Interview: Lydia Lunch – 'the whole misunderstood artist is bullshit'
Post-punk dissident talks upcoming projects, being understood, and Brutal Measures at Glasgow Short Film Festival
'I really do not give a shit,' shrugs post-punk dissident Lydia Lunch. She's carved an exceptional, savage body of work based on that modus operandi over the past 40 years – from tearing through New York's new wave, and no wave, scenes with art-pop outlaws Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, through collaborating with James Chance, Nick Cave and Marc Almond, to So Real It Hurts: her first major retrospective exhibition of poetry, art, installations and more, which opened in NYC in 2015.
'People take from me what they will,' says the fired-up renaissance punk of her multifarious career. 'It’s great when someone really seems to get what I do, but I don’t assume what it is they are drawn to me for. The whole misunderstood artist is bullshit. Most of my literary influences weren’t understood for decades, if not centuries, after their death. I do what I do. People get whatever they get. I don’t expect anyone to get it all – but then again … who could stand to?'
'It all', as she puts it, defies categorisation and convention – and comprises, among other works, an autobiography (2007's Paradoxia), myriad films, a photographic exhibition (The War is Never Over), an incendiary installation (You Are Not Safe In Your Own Home), countless spoken-word undertakings, plus singles and albums under various guises including Big Sexy Noise, Retrovirus, and a stunning union with Cypress Grove, for 2014's A Fistful of Desert Blues.
The concept, she says – the message, the ideology, the protest – has always dictated and influenced the form (and choice of collaborators) across her multi-disciplinary work. 'I see myself as a forensic journalist who uses different mediums to get the point across,' she offers. 'The tools I use vary according to what's necessary to complete the job.'
Scratch the surface of her motley upcoming projects and you'll get the gist: 'More Retrovirus. More Big Sexy Noise. Another Cypress Grove LP. A new book,' she catalogues. 'A one woman show called Dirty Old Men, which is a monologue based on the works of my favourite writers Henry Miller, Marquis De Sade, Genet & Hubert Selby Jr.'
Her Glasgow shows are rare in every sense. She first appeared at Stereo in 2010 with the terrific, caustic Sick With Desire – a candle-lit, cut-throat polemic that trashed and subverted notions of freedom ('a hallucination'), democracy ('a mirage'), death, obsession, terrorism and the patriarchy. She returned in 2012 with rock 'n' roll violators Big Sexy Noise, and this time she promises us 'brutal, beautiful madness', alongside Brooklyn-based multi-instrumentalist Weasel Walter, for a performance entitled Brutal Measures, as part of Glasgow Short Film Festival.
'Brutal Measures is mostly improvisational tag team spoken word and drums,' she explains. 'Weasel starts it off … I jump in … we take it from there. There are no “songs” to speak of – just extreme spontaneous explosions of music offset with semi-improvisational dark poetics.'
Such dark poetics also underscore her searing 1990 spoken-word album, Conspiracy of Women. It was reissued on vinyl last year via Nicolas Jaar's Other People imprint, and contains the exquisite lyrics, 'My language is not silence. My song is the scream.' Long may she sing.
Brutal Measures: Lydia Lunch and the Cinema of Transgressions, Sat 19 Mar, Glue Factory.