“To be in a band, at least according to the rules of rock in the 1970s, one must know how to play an instrument. But rather than waste time solving that problem, No Wavers ignored it. The point was simply to make music, not to learn how first” – Lydia Lunch
I wish we’d known Lydia when we first picked up guitars in the late 1970s. It would have been great to believe that you didn’t need learn how it all worked first. It was all too easy to become impatient with your own fingers, struggling to make the right chord shapes, and the self-inflicted cheese-wire cuts on our finger tips. This pain was always coupled with our teenage urgency to not waste anymore time learning about it. Lydia, as she says, was more of a plug and play kind of girl.
Born in Rochester, upstate New York, Lydia Koch arrived in NYC in 1976 at the age of 16, drawn there by her love of literature, glam rock, and more specifically the New York Dolls. She soon found herself hanging with fellow artists and musicians including Willie Deville who gave her, her now infamous surname. According to punk legend, Lydia was given the name “Lunch” because she allegedly stole and supplied lunches to the Dead Boys. We can only mull on this news, and wonder that if the punk rockers had woken up any earlier, she might have been forever known as Lydia Breakfast.
Spearheading the “No Wave” movement, she founded the influential band Teenage Jesus and The Jerks with James Chance, and after befriending Alan Vega and Martin Rev of Suicide, started to play at punk’s artier venue, Max’s Kansas City.
Three appearances on the seminal “No New York” album, produced by Brian Eno, cemented Lydia as a major force in the emerging post punk scene.
Without any of the traditional trappings of rock; you know, chords, major keys and anthem-like sing-along choruses, all of which were shunned by the No Wavers, Lydia’s output can, to some, seem abrasive, confrontational, jarring and difficult to listen to. But that is also kind of the point. This is the sound of ripping up the rock rule book.
Her first solo outing was 1980s “Queen of Siam”. The album drew upon influences ranging from jazz, cabaret, and big band, all wrapped in Lunch’s growling No Wave, delivery, and led to further collaborations with a range of artists including Nick Cave, German industrialist noise-mongers Einsturzende Neubauten, The Swans’ Michael Gira, Marc Almond and Thurston Moore. As an author her novel Paradoxia has been translated into six languages, as was her graphic novel Toxic Gumbo – illustrated by Ted McKeever for DC Comics. Music, photography, multi-media art events, spoken word and even motivational speaking are all in her repertoire. Her trademark tales of the hunted and the haunted, the dark and the primal, all allude to life as being some kind of a dark, twisted fairy-tale, art noir, but in person Lydia seems remarkably grounded, plainly spoken and possibly just slightly intimidating, but it all makes for some great quotes; From xpn.org Oct 2017
TK: What’s your poison – wine or whiskey? LL: “Poison…I view myself as the anti-christ…I turn wine into water”.
TK: I’ve interviewed you on several outings and in person yet, and quite frankly, haven’t been or felt threatened or intimidated. Am I a glutton for punishment? LL: “I hope you are a glutton, but perhaps you’re just too smart to paint your fear onto my face, which so many lesser mortals have been prone to do. Just because I’m articulate and no bullshit doesn’t mean I’m going to chew your face off. Unless I’m extremely hungry”. (laughs)
More recently, and collaborating with another New York No Waver, Adele Bertei, Lydia has landed a role in a Bertei written comedy about a feminist punk band called Venus Flytrap, which you can preview at Adele’s website HERE.
As well as being name-checked as an influence by a whole raft of bands including Hole and Sonic Youth, Lydia has been the self styled, straight talking mouthpiece for the outsider, for 40 years.
She has one final tip for us, “I am not nostalgic about anything. I just keep plowing straight ahead.” And so maybe that’s the secret, to not be nostalgic… to not loaf around in the past – we’ll have to give it a try sometime, maybe next year.
Lydia’s website HERE
Bottom photo from Trebuchetmagazine.com