Director Beth B’s documentary Lydia Lunch: The War is Never Over profiles a key figure in the No Wave movement that came out of New York in the late 1970s. An angry, dissonant music with elements of nihilism, noise and dark, sometimes poetic literacy, No Wave was a gritty, stridently non-commercial backlash to both popular radio music and three-chord punk.
As the frontperson in Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, 8-Eyed Spy and other bands, Lunch rose to prominence as a sexually-charged singer and spoken-word artist, and she continued to thrive as a very vocal provocateur long after No Wave passed into music history books, and continued to collaborate with artists of every discipline, both over- and underground.
The War is Never Over, which screens Tuesday (Aug. 31) at St. Petersburg’s Green Light Cinema, is a clear-eyed homage to the Rochester native’s musical, literary and visual pursuits, starting with her arrival in New York City as a teenage runaway in search of an escape from her sexually abusive father – a tragic circumstance that continued to force-feed her anger for decades.
Collaborators including Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and Donita Sparks of L7 sing her praises, one by one, accompanied by astonishing video clips of Lunch’s various performance personas over the years.
Raved the Boston Hassle: “Whenever the camera is trained on its subject, the effect is nothing short of electric.” And Cinemalogue said “This edgy portrait digs into her rage and rebellion with the same commitment as Lydia herself.”
Lunch herself is traveling with the film. After stops in Miami and Orlando, she’ll be at Green Light following Tuesday’s 7 p.m. screening, to answer audience questions.
The Catalyst caught up with the legend by phone, a few days before she departed for Florida.
St. Pete Catalyst: At the end of the film, you’re onstage with the band and you lean over to this couple standing in the front and ask them each “What is it that you want?” After all this time, what is it that YOU want? What are you still looking for?
Lydia Lunch: Nothing. It’s not that I’ve had everything, it’s that I don’t need anything. I don’t know that I want anything – on a personal level, not a political level, ‘cause that would take too long to explain. I just want to keep doing what I’ve always done, which I will continue to do. That’s not even like a want, that’s a mandate. I don’t know how to do anything else!
Are there still reasons to be angry? Maybe not what fueled you in the beginning, but fuel you now?
What fueled me in the beginning still fuels me right now, because the situation has not changed. And the problem is, we know more about it now than we did then, whether I was speaking about familial nuclear family insanity or political insanity, very little has changed. And it’s more fucked all the time. One of my mantras was always “same as it ever was.” Because, is it any different from feudal times? Or medieval times? It’s still a feudal society, there’s still the super-rich and the rest of us.
Yes, we have more freedoms. All right. No doubt. But on a grander scale, equality, where is it? Justice, where is it? So there’s just as many reasons to be angry. Please.
The great thing about having my podcast The Lydian Spin for the past two years … especially in 2020, when there were no performances and there was an ass clown in the seat of power, it was a great platform to espouse the horror, the horror. So that was great. We carry on.
Why was it time to make this documentary?
I don’t know – is it ever time? What about Part Two is my question. Couldn’t get everything into it. Good thing a DVD is coming out with some extras – you can’t cram 43 years into 70 minutes. Beth did the best she could do, and she got quite a lot in there, obviously.
People have asked me for years, and I’m like “Excuse me, I’m still living, and how are you going to keep up with me anyway?” All the things I’ve done since we finished doing this (the film), et cetera et cetera. But she did a pretty good job of condensing as much as possible into that format.
I liked that at no time did you feel the need to explain yourself. It’s like “if you’re in this world, you’ll get it.” You’ll understand what she’s talking about.
You got it right there. Look, if people think I’m preaching to the converted, I like to think I’m preaching to the perverted. I mean, converted to what? I’m not espousing a dogma or a philosophy, I’m just spouting off about the frustrations that a sexual and a political minority have. So I’m a mouthpiece for that, and hence I continue.
That’s it, and if you don’t get it, I don’t fuckin’ care. What am I supposed to do? How much clearer can I be? I’m not a solutionist.
And also, I feel that it’s very important to say this: I don’t feel that I’m just speaking for myself. I call it crab-walking sideways through my career. My fan base may be almost the same as it ever was, which is enough for me. Hello? But I’m not speaking only for myself. I know there are other people.
How have you changed, philosophically, over the years? Are you angrier?
My anger is on a grand scale, it’s never on a personal level. So I don’t sit here stewing in my own juice 24 hours a day. And also, I allow the daylight hours to be where I absorb more of the fucking pus and poison that especially this country exports to every inch of the frickin’ planet, but when night falls around, forget it, I gotta shut it off.
I don’t get mad at people. It’s just not important enough. If you’re being an asshole, hey, I’m capable of being one too, but I’ll just step away. You have an opinion I don’t agree with, go ahead.
So … are you rich?
(laughs) I’ve been tied to the fucking gutter numerous times. That’s the price you have to pay for not knowing how to do anything but art. But it’s been worth it.
Right now, I’m trying to sell my intellectual property rights. Part of it is a cultural guilt trip. They gave the Red Hot Fucking Chili Peppers $150 million for their catalogue. Hello!? I have 385 songs written, screenplays, books, thousands of photographs I took … take me to the bank, motherfucker! This is all stuff I’ve completed, that I could do no more with, because I’ve done everything I could with it.
So I would love for someone to come and hand me a bag of cash. But it wouldn’t be because I need the money – I don’t want fuckin’ anything. I don’t want to buy a house, a car, an apartment – I don’t even drive.
But it would be nice to help other artists that are not as clever a juggler as I am. And do more projects.
People spend hundreds of dollars on the lottery every week. I figure I might win by not playing it.
Are you doing a reading in St. Petersburg?
No, I’m just coming down to poke you in the side. If somebody has a question, I’ll answer it.
If someone wanted to goad you into reading, would you do it?
If they paid me! I’m coming down for free as it is. Whaddya got in your pocket, Bill?
Green Light tickets here.
Lydia Lunch official website here.