: When you ran away to New York in the early 1970s you arrived in time for the whole Max’s Kansas City punk explosion. You've said that it was the New York Dolls in particular who lured you. What was their attraction?

LL: They weren't perfectionists. Their music was so rough. Their costumes. The whole gender issue. While still utilizing tradition, there was a huge break with tradition. Their calamity. The chaos. It was just the time, really. It was very exciting.

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GR: While you liked the Dolls and The Ramones and Patti Smith, when you formed Teenage Jesus and The Jerks you had to rebel against what they represented.

LL: I had to rebel against the traditionalism that inspired me. They were far too traditional. I still feel Patti Smith could’ve gone a lot further out.

GR: How much of a direct influence was Patti Smith? Not musically, but the way she combined spoken word and poetry with music.

LL: There was also Nico. There was also Berlin (Lou Reed’s 1973 album) – probably that album was far more influential to me than any single recording. David Bowie. The fact that he was a conceptualist was very inspirational. More so than his music, just that he continued to re-permutate and transform. I found the poetry of Patti Smith very inspirational when I was 13 but I also found it very rock and I was never really that big of a rock fan. Other than The Stooges. There wasn't many other women at the time you could call upon. Nico had as big an influence on me as Patti Smith. I’m a huge fan of The Marble Index, Desertshore and The End.

GR: Did you ever meet Nico before she died?

LL: No, I never did.

GR: You probably would've been disappointed.

LL: Oh of course. She was a nightmare. She was a horror. What was beautiful about Nico was that because she was so incredibly beautiful she wanted to erase the burden of beauty from herself. She did it in such a tragic way. But I can understand her feeling that her visage was just too much of a burden – you couldn't be taken seriously when you’re that beautiful. You’re an object. So she set out to destroy that. And she did.

GR: People are so dismissive of Nico, but she was like Billie Holiday or Chet Baker – no matter how screwed-up her life, she could still pull herself together and make powerful music.

LL: She made some terrible records later in her life, but who hasn't?


As well as collaborating with Cinema of Transgression auteurs like Richard Kern, Nick Zedd and Scott and Beth B, Lunch also appeared in several films by underground filmmaker Vivienne Dick. It’s a shame the films Dick and Lunch made together are so obscure – they show a different, more sensitive and reflective side to Lunch. I've seen She Had Her Gun All Ready, Beauty Becomes the Beast (both 1978) and Like Dawn to Dust (1983). At one point they were all on Youtube; they've since been yanked down. Above is Lunch’s brief, sullen appearance in Guérillère Talks (1978). Her flat-voiced delivery reminds me of doomed Warhol Superstar Andrea Feldman. Read more about Lunch and Dick's work together here /

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GR: What do you want to do next musically? What’s the music you hear in your head?

LL: On the Widowspeak compilation there’s a track called “Four Cornered Room” which I used a War sample to and I think I’d like to do something not funk or groove-based – certainly I’m not going to do a funk record or a dance record or R&B. But I’d like to do something that’s more of a marriage between Eartha Kitt and Patti Waters. I’m going in a more jazz direction. The circle is coming complete: we’re doing a song from Queen of Siam (the song was “Knives in The Drain”. Queen of Siam, her 1980 album of charred big band torch songs and stark poetry, remains one of Lunch’s definitive statements). Something that marries a kind of psycho-ambiance with elements that have a very heavy deep groove that’s not danceable and that propels the words. Not rap, but word-based and very minimal. That’s the marriage I’ll go for next. In the live set we’re going in that direction. The first song we’re doing tonight, “Gone City”, which hasn't been recorded, is a vibe I’d like to go in. (The general feel was harsh, dissonant jazz. For the gig Lunch was backed by Ian White on percussion and ex-Gallon Drunk sideman Terry Edwards on honking, squawking saxophone. Lunch’s cat-scratch voice is always ideally partnered with sleazy horns).

GR: Your stuff is so autobiographical, but where do you draw the line? How much do you think we really know you?

