Lydia Lunch is an early riser. She wakes up probably before any of us dare blink at a single remnant of light. Up with the sun, telescoping her undeniable focus and energy that splits her heavens and her hells apart with precise spitfire. Lydia has been way ahead of the spin of the clock since she booted herself onto the New York City no wave music and film scene, nearly twenty years ago. Her public proclamation to the media back then, when describing the ideology of her first band, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, was that, "When you are no longer a teenager, you are a jerk." Time has diabolically segued effortlessly, year into each passing year, illustrating the fact that this prolific artist has surpassed all the apparent idiocies of every day living thus creating her own distinct niche.
I remember seeing her one night with her band, Eight-Eyed Spy, at a club in New York City, watching her artfully slice taunters, who spewed barbs her way, with the adeptness of a diamond-cutter. Each of her brilliantly sarcastic retorts on stage, a jewel. Lydia Lunch continues to juggle her many talents directly into the eyes of her admirers, making her one of the most important women of this century.
This is my conversation with
Lydia one early, hot July morning. With our java in hand and out to crack
the world in two, we spoke about the state and the art of living in the
LW: You just returned from Australia, accompanied by the Whitney film curator, Matthew Yokobosky, to show underground films?
Lydia Lunch: Right. It was put on with the Australian Film Institute. They brought over a meltdown of the three-month long Whitney retrospective of no wave cinema that happened last year. So, they just brought a three-night festival. I went over as a mouthpiece with the curator. There were two nights where they were showing a variety of films. The night that I was on with Matthew we would just show a few different clips and then discuss how no wave music actually influenced the no wave cinema scene and which then disintegrated into the Cinema of Transgression and then self-imploded, at that point.
LW: How was the Australian audience reaction?
LL: I've been to Australia once before and it's really good. The press is always really positive. Obviously, I've worked with many Australians from Jim Thirlwell to Nick Cave to Rowland S. Howard. Spencer Jones of the Beasts of Bourbon. Australia's fantastic. They are ready. They are open. They're desiring whatever they don't already have or what they haven't already seen. My spoken word performances go down really well there. I did a show there and then I performed with Rowland for the last performance of These Immortal Souls.
LW: What books are resting on your night table these days?
LL: The Biotech Century by Jeremy Rifkin, who also wrote a fantastic book called, The End of Work. My next speech is going to be about technology and gene manipulation in the coming years. I'm very interested in nanotechnology and the implications it's going to have on the individual. In the past, when I rallied against technology, it's the de-personalization and the data, that it's not real life experience. Now, with bio-technology, there's not going to be a need for real experience because no one is going to be real. Everything is going to be completely artificial. A sci-fi nightmare coming true. There are corporations that are already gene-testing people before they'll hire. There are corporations that are going into islands in the South Pacific and gene-testing indigenous people because they are immune to many diseases. The future is now. It's frightening.
LW: So you are embracing all this?
LL: I'm horrified by it! I always embrace what I'm horrified by. I have to get an angle on it. There's so much happening that we aren't aware and have no control of. We have no control of the decisions being made. Post-DNA testing and what lies beyond that? We have to know. Someone has to give an alternative viewpoint done on the direction that we are heading and I think that is my job.
LW: The philosopher E.M. Cioran has had a major influence on you. Your newest record, Matrikamantra is inspired by his writings. What part of his philosophy closely parallels your own?
LL: Well, first and foremost, what attracts me to any writer is the language. The poetry of Cioran's writings is what draws the eye in and causes one to glut on every book you can get your hands on. The cynicism, the sarcasm, and yet there is something very sweet about his writing. Yet, I don't know where the sweetness lies. He is a forefather to my own thought, there to underline the hypocrisy, the day to day life, the struggle of the human condition, the nightmare of rising everyday. Writers like Nietzsche, Cioran, Bataille, Foucault, Deleuze, they make me laugh. Other people may find them heavy, dry.
LW: Cioran writes, from his book, On the Heights of Despair ... "I am displeased with everything. If they made me God, I would immediately resign..." If you were God, what would you do first?
LL: WHICH GOD? WHOSE GOD? GOD WHO? It's a concept I can not relate to. It's a concept that means nothing in my reality. I am energy. We are all energy. It's obvious what I do with my energy. Therefore, in my own reality, no doubt, I am goddess. You know what I do, that's why you are talking to me. I would do no different than what I do now, perhaps only on a grander scale (laughs). And if I can force more pomposity into my own life, which is questionable.
LW: I want to ask you about your art work. You seem to possess an amazing ability for structure and discipline. Do you think your audience knows this aspect of your personality?
LL: It would appear obvious to me, but then again I doubt it is in the forefront of what people talk about when they mention my name, which is unfortunate. It's not like I have a practiced discipline, it's just that I have incredible focus. I know what it takes to get things done and they will get done and that's the bottom line. When I worked on Paradoxia, I did have a regimented schedule. I did rise and write from 6am-12pm, and as a writer, you know, that there is no such thing as "writing from 6am-12pm." You're pacing. You're smoking cigarettes. You're drinking coffee. You're looking out the window. You're pulling your hair. All of this is part of writing. But for completing Paradoxia, within three months, which was the time limit I set upon myself. I only write speeches when I need to write a speech. I only write lyrics when I need to do some music. So, it's not like I scribble copiously and have volumes of unpublished manuscripts. I just don't have time to sit around doodling. I'm not doodling for success.
