Punk hellraiser Lydia Lunch: ‘I’m chronically misunderstood but I get off on it’

The runaway, singer and counter-culture icon is hitting 60 and is as incendiary as ever, touring and feelings against polluters and politicians in a rip-roaring book

Lydia Lunch turned 60 this year, but senility has done little to dim this counterculture icon’s lust for life. Decades after her start as the nihilist 16 -year-old frontwoman of 1970 s no-wave band Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, the New York-born ” apocalyptician ” is a idolized veteran of the US underground: a novelist, spoken-word performer, musician, performer and artist. Lunch’s form is raw and incendiary, all gender and demise and taboo-busting feminist rage. And in 2019, the sexagenarian is as unapologetic and active as ever- still writing, touring, collaborating and performing.

Lunch is in Colchester when we speak, revelling in a” phenomenal cottage-type hotel” conveniently situated near the artistic centre where she’s set to play that night with her ensemble, Big Sexy Noise. On the stage and the sheet, she’s a formidable spirit- persuasion, exhorting and tongue-lashing her public. In conversation, via Skype, she’s surprisingly cordial: affable, altering, disarmingly humorous, a potty-mouthed doyenne grapple out double-entendres. Is she misjudged?” Oh, chronically! But I get off on it. I’m not a disgraceful being, I just handled in dreary subjects .”

The last time the Guardian “ve spoken to” Lunch, in 2015, she was scouting around for a residence for her archive, an honour that’s since gone to New York University.” They’re opening a brand-new showcase cavity next year and I think they’re gonna propel it with my repositories, which is great .” It’s a fitting location: although she left for good in 1990, and doesn’t consider it home (” even when I lived there “), New York informed much of who Lunch became, and the artwork she’s made since.

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‘ I didn’t think I’d live this long’ … Lunch performing in Barcelona in 2011. Photograph: Jordi Vidal/ Redferns

Lunch’s work is defiant, thrilling and unflinching. Her latest release, So Real It Hurts, is really: an anthology of brand-new and established writings that include everything from violent feminist retaliation myths to diatribes on contamination and politics( and yes, Trump) in the Anthropoceneepoch. They detail deviant raptures, heroes sung( Hubert Selby Jr) and unsung( Herbert Huncke) alike. They give alternative historical information documented in killer style: pre-gentrification New York,( the “devil’s litterbox” ); the no-wave scene (” a collective bowel-cleansing caterwaul … a mad collective of death-defiant miscreants “); and the beginnings of the hasten rampages of 1967, witnessed first-hand by an eight-year-old Lydia when her hometown- which became the centre of the chaos- explosion into cruelty, with a baseball-bat carrying hoard” stampeding directly in front of my house “.

The anthology, she tells me,” refused by 26 American publishers- and I’m quite happy to say that. I required that stomped on the breast comprise, actually .” She eventually acquired a publisher, Seven Stories, that increases her announcement as a” dogged, independent town-crier “.” I asked them,’ Why do you want to publish this book ?’ And one of them said,’ Because I roared at every section .’ Lastly! Someone gets it. Yes! I convey, this[ life] shit is deadly serious, so lets have a party and celebrate the fact that we’re still alive in spite of this nightmare. That’s what my totality occupation has been about .”

Opening the collection is an introduction by the late luminary cook and expedition writer Anthony Bourdain. Were they friends?” We knew of each other. He’d read something I’d written for a photobook of[ Bourdain’s partner] Asia Argento. And we’d fit when he did his Lower East Side special. One of the issues I asked him was,’ How did you get it on ?’ How did he vanish from being a heroin addict scumbag cook to[ a sober and successful fame ]? He said,’ It was a total fluke .’ I just think that’s great. Because some people are born ambitious and they plan for success; other parties precisely doing whatever they do, and wherever it get is where they get .”

Like Bourdain, Lunch obtained society through food as a young blowout. As fiction tells it, the young hellion payed her nom de plume after gaining reputation as both an expert food thief and an on-the-fly chef, transforming raise she’d filched into nourishing lunches for fellow punks such as Dead Boys. In 2012 she liberated a cookbook, The Needto Feed, telling Vice:” Cooking is one of the most intimate things this surface of copulation- cooking leads to good sex. You are touching something that someone else is grasping. Your DNA is on the menu they devour. It’s a form of impregnation- which is basically what my part artistic motive is, anyway .”

Does she still experience cooking?” I do. It’s very witchy. But you’ve gotta be careful about where your food comes from- particularly in the UK and the Commonwealth- because we end up consuming so much poison .”

