by Jack Blare
Lydia Lunch is the undisputed Queen of No Wave and is one of the most dynamic and influential artists of our time. She started Teenage Jesus & The Jerks in 1977. Since then she’s been part of numerous bands such as 8-Eyed Spy & Big Sexy Noise and worked with artists as diverse as Sonic Youth, Last Poets, Cypress Grove, Richard Kern, Christine IX, Brian Eno, James Chance, Robert Quine, Nick Cave and Rowland S. Howard of the Birthday Party. She’s published several books and memoirs like Will Work For Drugs, Incriminating Evidence & Paradoxia.
She was a pioneer in the genre of Transgressive Film and is known for her powerful spoken word performances and outspoken feminism. Lydia Lunch has been influencing musicians, poets and artists since she appeared on the scene in 1977 and bands like Sonic Youth and L7 were heavily influenced by her music and ideals. So was I, an unknown 20-something poet and noise musician from a small town in Canada. This is the story of how we first met.
Listen to the album Ghosts of Summer while reading the text.
I first met Lydia Lunch at a show in Toronto. Outside it was cool and rainy. I’d been listening to her music for years, ever since I first heard her manic, orgasmic, psychotic murder screams on the Sonic Youth song Death Valley ’69.” She was the originator of the style I found most attractive, I had fallen in love with her voice and the brutal honesty and reality of her prose. I heard she was coming to Toronto and immediately bought a ticket. To quote her song Lady Scarface, “I had to I was really possessed.”
The first show
She came up on stage, beautiful dressed in black. “I love you!” someone screamed. “Don’t kiss my ass, your lips aren’t big enough.” She replied sardonically before the band kicked into a high energy version of Red Alert, a song from her first band Teenage Jesus and the Jerks when she was only seventeen. Her backing band is called RETROVIRUS and then included Weasel Walter (Flying Luttenbachers, Cellular Chaos) on guitar, a former member of the No Wave group Swans on bass and Bob Bert who had drummed for Sonic Youth on that first song I heard, Death Valley ’69. As well as being the drummer for Pussy Galore, Bewitched, Chrome Cranks, Knoxville Girls and the Wolfmanhattan Project.
Near the end of the show I moved up until I was right at the front of the stage, just a few feet from Lydia herself. When she sang: “What is it that you want, that you need, that you can’t live without? Oh baby we could just fuck right here in front of all these people, thats what you want isn’t it?” She sang to me, leaning in close, her eyes were magnetic, electric, entrancing, ensnaring. “What is it that you want, that you need, that you can’t live without?” she growled sensually into the microphone, stroking my cheek with her warm, soft hand.
The whole time I kept eye contact with her, not even blinking. Blue and Brown locked as she stirred my desire and when her attention was on me I felt like the most important person in the world, as if we were the only two people in the world. As the song ended she leaned in very close to me, stroked my cheek and whispered in my ear with the most delicate tone, so different from her No Wave stage growl “You are so beautiful.” She said softly at the song’s end and I felt shivers run down my spine. As fate would have it this was not to be our only encounter.
A poem for Lydia Lunch
I next saw Lydia Lunch at a free show for the Toronto World Pride Parade day where she was playing a free show alongside the queercore punks Pansy Division. It was a burning hot summer day with storm clouds circling in the sky. It began to pour I had my shirt off as I head banged to RETROVIRUS. The show was bloody awesome, even if it was cut short from the rain. I was front and centre, wondering if she’d recognize me still.
Afterwards I approached the backstage tent with a poem I intended to give to Lydia.“Hey Bob I have a poem to give to Lydia.” I said nervously to the drummer. Bob Bert is a cool looking dude with greying hair and dark sunglasses. He drummed on my favourite Sonic Youth album, Bad Moon Rising, as well as in the garage rock band Pussy Galore and the Blues-Punk act the Chrome Cranks just to name a few of his accomplishments. “Sure, I’ll take it to her now.” He said, and I handed it over, quite surprised. All of a sudden Bob came back out. “Lydia wants to see you. You’re a lucky guy.” He said, smiling. I followed him into the tent and got stopped by the bouncers. “Lydia wants to see him. ” Bob said and they immediately stepped aside and changed their tone towards me.
I was being granted an audience with the fabled first lady of No Wave, the Queen of Siam in the flesh. Lydia herself was a state of grace, a smoky room late at night, a whispered invitation. Red lipstick, all in black, high heels and raw femininity. She had a natural charisma that lure people’s eyes towards her. She was the centre of attention without even trying.
“I read your poem. I liked it from the beginning. “Insufflating personalities to wear.” It’s fucking great, give me your email and we’ll get in touch.” She said kindly. I scrawled it down on the poem a couple of times because my hands were shaking. “I don’t have much but here are some water bottles.” She offered kindly. My body was hugely dehydrated from the show and I gratefully accepted. “Yes please, thank you!” I said, and we hugged.
Though I didn’t speak much to the bassist, Tim Dahl, I did get a chance to talk a bit with Weasel Walter, the guitar player who was famous for his drumming with the Flying Luttenbachers and Behold…The Arctopus. He was a big guy, not overweight just big and tall, and he wielded his electric guitar like a weapon, never hitting me in the head but coming very close a lot of times.
“How did you end up becoming Lydia’s guitar player?” I asked curiously. “Well I met her and I told her she should hire me as a guitar player.” He was saying, “Why the fuck should I do that?” Was her reply. I just told her to look up my videos. Few weeks later I got a call and she grudgingly accepted me.” He said amusingly.
Emailing back and forth
The next time they were in town Lydia did recognize me, and bought me a drink. I gave her a book of poetry, self-published but professional looking, bound and glossy. She thanked me. “They, these people.” she said, gesturing around, they don’t get it but you do. You do.” She said. That was the first night we really connected, the first time I stopped thinking of her as a fan would a rock star, but as a friend.
We began to email back and forth. To my surprise and joy she told me she loved my poetry. I could hardly believe it that one of my biggest influences was so taken with my words.
When she next came to Toronto, with Weasel Walter to do a Brutal Measures show, which featured her spoken word backed up by Weasel on the drums. She put me on a list for backstage access and texted back and forth to coordinate when we were each getting into the city, it was surreal. We spent the entire time she wasn’t on stage talking and sometimes just staring into each other’s eyes (she has stunning eyes.) Even though we were born in different countries in different decades we found that we could relate to one another.
A continuing influence
Now we both continue to write and make music and she still influences me both artistically and personally and I’m grateful for the chance to learn from her directly. Lydia Lunch is many things to many people but she is never boring and now I find it hard to imagine a time when I didn’t know her. So if you like Lydia Lunch or any of the artists mentioned above then check out my Bandcamp page. Although the styles and genres are diverse it is hard to find anything I’ve made that doesn’t reflect her influence in some way, as well as the influences of the musicians around her.
Jack Blare is a solo artist making music influenced by Bob Dylan, Rowland S. Howard, Lydia Lunch, Neil Young & Cranford Nix. It is a blend of live acoustic folk & country songs, noise music, punk, psychedelic rock, poetry/spoken word, and digital loops.