Long Live Lydia Lunch CHANGES Keynote @ Abbotsford Convent, North Laundry on July 3, 2019.
At the ungodly, most un-rock’n’roll starting time of 10.45am, Goth No-Wave Queen Lydia Lunch materialises (wearing all black everything, obviously), places her notes on the lectern and begins in somewhat cheery fashion: “GOOD MORNING! I’m Lydia Lunch…”
The packed-out North Laundry room in Abbotsford Convent fills with claps and whoops. Lunch then provides some background, starting from that time when she snuck out of her bedroom window, jumped on a Greyhound bus and “hit Manhattan as a teeny terror in 1976, inspired by the manic ravings of Lester Bangs and Creem magazine”, The Velvet Underground, New York Dolls and what she deems Patti Smith’s “best song”, Piss Factory. Arriving with “200 bucks in [her] back pocket”, Lunch acknowledges her baby face “belied a hustler’s instinct”.
Later on, while in conversation with her friend/the punk- and No Wave-influenced rapper Mz Neon, Lunch reflects: “In my day, when I was a teenager, you were proud to be a f—in’ freak, because there was glam rock and that kind of was the beginning of the blurring the divide between men and women… I ran away to New York at the age of 13 to find the New York Dolls. I didn’t find them, but I went back…”
As soon as Lunch got a fake ID (claiming she was 16), she ran off to New York City. We learn the first person Lunch ran into was “Wayne, eventually Jayne, County”. Lunch had actually written to County as a 13-year-old and received a response, she continues, and then when she walked into a club straight off the Greyhound bus there was County!
Lunch’s descriptions of the late-1970s, early-1980s New York City as “a beautifully ravaged slag” (“She stunk of sex, drugs and aerosol paint”) are gutter-poetic. “It felt like the lunatics had taken over the asylum (and indeed they had),” she observes. She then labels post-Suicide, pre-Sonic Youth, New York City “the Devil’s letterbox… an extreme reaction against everything the 1960s had promised but failed to deliver”.
After admitting she read books before she started listening to music, Lunch lists authors such as Marquis de Sade, Henry Miller and Jean Genet as primary influences. It was discovering the music of Bowie, The Stooges and The Velvet Underground that eventually set Lunch on her path, although she stresses, “I always knew that it was first and foremost words”.
“I still find the words the most important thing I do, I use the music merely as the machine gun to the bullets that I fire.”
A self-confessed “musical schizophrenic”, Lunch reveals, “No one genre has ever satisfied what I need to express.” Of her first band, Teenage Jesus & The Jerks, Lunch explains, “We rehearsed every single day because if you’re gonna be that dissonant you better be really f—ing good.”
No Wave “pretty much has this [raises middle fingers skyward] as an attitude”, Lunch opines. “NO, No Wave sounds like any other No Wave. It is what it is NOT that holds it together.” These days, Lunch reckons alt-jazz is most akin to No Wave in the same way that No Wave was akin to the absurdity of Dada back in the day (“We just Didn’t. F—ing. Care”).
And according to Lunch, No Wave is only a movement in retrospect. After commenting on how No Wave has influenced pop culture and mainstream media, Lunch quips, “I fail to see my f—ing influence”.
Lunch is known for her collaborations – which she started doing “really early on” – with the likes of Nick Cave, Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon, James Chance, The Birthday Party, Einstürzende Neubaten and Sonic Youth.
She’s a fan of collaboration because “all ego is wiped out”, we’re told, and then Lunch points out one of her earliest collabs was with Rowland S. Howard (Some Velvet Morning). The first time she went to see The Birthday Party in New York there were only ten people in attendance, Lunch shares.
Just before we’re treated to a performance by Mz Neon – whose current output is described by Lunch as “Trans-chick-with-dick-rap stuff” – our CHANGES keynote speaker provides an overarching endorsement to close: “I validate anybody that’s an individual… anybody that stands for what they are, even if that’s ever-changing, anybody that does not listen to the bullshit of others and speaks their own f—ing truth.”