Lydia Lunch is a legend unlike any other. The performance artist, writer and musician is a firework unto herself – seeing her perform live is like watching verbal fireworks, she has an uncanny ability to fuse words together like bullets. She doesn’t hold back. She’s the author of over ten books and she’s now releasing So Real It Hurts, a collection of essays published with Seven Stories Press, which includes 20 essays from diaristic rants to political scribes, with an introduction written by Anthony Bourdain.
Known as a key figure from the no-wave movement in 1970s New York, singing in Teenage Jesus and the Jerks or performing alongside Sonic Youth in Death Valley ‘69, recently Lunch had her album, Conspiracy of Women, reissued by Nicolas Jaar’s label Other People.
She’s also the subject of an upcoming documentary covering her three-decade career, is soon to launch a podcast called the Lydian Spin and is going on a book tour across America this month (starting with a signing at Powerhouse Books in Brooklyn this Thursday). She spoke to us over espresso and cognac about beatniks, monogamy and her favourite music critic.
How did you get Anthony Bourdain to write the introduction to your book?
He was going to do his Lower East Side TV special and we shut a bar down and had a great time, he was very rock ‘n’ roll. I was trying to find a woman involved in politics for six months to write an intro for my book, someone to get me out of the literary ghetto I’m in, someone who got it. Two days after I met Anthony Bourdain, I thought I should ask him because I had a great time the short time we spent together. I went and did the voiceover for the episode and five days later, he was no longer of this world.
Some of the stories in the book are personal, others are political. What ties it all together?
I wanted to make a compilation that showed the diversity of my writing. Anyone who knows my music knows it’s a diverse catalogue. But I have a lot of different styles of writing on different topics. I was happy to bring together a compilation that reached into these different pockets. It covers Trump, motherhood and insomnia – that never goes away.
I like how you call pregnancy the “honeymoon from hell” where women “shit out a watermelon”.
[Laughs]. Horrifying. I don’t understand the selfishness involved, being that vain to think they’re going to birth something so spectacular that it has to be on a planet that’s overburdened. Philosophically, I think it’s absolutely vulgar. Most of the women in my circle are not breeders. If someone approaches me and tells me they want a baby, I say: “take off your pants. I’m going to fist fuck you for 18 hours straight, then I’m going to suck your tit for three years, then you’re going to give me a million dollars. If you can you adopt me, I’ll be your baby.” Somebody’s got to tell the truth about these things.
Why include the Drunk on Fuck essay, which details your sexual exploits?
I was praying on men to erase the stench of my father’s hands, something to turn the beat around. It wasn’t about the sex, it was about the energy, the anonymity, the achievement, the perversion, the hit and run. It was all bullshit. It was more than just sex, it was just about anonymity, I want it now, I don’t want any responsibility or ties to it. It was freeing.
Do you believe in monogamy?
Fuck no, I think it’s the death of the libido. Why are people so traditional? Look, if it works for you, but I can’t see how it can and I don’t see how its anybody’s business of what you do when they’re not around. I always tell my lovers: ‘if you want 100 bitches, let me help you get them.’ Go ahead. People can have whatever they want because I’m going to have whatever I want. It’s that simple.
Why did you love Lester Bangs’ writing?
He was totally gonzo; his writing was brilliant. It didn’t matter what he was writing about, he was filthy, and he wasn’t even a dirty old man. It was the mindset of a generation. Lester loved me, which was strange because back then, everyone was running away from me.
There’s an essay about Beat Generation writer Herbert Huncke, what did you admire about him?
He was one of the original Beats and even William S. Burroughs and Allan Ginsberg stole the title “junkie” from him, and that’s what he was. The originators were often swept aside, and especially writers. Just because you’re dead doesn’t mean people know your books.
Do people still read books anymore? As Karl Lagerfeld said, “for every book you read, you have to buy the time to read it”.
People have their remote-control imaginations, where all they can read is a headline or a newspaper article. If your imagination has been reduced to a 280-character Tweet, your brain is dissolving. If you like to binge watch TV on the weekends, well, you could be reading a fucking book, which stimulates your brain in a very different way.
There’s a story outlining all your brushes with death. Is there anything you’re afraid of?
Fuck no, we’re going to end up there eventually. I’ve had many more brushes with life. I think death fears me. It’s had enough chances. I’m not afraid of anything at this point.
What advice do you have for women writers?
Become an architect or a chemist. Writing is a loner’s sport and it’s very difficult. I think all women should write, that’s why I do workshops, but I had 26 rejections for this book after writing for 42 years, so good fucking luck.
So Real It Hurts is published by Seven Stories Press.