In our current world of trigger warnings, snowflakes, and “Karens,” one might think that the often abrasive, sometimes nihilistic work of Lydia Lunch has lost its luster. But the opposite is true. The iconic writer, poet, musician, speaker, and artist, who started her career as a vociferous voice of the ’70’s No Wave art scene in New York, is still going strong. Her biting and brilliant output is in fact, more thought-provoking and refreshingly visceral than ever in the context of our currently very chaotic, some could say uglier-than-ever world.
Lunch’s life story and impact are explored in compelling detail in the new documentary The War Is Never Over. Filmmaker Beth B takes an unflinchingly raw yet nuanced look at the incendiary goddess’ history of musings and music, which explore the darkest themes imaginable — rape, incest, abuse of power — but also expel them, creating a cathartic experience for her audiences that most never forget.
After 40 years of defiant, dynamic, and dramatic performances, writings and music, Lunch has reached legend status with underground music fans and counter-culture followers, and the doc shows why. We caught up with the prolific provocateur to discuss the film, her work, and what’s next.
LINA LECARO: Did you have any reservations about having your life and work chronicled on film and why was Beth B the right filmmaker for the movie?
LYDIA LUNCH: I have been chronicling my life since I first opened my mouth. Through multiple spoken word performances and releases, film, music, etc. Beth approached me and having worked together on and off since 1978 it made sense. We are both obsessed with digging into the underbelly of the abuse of power, liberation from the trauma of existence, and the power of the individual to not only survive but forge forward creating a new path for a better existence.
What have been the biggest misconceptions about you as a person and an artist over the years?
You tell me. I think The War is Never Over can blow the bullshit of people’s misconceptions out of the water.
Your music (Teenage Jesus and the Jerks and other collabs during the No Wave era and more recently with Retrovirus) is as primal as your poetry and spoken word, and your written work is acclaimed for the same reasons. Is one a preferred mode of expression? If this changes, what are the factors or circumstances that make you turn to one versus the other?
I’m usually doing more than one thing at a time. With music, I usually start with a sound concept and find the collaborators. With Retrovirus it’s been great because we can summon forth music from a variety of my phases and bring something new to it. With So Real It Hurts, the last anthology of writing I released, I’m happy to be able to consolidate the many voices I write in, some for stage, some not. Having now done my podcast The Lydian Spin for 2 years, it’s an opportunity to freestyle in a way, while talking politics, relating personal stories, and showcasing other creative people.
You are often referred to as an agitator and there sure is a lot to be agitated about these days. How has the cultural climate, particularly in terms #metoo, Trumpism, cancel culture, etc., affected your work in a generalized sense?
Glad to be able to do a weekly podcast to speak about annoying shit that happens in real time. I’ve always called up the ridiculous crap this country seems to bask in. No difference. I’ve been calling assholes to task since Ronald Reagan.
How has Lydia Lunch of today changed from the woman you were when you started out?
I’m still a musical schizophrenic. I still endlessly collaborate, curate, document, and do whatever seems the right thing to do at the moment. I don’t think I’ve changed much, I’ve just had decades to express the multiple sides of what I do and who I am.
How did COVID-19 affect your creativity and output?
What would you like the takeaway to be for fans of your work and those less familiar with you after watching The War Is Never Over?
Take from it what they will. Just glad to be able to showcase the multiple layers which make up my creative existence. ❖
Lydia Lunch – The War is Never Over is available for virtual screening via KinoMarquee.com.