Richard Grabel lays on the red carpet treatment for his Lunch date
LYDIA LUNCH deserves our attention, she’s earned it. Look at what she’s accomplished, all by the age of 21.
She’s been a catalyst, brilliant at bringing the right people together at the right time, uncanny in her ability to light fires under people and get them to jump forward. She has made so much delicious, malicious noise, written so many cutting, crafty words.
Just go back to her first single, ‘Orphans’, with Teenage Jesus And The Jerks released in 1977. Lunch plays an unheard of brutal (one of her favourite words) guitar part, and wails one line repeatedly, a stark, awful kind of haiku: “Little orphans running in the bloody snow.”
Some calling card. Look out world, here comes trouble.
Last year was a great one for Lydia Lunch. Ze brought out her solo album, Queen Of Siam — a captivating record that, criminally, has already been deleted and is now hard to find. And she organised and toured with 8 Eyed Spy, her most musically advanced group to date, the recorded fruits of which are just appearing now.
First was the American release by Reach Out International of the cassette-only 8 Eyed Spy Live, a fine document of the group’s push and power. Coming soon is an album on Fetish with a live side and a studio side.
8 Eyed Spy broke up last year after the death of bassist George Scott, but it’s not too late for them to be heard. Theirs is not the sort of pop that becomes irrelevant six months after it’s been recorded. But they should be put into their historical context. Since 1977 Lydia conceived a succession of musical projects and every one of them has been daring, totally out-of-the-mold, frequently challenging traditional ways of playing and hearing. Her products have redefined musical directions and genres as much as anything done by James Chance or…
People like Chance and Lunch, who start movements rather than follow them, are rare.
If Lunch lived in Britain she’d have been a media celebrity long ago. She could blow the Hazel O’Connors, Toyahs and Siouxsies right out of the water, and give Lora Logic, Poly Styrene and Ari Up a good run for their money.
Lunch has a reputation for being a “difficult” interview; I found her articulate and open, once I’d accepted her ground rules — no biographical questions like “where are you from?” or “why’d you come to New York'” As far as she’s concerned, her public history begins with her first band.
“TEENAGE JESUS was I the simplest thing in I the world, and no one understood it. Simplicity and the obvious are the most confusing things for people. It doesn’t bother me. I’m interested in creating the product. If you care about whether people like it you’re going to be constipated.”
Next came Beirut Slump, for which Lunch wrote the words and music and played guitar. Their single, ‘Staircase’, was a manic attack on the senses that makes more sense with each passing year. Both this and ‘Orphans’ by Teenage Jesus were released through Lust/Unlust, the work of small-label pioneer Charles Ball, who must be given great credit for picking up on Lunch’s music early.
“Beirut Slump were my favourite band. It was so monstrous. It was scary music. I guess it just fills me with joy to think that there is someone even more sickly and sad than I.”
After all this crazed, abrasive music, the Queen Of Siam album came as a shock. It is gentle and stylish, full of torch songs, coy come-ons and a kind of cocktail music for twisted sensibilities. It is a fluid, well-crafted and very crafty record. In terms of Lunch’s career it will probably be seen as an aberration.
In between these musical projects. Lunch kept up a sideline as an actress in New York’s “underground cinema”. Here too she has displayed flawless taste, keeping out of the indulgent home movies of Eric Mitchell and Amos Poe and lending herself only to the best of the local film-makers, Beth and Scott B. The Offenders, The Black Box and Vivienne Dick’s She Had Her Gun All Ready, Beauty Become The Beast.
With 8 Eyed Spy, Lunch went back to doing what she does best, creating stark, savage music, designed more for confrontation and catharsis than entertainment. They were an amazing band.
What was the intention behind 8 Eyed Spy?
“When I first formed them I wanted a band that sounded like a cross between Creedence Clearwater Revival and Al Green. They never did it, but nonetheless I was happy with what they sounded like. Of course people won’t understand what that means. We did a Creedence song (‘Run Through The Jungle’, available on the live tape in a properly menacing version). But people don’t have the patience to try to see what you mean.
“The album, it’s great stuff. I basically hate live albums, but this stuff is acceptable, adequate, perhaps good. It was doctored in the studio a bit, so it’s not grossly raw.
“8 Eyed Spy was the semi-catchy, somewhat brutal, melodic ditties, with this semi-melodic, semi-brutal verbalisation. It was structured without losing the brutality that structure usually means giving up. I guess it was original new music using unoriginal structure. At many points I thought it was too poppy, too commercial, but that’s only because I’m such a purist.”
