Three Great Things: Lydia Lunch

The no-wave icon, who's the subject of the new doc Lydia Lunch: The War is Never Over, shares the things (and people) that invigorate her.

Three Great Things is Talkhouse’s series in which artists tell us about three things they absolutely love. To mark the June 30 release in select theaters and virtual cinemas of Lydia Lunch: The War is Never Over, a revealing new doc on the NYC punk pioneer, Lunch shared some of the things that give her life meaning. — N.D

Being Alive
I am so happy to be alive right now. This might be contrary to what my reputation is, but I’m thrilled because it’s such a ridiculous time. It helps to divide my time into day, when I’m dealing with the bullshit and aggravation that all of us see (and boy, has it been good the last few years!), and the night, when I insist upon having some fun. As somebody who was born into a position of prophet (HA!), it’s always been the same as it ever was: the cycle of mania, of war, of insanity, of human slavery. It’s just so repetitive. I would prefer to chuckle, howl or cry than to feel murderous, (again) because politically speaking things are even more horrific now than when I first started opening my mouth. It’s ridiculous. So within this time of great horror, it’s even more important for me to do what I do every day of my life, which is to live in rebellion against all the bullshit, collaborate with people, expand the coven and the community (which is why I have my own podcast, The Lydian Spin), and just do what I do. So #1 on my list would be: I am alive.

Lydia Lunch performing with her current band, Retrovirus. (Photo by Kathleen Fox, courtesy Kino Lorber.)

As I once predicted in my 20s, I might end up being the oldest living woman of rage, if I live that long. Don’t fear my passion or paint your fear on my face. I’m screaming for all of us. Beth B’s documentary, Lydia Lunch: The War is Never Over, is just being released. I’ve always felt like a woman alone on the hill with a bullhorn, screaming that the end is not near enough. The end of bullshit, patriarchy, prejudice, the imbalance of power, classism, war. I never have rage in my private life, though, I never get mad at anybody. I don’t hold a grudge. My grudge is immense, but it’s never against people I know, it’s against men and women in positions of power, who are usually octogenarian, white-haired Republicunts, who are against all the rest of us individuals.

Madalyn Murray O’Hair
Someone who was very important to me is Madalyn Murray O’Hair. She started the American atheist movement and at one point she was the most hated woman in America, because her goal – which she achieved – was to get rid of prayer in schools. She believed in the separation of church and state, and in the First Amendment. She really fought, and she used her son as one of the plaintiffs in a suit against the Baltimore City Public School System. In the ’60s, there was so much prayer and religious indoctrination in schools, which she thought was ludicrous, and so do I. It’s like, Excuse me, which God? Whose God? Do you mean grandpa, in a white robe with a beard who murdered his own son, put him on a cross? I recently did an introduction to one of my podcasts about Easter, and suggested that “Jesus” was probably a gay drug dealer, hanging out with prostitutes and sexy male disciples, who was killed by a drug cartel and probably crucified upside down (which is what they did back in those days). He most likely wasn’t really resurrected, he just was roofied and then woke up a few days later. HA!

Madalyn Murray O’Hair and friend in 1983.

Madalyn Murray O’Hair was the most hated woman till I came along, the most hated woman in a long time. She joined the Women’s Army Corps during World War II to be a cryptographer, and she was a radical militant feminist. She was driven out of Baltimore, moved to Hawaii and eventually one of the people who worked with her murdered her, her son and her daughter, left them in the desert and stole all their money. A horrible end. Check out the Forensic Files episode about her, “Without a Prayer.”

Jerry Stahl
Great things? Writer Jerry Stahl, who wrote Permanent Midnight, Perv-A Love Story or my favorite of his books, I, Fatty, a novel detailing the horrible Hollywood scandal of 1921 which ended Fatty Arbuckle’s career. Told from Fatty’s perspective. Beautiful written, incredibly sad and hilarious. Like of all of his books.

I met him and Hubert Selby Jr. years ago and worked with the two of them when Hubert was still alive. Jerry admits things about men that no other man has the balls to admit. He describes so accurately the horror of being an imperfect human – especially male, an ex-heroin addict, someone who has suffered the trauma of birth. He’s one of the most darkly humorous, brilliant writers, and so underrated.

His career has yoyo-ed more than anyone else I can think of. Writing weekly episodes of TV shows like ALF, thirtysomething and Moonlighting. Almost getting banned from Hollywood for bad behavior. Coming back to write screenplays. More bad behavior. Coming back to write the most-watched episode of CSI. Publishing hilarious books about his own scandalous antics like Permanent Midnight. Getting that book turned into a major motion picture. Still having a hard time getting books published. Ridiculous. I moved out to Los Angeles in the 1990s to work with him and Hubert Selby Jr. Both writers an inspiration for never giving up. And I can assure you I WON’T.

Lydia Lunch is an iconic punk musician and performer. In her teens, she formed the band Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, and made her solo debut with the 1980 album Queen of Siam. She has collaborated with musicians such as Nick Cave, JG Thirlwell, Sonic Youth, and Cypress Grove, and through her own label, Widowspeak Productions, made her mark as a spoken-word artist. Lunch’s has written several books, including Paradoxia (2007) and Will Work for Drugs (2009), and has a continuing collaboration with Umar Bin Hassen, one of The Last Poets, titled NO WAVE OUT, comprising improvised combinations of spoken word, jazz, and No Wave. During the past thirty years, Lunch has also starred in a number of films, famously working with artists including Richard Kern, Beth B, and Merrill Aldighieri and Joe Tripician. She now performs with her band Retrovirus, presenting displays of her visual art work, and preparing a volume of her collected writings that will undoubtedly engage today’s political climate, injustices, wars and imbalances of power. (Photo by Jasmine Hirst.)