Inside the Mind of Lydia Lunch — American Poet, Provocateur, and Punk Rock Priestess

Her voice gets into your skin. Into, not under, your skin. It's worth repeating. She's got a voice on her that seeps right in.

Polarizing characters are always the most attractive, and much in the way the devil probably lures his (or her) potential victims to the soul trading post, Lydia Lunch, 57, lures you in with her quickly moving mind. Her words dance along your synapses, bobbing and weaving, punching you, one minute, in the cerebellum, kissing your forehead the next, and then sneering, taunting, laughing, loving. You have no choice but to surrender to her often indecent thought process, and she's intent on spreading her gospel everywhere she goes.

Born Lydia Ann Koch in upstate New York, Lunch descended upon New York City in the mid-1970s and became ensconced in the burgeoning art-punk scene. A provocateur of the No Wave movement which featured bands like D.N.A., the Contortions, and MARS, Lunch and her band, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, tore a sonic hole in hearts of disaffected youth in America and Europe. The noisy skronk of blasts of saxophone, minimalist guitar, drums, and sometimes bass (sometimes not) helped influence much of the early-'80s post-punk New York noise scene, including Sonic Youth and Pussy Galore.

For Lunch, though, this was only the beginning. Her storied career (and yes, there are stories and books about her career) is now into its fifth decade, spanning music, writing, acting, producing, and spoken word. Collaboration has been a constant for Lunch, and her current team-ups are among the more interesting of her career. Right now, she and Weasel Walter (XBXRX, Flying Luttenbachers, To Live and Shave in LA) have two projects: Retrovirus, which is a proper band, and also a drum and spoken-word collaboration called Brutal Measures, where they trade off pummeling the audience. The latter features Walter on drums and Lunch on vocals, doing a somewhat spontaneous act feeding off each other's respective percussion and word barrage. In addition to the projects with Walter, Lunch is also involved with Medusa's Bed, but unfortunately for Phoenicians, that noise project only performs in eastern Europe.

On Friday, November 11, Lunch visits Trunk Space to perform a set of spoken word. We caught up with her over Skype to discuss, well, whatever the hell Lunch wanted to discuss. Note that this interview was conducted before the 2016 election on Tuesday.

New Times: So what are you bringing us next week for your show in Phoenix?
Lydia Lunch: I'm just bringing old-school spoken word to Phoenix.

Do you have a preference of doing music or spoken word?
I really like to go on tour with one thing. I'll be back in Europe in December with Retrovirus for two weeks, but in this country [U.S.] it's impossible to go on tour. You can only get some isolated dates and it's impossible to make them connect.  I was discussing with Weasel [Walter] about doing the Brutal Measures thing in the U.S. or do Retrovirus, but it's really hard to take the band across the country.

Obviously, I want to play in America, especially at this, the ever-coming time of the apocalypse. I really want to play in America and it is important that I play here, but I do what I can where I can. I wave the magic wand and hopefully a show or two happens.

It began with the word and hence, I continue with the word.

I love the No New York record (1978 compilation of four N.Y. No Wave bands). Teenage Jesus and the Jerks is a huge influence. Will that ever happen again?
I have to focus so hard on that stuff. It has to be so precise. When I get in a bad mood, I don't say anything and that scares people. When I don't talk, people get nervous. They know if I'm talking, I'm not going to shoot anyone in the face. The point of Teenage Jesus was not to make anyone happy but 10- to 14-year-old boys. 
Do you think the timing is right now for those types of messages, like Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, to be out there again?
That's why [I do] Retrovirus, and I've done a few Teenage Jesus retrospectives and it was really fun. The main reason is that I don't find women doing music that brutal. ... They shouldn't be afraid to be ugly.  I mean, let's go.

It's an urgent time for radical everything. All these trigger warnings and safe rooms are just a nauseating indication of what the millennials ... the pampered, spoiled masses are bringing to the table. ... If I thought it was a rebellion against their raucous and debauched parents I would be happy, but I don't think it is a rebellion. I think it's just a bunch of spoiled white kids whose vision has been reduced to half the size of a postcard, [and they] don't want to be upset. You're 47. You understand. We didn't want it nice and easy. We want it rough and sleazy.

Middle-aged women in leotards talking about sex to pay the corporate daddy is not my idea of "We've come a long way, baby." Just because Jennifer Lopez sticks her ass out, which was a great image I saw of her at the Hillary Clinton rally, the matron saint of mass murderesses, and Jennifer Lopez has her big ass in the air with a leotard that probably smells like she's been wearing it since the 1970s — I don't think that's the best image to be presenting of a woman in power.

I noticed that you sometimes refer to Hillary [Clinton] as the "War Whore."
Oh yeah. It's not a pretty picture this country is making at the moment, but it's never been, so what's the difference? Now we're waging war on more countries than any other time in history. We've got a sexual predator who is a chronic pathological liar who has bankrupted himself six times running for president and then we've got the war whore.

The choice is yours, people. You put yourself in this position and I had nothing to do with it. I don't have the solution to get out of it, either. A rebellion staged by one is not a revolution, it's simple madness. Welcome to my world. Chew on that one, son.
KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Tom Reardon has written for Phoenix New Times since 2013. He's been in several notable bands over the last 25 years including Hillbilly Devilspeak, North Side Kings, and the Father Figures.
Contact: Tom Reardon