I imagined that the subject of bassist George Scott’s death (of a heroin overdose) would be a delicate one. Lunch’s attitude is surprisingly offhand.
“He died at the right time. He was ready. I got upset once, I just screamed, I was so mad. But at least it was at his own hands. Better than being knifed by someone you don’t know.
“I was going to quit 8 Eyed Spy before George died. They talked me into staying to record an album. Then George died and we recorded half an album anyway.”
WHAT MAKES Lydia sing? “I sing for the sake of alienation. It’s the most alienated thing I can do. Teenage Jesus was like an attack on the audience; Beirut Slump was like a “nyah nyah” type of thing — look at me, what are you going to do about it? It’s the most selfish thing, it’s like total masturbation.
“I look at the boys and I know what they’re thinking, and it’s so satisfying. They’re giving you everything and you’re giving them nothing. Girls are trying to sum me up when they’re watching me. But boys are either accepting or rejecting. There are times when I look at them and I love them so much but I refuse to show them that.”
‘Queen Of Siam’ has a song about chasing after a young boy on the street. Is this an obsession with you?
“I love young boys — 15,16 year old boys. I don’t know why. When they’re young they’re so in awe, without question. Then I like slightly older men. Ehen they get to 19 they have so many macho problems. I like them to be over their problems or not yet to them.
“I’m 21. I just do not take myself too seriously. When you do that it gets dangerous. A lot of people consider me just a comedian and that’s pretty accurate. I don’t like humour, satire, but a lot of things I do with a bit of humour, or, displacement.”
Probably Lunch’s greatest failing is her tendency not to stay with any one project long enough to bring it to its full potential.
“Possibly I should stick to one thing longer. But I can’t. I’d end up like all the other jokers. I think everything is disposable. Nothing is that much of a revelation that it’s not disposable. I have too many ideas. I think too much. I do want to have some kind of bibliography, some kind of integrity. I’m a complete musical snob. It’s terrible but I am.
“Like my album (Queen Of Siam). People ask me why I don’t perform that. And I say what am I going to do? Appear in a long gown and a boa and go, like, Dahling, here I am to perform my wonderful album’. I can’t do that, it would be Miss Camp Joke of the year.”
You aren’t interested in seducing your audience?
“Sometimes the honesty of confrontation is very seductive. My voice sounds good on Queen Of Siam, but that’s not performing. It’s seductive but detached.”
What does the line “I’ve got the cancer of birth” mean?
“Don’t look for meaning.”
It sounds like the idea of original sin.
“I guess it is. Pretty close.”
Were you raised a Catholic?
“Well, yes, but I feel that’s pretty irrelevant. Calling a band Teenage Jesus is about as anti-religious as you can get. But I’m not anti-religious. I’m ready for the end of the world any day. But I would rather savour my death than die in some apocalypse.
“I want to be murdered by someone I love, stabbed slowly to death. I want to give myself as the total sacrifice and die like a martyr to someone I could give that much to.
“The first day I met my boyfriend I told him to slit my throat. I don’t want to get too personal here, but I said, ‘I love you, slit my throat’. I just like the idea of that. I like gore and blood. To me it would be very beautiful, saint-like.”
Do you believe in love?
“Love is a death. There is true love but it’s now very permanent.”
SINCE 8 Eyed Spy Lunch has had two more bands. The Devil Dogs were her way of thrashing blues, playing cracked covers of impossibly obscure blues records. They played around New York, did one or two shows in Italy (where Lunch is well loved) and disbanded. Her new band is called 13 13 and she describes it as “psychedelic”. Ho ho, I bet! She’s also working on a pornographic novel, which Grove Press have express an interest in publishing.
Lydia Lunch is conceited, an enfant terrible, a brat. But she is also honest, irresistible, totally herself with no apologies. I can’t help but love her for that.
What would she like people to think of her?
“Oh, that’s a tough one. I guess I just want them to think that I’m beautiful. Which is weird because often if people think you are beautiful they don’t think you are smart. But I’d just like people who see me on the street to think, that’s a beautiful girl, and interpret beauty only through me and not interpret beauty only through girts who have sandy blonde hair, blue eyes and wear designer jeans.
“If I had to choose between people thinking I’m beautiful or intelligent I’d choose beautiful, because then you can sneak up on them.”
© Richard Grabel, New Musical Express, 15 August 1981