LL: (Pauses) Very good question. I've pretty much told it all. What more is left of my personal life to reveal? I think I've pretty much flayed myself open. I think what I don’t share is how happy I am. Not happy – how satisfied I am. How much peace there is within my life. How calm I am. I never get mad. I don’t throw tantrums. I don’t have fits. I’m rarely frustrated. I’m very open and non-judgmental. These aren't adjectives one throws at who they think I am, but that’s the way I truly am. Because I tend to concentrate on the extremes of passion and that which does not satisfy me about the world, I haven’t had the chance to write the self-help Nihilist’s Guide to the Apocalypse, which might be very life-affirming. Life-affirming? Maybe death-affirming. It would be existence-confirming. Unless you know me personally you don’t know how easy-going and generous I am. That’s what’s left out, because I don’t find there’s much room in the forms of art I care to create to share that. There’s no taboo, but the nirvana of my existence might be the only thing I leave out of the discourse. Basically I’m the most unperturbed person you’ll ever meet because I have so many vehicles to express that which truly irritates me. Part of that is narcissism. I just feel so above it all. I’m going into the sewer and investigating and reporting, but I refuse to be muddied by it all. That’s just part of my narcissism, which is what saves me.

GR: Or strength of character.

LL: Either way. Narcissism’s been given a bad rap. Narcissism, but not at the expense of anyone else. I’m lucky to have found my own place in history, created my own universe, and I’m so self-sufficient and independent. Eventually the things that drive negative desires are washed-away. I have only an ambition to do exactly what I want and create in the most honest way possible. I want for so little – basically to be left alone and continue to create at the mid-point of my career, which is where I must be at by now.

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/ Perma-scowling: portrait of Lunch by Richard Kern /

GR: What’re the consequences or repercussions of the nature of your work? Because it’s so personal and confessional [not to mention frequently sexually explicit], when you encounter people they must have certain assumptions about you.

LL: They’re always shocked that I’ll give ‘em five minutes. What I project tends to keep a lot of people away. That’s good. Never stalk the stalker.

GR: Do you attract stalkers and psychos?

LL: No because who’d be more psychotic, me or them? It’s victim psychology: predators prey on people who have a different electrical charge. They don’t prey on similar types. So no I don’t think there are any repercussions. I have incredible psychic self-defense.


/ Lunch in full rant mode in her abrasive 1989 short film The Gun is Loaded /

GR:  What do you make of the belief an artist has to be in pain in order to create? (This is after all the woman who posed for the cover of her 1984 album In Limbo holding a razor blade to her own throat).

LL: A lot of creation does stem from that wellspring. That’s what most of the greatest paintings, literature and music has come from. A frustration, an aggravation, an angst, a torture of some kind. I just don’t suffer in the typical way. The torture that has been my life was then made into my art, but I did not suffer to create my art. I don’t think I've ever had artistic frustration. It comes so naturally to me, and I’m using words. Words are free. They’re all over the place. The only struggle is to arrange them, like throwing the dice. A lot of artists feel that once they heal themselves they won’t have anything to talk about. I find that highly ridiculous. There comes a point where that’s old, it’s tired, you've suffered enough. Get on with it. Everyone has to decide for themselves how heavy the cross is they’re going to be willing to fucking bear.

GR: So at the moment you’re quite content.

LL: For quite a long time. After I left New York, really. This is almost ten years. Leaving New York was the best thing I could’ve done. Just like every time I move, it’s the best thing I could possibly do. That mobility incredibly helps. I can’t understand why people tend to live in one city for a great amount of time, especially if they’re creative. I need to feel other elements, other vibrations, certain geographical sicknesses, to be influenced by what’s come before in that place. But that’s just me. (Paradoxia keeps restlessly shifting locales from New York to Los Angeles to London to New Orleans. After a stint in Pittsburgh Lunch is currently living in Los Angeles again with her artist boyfriend).

GR: In Matrikamantra there’s a sense of despair in the songs …

LL: Or it wouldn't be Lydian. And it’s 1999.

GR: … but there’s a degree of optimism.

LL: (Incredulous) Where’d you see that?!

GR: Well, the messages of self-empowerment and self-sufficiency. (On “Need to Feed” Lunch purrs “To fill the void within / Only the self will suffice”).

LL: I don’t know if I’d call that optimism. It’s more putting things in perspective. Self-sufficiency, which is what I've had to been my entire life. I’m a very positive person but not for the state of the world. Not for where we’re headed or the human condition, but in spite of that I’m not angst ridden. I guess my humor saves me – I find it all ridiculous. Highly hilarious.

