NYC no wave art icon Lydia Lunch keeps finding new ways and new means to challenge the status quo

If you recorded the first song you ever wrote live with your band Teenage Jesus & The Jerks at Max’s Kansas City — New York’s Ground Zero of bohemian wrecksody — when you were 16 years old, well, it just ain’t gonna get any more real than that. That’s why poet, songwriter, singer, playwright, author and feculence rearranger Lydia Lunch doesn’t hesitate to unpack why she never wavered as she followed her inner pole star for half a century.

Speaking from her Brooklyn home via Zoom, Lunch, jumps right in. “OK, let’s start right there: whose gonna tell me what the fuck to do? And the first song I ever wrote was Popularity is So Boring, as if I knew. The truth is not a popular commodity; therefore, I am not going to stop, and I consider myself the liver of America. It’s what I’ve got to do.”

As we have birthdays approaching, she notes we are Geminis and so was Marquis de Sade, who shares her June 2 date. Which might explain why she never felt pressure to be anyone but herself. “No, excuse me, I did not. I pressured people. I’ve never had any pressure to sell out, sell up, be popular. I think the look on my face alone was enough to persuade people not to try to convince me to do anything I didn’t fuckin’ want to. And it remains there. The face remains.”

Vivacious, beautiful and easy to speak with because she just goes with it with a clarity rare in many conversations, Lunch is ever the unflinching iconoclast. She began her career in New York’s no wave scene of the ’70s, and has gone on to have a four-decade-long career in the avant-garde side of arts.

On this day, she picks up on our previous discussion about her 1997 book Paradoxia: A Predator’s Diary, in which a young girl is raped and subsequently samples all earthly pleasures during her journey to fuck like a man. The book has been called everything from boring to disturbing and compared to the work of Jean Genet and one of Lunch’s favourite writers, Hubert Selby Jr. It doesn’t matter what was written about it, as none of that will impact Lunch’s path.

“Well, the best books are meant to be reread. I was stubborn from the get go and it was inspired by literary heroes of mine that were never popular in their day, and still in death not are they either. It was because of literature, and the hole in it — and you just mentioned Paradoxia, go back and read it again; I had to start saying some things that I felt hadn’t been said.”

And she finds many ways and mediums with which to say them.

“I just completed a documentary called Artists: Depression, Anxiety & Rage and what’s interesting — subtitle, My Wonderful Friends Those Miserable Cunts; subtitle, I don’t have depression or anxiety. I’m paid for my rage. I’m not rageful in my private life; my anger is much bigger than petty bullshit, but, it was interesting to me, the difference in how I, say, acknowledge trauma, because from a very early age, I recognized that whatever was happening in my house was much worse in other places and was much worse globally. 

“And I think that saved me a lot of interior negative dialogue and it created an insistence that I had to speak out against it in relationships, in politics, in the patriarchy, in the American way of life, which is death. So, I got a pretty early start knowing the path I perceived to be mine. Which I’m still on.”

At one point, Lunch moved to Spain (which was “fresh off of fascism”) and lived there for eight years. “First of all, since 1977, I’ve done more performances in Europe than in America. They understand an artist that might be completely unpredictable as opposed to America where they would prefer you record the same album and play it for 20 years.”

In speaking about the American way of life being death days after the Uvalde school massacre, Lunch is unflinching. “Seriously, we were founded by religious perverts — The Puritans — who tried to wipe out almost everybody that was already here. We’ve been in war for all but 10 years of our existence. We have had 213 mass shootings this year alone. What’s interesting, I really like this debate with these ‘Republicons’ I call them, who want to ban abortion, some even before conception — as if. What are they going to be there by the bedside with a thermometer? But don’t give a shit about all the children who are being murdered or about children that maybe should not be born. 

“There is a God hole in some people’s heads. They can’t accept, they are so fearful of their own mortality that they believe somebody that looks like their grandfather in a dress is in the sky, who will punish you forever for not listening to the bullshit they’re saying. I don’t get it. I just don’t get it.”

Which brings the circle back to its starting place: death as the American way of life.

“You know, God — whoever that is to whoever it is — has been responsible for more murders than anybody, so, as a Christian-right country, it’s the American way of life: death.”

Regarding her documentary, Lunch acknowledges there are many reasons for depression, including existential angst, but is not going down that road. 

“As somebody that’s always been an apocalyptitian — and knowing that this bullshit is all cyclical, over and over, same as it ever was, this again — just knowing that, at an early age I had to find ecstasy at the mouth of the apocalypse. Pleasure is my ultimate rebellion. It’s what they steal from us. Fuck you, not going there. I’m a chuckle-fucker, what can I say?”

Lydia Lunch appears with her band Retrovirus June 25 at Dickens as part of Sled Island. She’ll also participate in a Q and A following the June 24 screening of the documentary Lydia Lunch: The War Is Never Over at the Globe Cinema. For more information, got to