Lydia Lunch: 'We Don’t Need Any More Musicians Coming Up'

No one knows what it's like to be the bad girl behind blue eyes: Lydia Lunch appears at Valley Bar on Thursday, August 8.
No one knows what it's like to be the bad girl behind blue eyes: Lydia Lunch appears at Valley Bar on Thursday, August 8. Jasmine Hirst
Lydia Lunch is not about compromise, taking prisoners, or idle chit-chat. She does not have time for bullshit nor does she suffer from the afflictions many of us do as it relates to being concerned about anything other than being herself and moving forward. The 60-year-old author/musician/artist/master of spoken word witchcraft barely has time for a few short phone calls, but luckily for me and the citizens of Phoenix she’s coming to Valley Bar on August 8 to do spoken word and talk about her new book, So Real It Hurts (Seven Stories Press).

The importance of words well-written, even when they're dark, is something Lunch is compelled to share.

"I was drawn to writers who embraced the dark side from the time I was 12. They had to talk about it. Somebody has to talk about it from, if we must use the term, the female point of view. I do workshops for women on writing and doing spoken word. I bring women in who write, and we talk about how you perform it. It’s powerful for the individual and its powerful for the community," says Lunch.

For the uninitiated, the story of Lunch (who was born Lydia Ann Koch in 1959) is not for the faint of heart. Her latest book pulls zero punches while giving the reader an inside look at the workings of this incredible and unique mind. She’s not particularly tall, but the term “commanding presence” could have been coined for Lunch even at the age of 17 when she began fronting the New York City-based No Wave band, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks. The group, which also featured James Chance of The Contortions on saxophone, was short-lived and known for even shorter sets, but it started a musical career that has now spanned five decades.

The raven-haired Lunch is a sultry combination of anger, raw sexuality, and lethal wordplay. She likes nothing more than to make people think. Whether she is writing, singing, acting, or talking over the phone from Brooklyn, she is going to challenge her audience to see the truth in both her performance and the world around them. This sets her apart from her contemporaries, but that statement would also imply that she had some.

A prolific creator and collaborator, it seems as if Lunch never stops working or moving around the world. Many of the chapters of So Real It Hurts, which includes a terrific forward by the late Anthony Bourdain, touch on her travels and travails throughout her life. The book itself was finally published after being rejected “by twenty-six other publishers,” according to Lunch, and includes chapters on diverse topics like the need to wear (or in this case, not wear) T-shirts, relationships, and author Hubert Selby, Jr., but politics is in there, as well.

There are book-end chapters on Donald Trump and the impact his presidency has had on not only our nation but history itself. When we caught up with Lunch by phone, the Robert Mueller Congressional hearings were happening.

“I’ve been talking about this shit since Ronald Reagan," Lunch says. "Only the names change vaguely. To me, it is the same as it ever was. It’s always men in positions of power who are perverts and who pervert justice. Whether it is Epstein or Trump or Mitch McConnell or Lindsey Graham. You can set’em up and knock’em down. It’s always been this way with world history, but now we have better access to information.”

Clearly well-read and obsessed with numbers and data, Lunch is more than able to intelligently rail against what she sees (and knows) as wrong, which is what has always made her music and books and spoken word performances so powerful. A connoisseur of the well-placed bon mot, a conversation with Lunch is not unlike chess with a master: she will put your king in check in a few moves and there is nothing you can do about it but just listen and learn.

There is a hilarious and painstakingly honest chapter in her latest book where Lunch talks about motherhood.

“It had to be written that motherhood is not compulsory," Lunch says with only a hint of sarcasm. "I’ve been talking about over-population for years. Everyone is congested in the megatropolises (Editor's note: Yep, you read it right. All the best authors make up their own words.) which over abuse the resources that are there. The biggest problem to me is the vanity of procreation, at this point. There are many children that need help or assistance, why does it have to be yours? I tell people that want to have a baby, ‘If you’ve got a million spare dollars, why don’t you adopt me? I’ll suck your left tit for three years.'"

Odds are good some of this chapter will make it into Lunch’s show at Valley Bar as well as many other indelible thoughts on life in our world. Her former New York City roommate, Kid Congo Powers (The Gun Club, The Cramps, Kid Congo and the Pink Monkey Birds) will be spinning records and author/comedian Mishka Shubaly will be opening up the evening with his trusty guitar and fantastic wit. For those hoping to see some of her music, perhaps patience is the key but don’t hold your collective breath.

Lunch says she plans on doing more music but doesn’t necessarily encourage new musicians to take up the cause.

“I continue to make music, but we don’t need any more musicians coming up. It’s not to discourage people from making music or art, but to encourage them to do science, chemistry, politics, and other things. To go into places that are more urgent right now,” Lunch says before adding, “Pick up a fuckin’ tuba and put the guitar down people, please.”

Lydia Lunch w/ Mishka Shubaly. 7:30 p.m. Thursday, August 8, at Valley Bar, 130 North Central Avenue; are $10 to $12 via Eventbrite.
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