GR: There’s definitely two voices or mindsets in your work: the tough as nails hard-boiled side versus the almost mystical, spiritual side.

LL: Well, yeah. There are those two sides that fight to be heard. My lyrics are much more mystical and the speeches or stories or the books are a lot more hard-boiled. There is a division there. And one houses one and one houses the other.

GR: It’s almost like your Henry Miller side versus your Anais Nin side.

LL: Well, I don’t know. I guess so. Sure. Why not!

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GR: What do you see yourself doing artistically in the years to come?

LL: I’d like to do some documentaries. Not about myself – I've documented that enough. About other things. The video camera is calling me. I can’t say exactly what the theme will be, but a film like Gummo (1997) is very important to me. I think it’s one of the best films to come out in the past ten years. I view it almost as a documentary of a certain breed of kid that does exist. I've had exhibitions in Melbourne, Prague, Paris, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Orlando. It’s a totally different side to what I do. If you thought I’m taking photos – “Oh, they must be like (Richard) Kern.” They’re not at all fetishistic, they’re not at all sexual. They’re black and white still lives of very quiet things. Non-thematically, I just started taking photos of kids, adolescents, then rural decay. Sheds. Shacks. Crashed cars. Then, travelling around the world, gravestones – specifically female gravestones. The concept quickly became obvious to me that it was about blossom, decay and death. I have two books of photographs that are basically ready that I want to concentrate on this year. More music. More books. I’ll just carry on in the tradition I've already established for myself.

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GR: Because you’re not tied to anything “youth culture” you can keep going ‘til you drop dead.

LL: Some young people come to the shows. Middle-aged people. My oldest fan is 85. He’s a sexologist in Copenhagen. If someone suddenly gets interested in No Wave and they happen upon what I’m doing and they happen to be 17, that’s beautiful.

GR: What I mean is, even when you were 17 …

LL: Oh, exactly! I wasn't making music for people my age! I don’t know who I was making music for. Myself.

GR: And you weren't exactly singing about innocence or being in love for the first time.

LL: (Guffaws) Heck, no! That’s still to come. Maybe at 60.

GR: It’s always been about what you've experienced, so that will be a ongoing thing.

LL: Exactly. I hope to keep refining the formats. I’m sure the subject matter will remain quite constant because there’s still a lot to be discussed about sexual politics, about politics, about the destruction of the world. It’s not getting any better. Someone’s got to be the town crier and that’s left to people like me and Karen Finley and Jello Biafra, who I do feel some kinship with. He’s out there telling the truth, he’s doing the research, he knows what’s happening. I don’t go to his three hour long shows but I’m glad he fucking exists. I’m very glad he has the energy to continue and I’m sure he will, too.

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/ Teenage Bad Girl: Lydia Lunch in 1977 /

GR: When you were on the Greyhound bus from Rochester to New York for the last time when you were 15 and you knew there was no turning back, what were your expectations for the life you wanted and how has it turned out?

LL: I've exceeded my own expectations. Everything occurred naturally. It was just obvious I would have a band like Teenage Jesus. It was obvious I would continue. But you can’t predict what’s going to happen. I couldn't have predicted I’d have the energy to continue. That I would create in so many formats and have the self-made opportunity to document them. Certainly I've had the least help from anyone from the place where I started. Especially always being the one pursuing the collaborators. It’s not as if these people came to me – I went to every person I've ever collaborated with. I've had to organize everything, design and conceptualise everything and set up the collaborations and house them and often feed them and pay them – and when I've had to, book the shows. Who would've predicted I’d have the energy or that I wouldn't have found another path? There’s no telling. And there’s no telling what’s to come. None at all.


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/ Catch up with present-day Lunch and her current provocations in this recent (December 2013) profile in The New York Times. This great, defiant shot of 54-year old punk earth mother Lunch - looking very Anna Magnani - accompanied the article / 

Below: A selection of my own best shots of Lydia Lunch performing in London over the years. Clicking on the links takes you to the full flickr sets if you want to see more.

Below: Lydia Lunch in 2005

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020 Lydia Lunch / Teenage Jesus & The Jerks
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