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‘ I believed to be discerned more than we knew’ … Lunch rocks Los Angeles in 1981. Photograph: Ray Stevenson/ Rex/ Shutterstock

Lunch knows a thing or two about toxins. Before she was old-time enough to pick her own poisons, Lunch grew up on one of America’s Superfund sites: district contaminated by life-endangering hazardous waste. At last count, says Lunch, there are 39,000 hazardous sites spread across America. So Real It Hurts stations the digit at big conglomerates and the US Department of Justice. But this isn’t a brand-new topic for Lunch; she’s been spoke out about environmental right since her early2 0s.

” I foresee those of us doing spoken word when I went started, under Reagan and Thatcher- John Cooper Clarke, Exene Cervenka, Henry Rollins, Jello Biafra– I think we fathomed more than we knew. I go back to some of the pronunciations I wrote in 84, and I’m like, yup, I could do that one tonight .”

She’s clapped by today’s atmosphere activists, quoting Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion (” large-hearted fan “), but is also incredulous at current political stagnation.” I entail it’s just ridiculous that we’re still having these discussions. There were 379 hurricanes in 13 daylights in America last month. In India? Drought. China? Flooding. I was in Mexico City a month ago; they have the worst air pollution in decades. You can’t get away from it. There’ll was most plastic in the ocean than fish soon. I necessitate, wake the fuck up .”

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Lydia Lunch with photographer Nan Goldin at the Kitchen NYC last year. Photograph: Taylor Hill/ Getty Images

I tell her that a recent investigation has revealed that British beings are ingesting a credit-card-sized amount of plastic every week thanks to microplastics in our breath, nutrient and water supplies. If exclusively we could shit those credit cards out and use’ em at the ATM, eh ?”

Lunch’s sense of humour is dark, fascinating and revelatory. In the period Motherhood: It’s Not Compulsory, we match Lunch the babe whisperer, an intentionally childless hellraiser with an roughly supernatural ability to soothe other people’s touchy infants. In Assume the Position, she divulges her “decades-long” quirk for patrolmen, detailing her various unauthorized and comic meetings with the long arm of the law. And in Detox, we find Lunch in self-help guru mode, urging us to indulge in regular masturbation and gully toxic household scavenging products for DIY vinegar concoctions:” With all the money you save from not building multinationals richer, you could get a massage formerly a month for the rest of your life! Or, start saving for your own funeral. It might come sooner than you think .”

Many of us- Lunch included- are caught she’s still around imparted her propensity for extreme living. In the period Drunk on Fuck, she writes of reaching a point where her libido and the need “… to possess, to down …” had reached danger point, motivating a long bout of celibacy. Is she dating again now? Does she still experience love?” Is that an request ?” she parries mischievously.

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‘ Keep going kid’ … Lunch and Richard Hell play the Limelight in New York in 1986. Photograph: MediaPunch Inc/ Alamy Stock

Lunch has described herself in previous years as a self-confessed adrenaline junkie, obsessed by” death’s black magnetism “. She’s lived childhood sexual abuse and domestic violence, dated various unhinged sweethearts( from a suspected sociopath to an ex-alcoholic who is to continue to murder his wife ), escaped deranged stalkers and recurred the same streets as such serial assassins as Richard Ramirez.” I didn’t think I’d live this long either, it wasn’t my goal actually, but I’m not gonna stand it[ life] either. I’m having too much fun. I’m too stubborn to die, too much to continuing to be .” Would she change anything, if she could go back?” God , no. Not a lick of it. And if she could go back and talking about here her 16 -year-old self?” I’d say,’ Keep going, kid; you’re on the right track .'”

She remains a cult figure, despite collaborations with the likes of Sonic Youth and Nick Cave. But a critical reappraisal of Lunch’s work is overdue; her” gone and hairied” busines is the issue of an upcoming documentary by long-time friend and collaborator, Beth B. Besides, says Lunch, looking for evidence of her legacy in” the usual, accessible homes, like music” are likely to be folly in 2019.” Maybe today’s counterculture exists abroad, in structure, discipline, prescription .”

What moves Lunch happy these days?” Laughing after I’ve cried. I believe my schism- as I’ve said for years- has always been and will always be pleasure. It’s in talking, in sharing discourse with others; it’s in humour; it’s in stretching both middle-of-the-road fingers up into the air and saying,’ Still now , motherfucker ‘. Yeah .”

* So Real It Hurts is out now, distributed by Seven Stories.

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