Lydia Lunch is many things. She is the punk spirit, the precocious death child, the warrior, the dame of goth, unafraid and vulnerable, a mouthy bitch or a fiery sage – depends on your point of view. She was in your face and she was up your ass.
I first heard her band Teenage Jesus & The Jerks on the Brian Eno produced No New York, the album that brought No Wave to the rest of the world. This was a whole other realm away from my cosy white English middle class virgin existence, where I had grown up with Tolkien and flights of prog rock fancy. Slabs of monochrome howling from the likes of Mars, DNA and the Contortions came screaming into the void portraying the nihilism and no futurism of life in the gaps and cracks, and right there amongst them was Lydia Lunch, whose voice defied all attempts at tunefulness and decorum. A screeching screaming violent howl of frustration and despair. The black and white photo booth pictures on the back showing the cast of characters in their grainy mug shot glory, with the smeared messed up face of Lydia staring defiantly at the viewer. She not only looked like she had sex, she looked like she liked it! I’d never met girls like that before, girls who’d sooner kill you than fuck you, a girl who would stare straight at you and spit in your face, a girl who would lift her skirt and expose her crotch at you as an act of defiance, as a way of saying FUCK YOU. She was a fucking rebel and that was so fucking cool. And cooler still, as this film shows, she is still defiant, she is still angry, she is still sexy.
The story of Lydia Lunch is also the story of the reality of America from its late 60’s idealism through the Manson come down, and the violence and financial depression of the early 70’s. Many artists came together in New York due to cheap rents, skipping amongst the rubble with the homeless and the prostitutes and junkies, coming together to create performance, poetry, paintings and music to reflect this world they had found themselves in. Talk about a hotbed, and Lydia Lunch’s bed was probably the hottest, as she embarked on a reign of sexual experimentation, describing herself as a successful predator. In the middle of this she managed to create some of the best pure punk slabs of noise with Teenage Jesus before embarking on spoken word performances, art films, books, uncompromising gothic nightmares, collaborations with some of the best artists from the alternative scene including Rowland S. Howard, Thurston Moore, Suicide, Henry Rollins and Nick Cave, and the journey seems to have made her wise, and gifted with such knowledge about the human psyche, and yet she still remains so gloriously uncompromising.
Lydia is such a great subject for a film. She needs to be elevated. She should be taught in schools. She’s a role model for the dispossessed and the abused. She is a living Statue of Liberty, a representation of the best America has to offer. She is history (or herstory). An anti-hero, a balls out, uncompromising, gobby, wisecracking, full on WOMAN.
Lydia Lunch: The War Is Never Over is available now in selected US cinemas and international film festivals and online via Kino Marquee – further details are available on the film’s website.
Find out more about Lydia Lunch on her official website.
Review by Andrew Wood