LW: Any other books or shows in the coming year?
LL: I do have a photo book, with text, coming out next year, which I just set up in Australia. It's called, The Space Between Breaths. This year I will have had seven shows. Prague, two in Paris, Melbourne, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, LA and Orlando. Upcoming exhibitions in Los Angeles at La Luz De Jesus in September and in San Francisco at the Lascombe Gallery from September12th-October 4th.
LW: You had exhibitions of your voodoo doll boxes? Were the voodoo boxes inspired by your life in New Orleans?
LL: Oh yeah and my disappointment with voodoo fetish objects there. I mean they have those really cheap, wrapped in plastic, paint by number voodoo dolls. Or if you actually go to someone to have them made then, of course, you get your custom-made voodoo doll. I didn't start making them when I was living there. Now I need Spanish moss from New Orleans to create these, porcupine quills and various herbs. It was really out of the love of the imagery and the aesthetic of these boxes. I feel that I don't need fetish or ritualistic practices to focus my energy. The tool of rosary beads, of prayer beads, of crucifixes, of crosses, of churches, of voodoo dolls, of spells, any of the objects or iconography, or the symbology that's involved in any religion, is just so people have a focal point to concentrate their energy on. I don't need them. I'm not making them as little curse boxes, they are just cute little dolls.
LW: Do you view yourself as a woman with strong magical powers?
LL: Magic to me, like religion, is about energy and yes I know how to focus my energy and I feel very protected and very cleaned out. I mean especially after living in the sewers that I lived in from New York to LA to New Orleans to London to San Francisco. These are geographically and psychically very intense places.
LW: Sex is the most definitive power. Who possesses the more potent wand, men or women?
LL: Can we just reduce it to simple physiology? Who has multiple orgasms, men or women? Who is always being chased after, men or women? What do they use to sell everything with, men or women? What is the magic elixir, which was eventually turned into dangerous hoodoo at the hands of multiple religions? Who was burned at the stake? What's more powerful in your opinion? Who should bleed more often?
LW: I know that your belief is that art should be created and documented and then quickly move onto the next project. Can you elaborate on your personal doctrine?
LL: I think people just get stuck. Maybe certain artists only have one idea. The downside of that is that you are constantly repeating yourself. But the upside of that is Henry Miller continually repeated himself. Bataille continued to repeat himself. Cioran repeated himself. The Marquis De Sade repeated himself. Historically, most artists have one vein and they continue to repeat themselves. This is the history of art. They might go through different phases. The blue phase. The green phase. Yet, historically, artists do have one major obsession which they seem to drive into the fucking ground. My themes remain the same eventhough I change formats constantly. I understand my obsessions and I always try new ways to articulate them; new formats to put them in. My frustrations are constantly voiced. Looking for new methods to clump them in, new flavors to expose them within. I wish people would diversify more. I change formats all the time. I'm constantly looking for a new method to apply it to. I could not have the same band for more than one project.
LW: You've created in all mediums. Music. Film. Writing. Poetry. Spoken word performances. Photography. Sculpture. Which medium do you find yourself most drawn to, presently?
LL: I'm drawn to the multiplicity of having them all at my fingertips. One has never ousted the other. People will say, "Oh, you haven't done music in a long time." Excuse me, I'm always doing music! It's just that you can't find the fucking record! It's not like I ever stopped doing music. It's not like I've ever stopped doing spoken word. It's not like I ever stopped writing. The beauty, to me, is being able to juggle all of them. Everything boils down to "the word" except for photography. And even the photographs have titles.
LW: And each medium feeds off each other...
LL: That's why working with different collaborators is very interesting. I just finished some work with Jim Coleman of Cop Shoot Cop and this Italian 3-piece band, Minox. That's piano music. Coleman's music is a bit more ambient, almost John Carpenter-esque. I'm working with Joseph Budenholzer, which is delightful. That's one of the reasons why I love to collaborate with musicians because it adds another dimension, another flavor, it takes it somewhere else. It illuminates us both in a different light, therefore, creating a third dimension which is constantly interesting to me.
LW: So, what's in store for Lydia Lunch, year 2000?
LL: I had to live the last 20 years thinking 6 or 8 months in advance and now you are asking me to double that time..please! Six months in advance is all I can fucking stomach and that even gets claustrophobic, as it is. That's the biggest irritant, in functioning at the level that I function, is that I do have to have most things planned six months in advance, especially if I plan to continue supporting myself as a spoken word artist, which basically supports the rest of my career.
LW: Going full circle, that's why you like to rest in your bed, your constant scheduling, deadlines. How do you like your coffee?
LL: Strong. Thick. Mahogany-colored.
I'm having some now. I prefer to have it bedside. I like my coffee in
bed. Especially, delivered. That's the best.
A Predator's Diary published by Creation Books