Lydia Lunch - Biography
Lydia Lunch was born Lydia Koch on June 2, 1959 in Rochester, New York. In 1976, at the age of 16, she moved to New York City, spurred by her attraction to the likes of “The groups that had originally made me want to go to New York and which originally had made me run away at 14 to go and investigate [were] Patti Smith, Richard Hell, Television,” Lunch told Perfect Sound Forever in 1997, explaining her attraction to and desire to supersede the New York punk scene she found in the mid-70s. “Although they attracted me there and they were a welcome relief from a place like upstate New York, I wanted to create something that would completely divorce myself from that, break away and shoot forward. I still found that a lot of things that I was drawn to didn't go far enough or were still too based in a tradition.”
Lunch formed her first band, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, that year, with daring free jazz extremist James Chance (who had also just moved to NYC) on saxophone, Reck on bass, and drummer Bradly Field. At the center of the band were Lunch’s unearthly wail and her shrieking guitar. Critic Robert Palmer, writing for the New York Times in 1987, said that Lunch “did not so much play as strangle” her guitar in Teenage Jesus. Chance left toward the end of 1977 to form The Contortions. Recordings from his stint in Teenage Jesus surfaced in 1979 on the Pre-Teenage Jesus (Ze) EP. Other New York groups such as Mars, DNA, and Red Transistor emerged that year with forms of noise modernism that were categorized along with Teenage Jesus and The Contortions as “No Wave” in opposition to the traditional rock and roll ambitions and song forms of the contemporary New Wave. Manhattan (by way of Cleveland) punks the Dead Boys’ 1977 album Young Loud & Snotty (Sire) crudely immortalized the young Lydia on “I Need Lunch.” It is reported that when Lunch waitressed at the punk dive CBGBs, she served the Dead Boys one of her used maxi-pads.
Between 1978 and 1983, Lunch would appear in five films by No Wave director Vivienne Dick. The compilation No New York (Antilles), released in 1978, presented four songs each from The Contortions, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, Mars, and DNA, all recorded by visionary musician and producer Brian Eno. By the time the No New York sessions were recorded, Reck had been replaced on the bass by Gordon Stevenson. In 1979, Two Teenage Jesus singles were released — the panic-inducing “Orphans” (Lust/Unlust) and the sorrowful “Babydoll” (Lust/Unlust), which featured new bassist Jim Sclavunos. Both singles were produced by Richard Hell & the Voidoids’ guitarist Robert Quine and issued on the Lust/Unlust label. Later that year, Pink (Lust/Unlust) combined the contents of both singles on a 12” EP.
Lunch was already involved with her next project, Beirut Slump, before 1979 ended. Sclavunos moved from bass to drums, and Beirut Slump released the single “Try Me/Staircase” (1979 Lust/Unlust). The rest of the band’s recorded material went unreleased until the 1989 retrospective LP set Hysterie (Rough Trade/Widowspeak). Beirut Slump split up in 1980, after three gigs. Lunch recorded the solo album Queen of Siam (1980 Ze) with Quine on guitar, drummer Douglas Bowne, and the mysterious bassist “Jack Ruby.” The music on Queen of Siam is eerily quiet — particularly Lunch’s vocal performances, which are backed by piano, acoustic guitar, saxophone, and orchestral instruments. As she recorded Queen of Siam, Lunch readied her next band, 8-Eyed Spy, with Sclavunos on drums, ex-Contortions George Scott on bass, guitarist Michael Paumgardhen, and guitarist/saxophonist Pat Irwin. 8-Eyed Spy released the single “Diddy Wah Diddy” (Fetish) in 1980, and the self-titled LP 8-Eyed Spy (Fetish) and the cassette 8-Eyed Spy Live (ROIR) in 1981.
Lunch left 8-Eyed Spy behind and formed her next band, 13.13, in Los Angeles with guitarist Dix Denney, bassist Greg Williams, and drummer Cliff Martinez — all members of the Weirdos. Lydia Lunch and 13.13 released the LP 13.13 (Ruby) in 1982. Lunch also shared a split 12” British EP The Agony is the Ecstasy (1982 4AD) with Nick Cave’s hell-raising The Birthday Party that year. The Birthday Party’s side, titled “Drunk on the Pope’s Blood,” was recorded at a 1981 live show in London. On Lunch’s side, she is joined by guitarist Steven Severin of Siouxsie and the Banshees, drummer Christian Hoffman, and guitarist Murray Mitchell. The 12” single “Some Velvet Morning” (1982 4AD), credited to Lydia Lunch and Rowland S. Howard, pairs her with Birthday Party guitarist and occasional singer for a cover of Lee Hazelwood’s immortal psychedelic ballad. They are accompanied by Magazine bassist and future Bad Seed Barry Adamson, Birthday Party guitarist Mick Harvey, and pianist Genevieve McGuckin. Lunch and Howard then contributed to Einstürzende Neubauten’s “Thirsty Animal” (1982 Film Palast) 12”. Lunch and Exene Cervenka of X co-wrote the book Adulterers Anonymous, which was published by Grove that year as well.
The 1984 spoken word cassette Hard Rock (Ecstatic Peace!), split between Lunch and Swans leader Michael Gira, was the first release on Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth’s label Ecstatic Peace! Lunch and Moore also sang a duet on Sonic Youth’s Manson Family-themed single, “Death Valley ‘69” (Iridescence), that year. Also in ’84, Moore played bass, early Sonic Youth member Richard Edson drums, and Pat Place and Kristian Hoffman of James White and the Blacks played guitar and piano respectively on the 12” EP In Limbo (Doublevision). Lunch acted in The Right Side of My Brain, the first of several films by underground New York City director Richard Kern that she would appear in.
Lunch started her own label, Widowspeak, in 1984. The first release was a spoken word cassette, The Uncensored Lydia Lunch (Widowspeak), followed by a collaboration with Lucy Hamilton of Mars called The Drowning of Lucy Hamilton (1985 Widowspeak), and a collaboration with the supremely antagonistic DC-area anti-hardcore band No Trend for the EP Heart of Darkness (Widowspeak) in 1985. Lunch and No Trend also collaborated on the album A Dozen Dead Roses (No Trend) that year.
Lunch recorded Honeymoon in Red (Widowspeak) with The Birthday Party in 1982 for release on a German label that year, but the label went bankrupt and the tapes were subsequently lost. When Lunch finally acquired the tapes, one of them was missing. She remixed what she had with the help of Jim “Foetus” Thirlwel, and Thurston Moore overdubed guitar on some tracks. The newly mixed version was released by Widowspeak in1987. Thirlwell, under the pseudonym Clint Ruin, collaborated with Lunch on the EPs The Crumb (Widowspeak) and Stinkfist (Widowspeak) in 1988. That year, Lunch also wrote and acted in the performance video The Gun Is Loaded (Mystic Fire).
The double-LP retrospective Hysterie (1989 Rough Trade/Widowspeak) devoted one side each to Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, Beirut Slump, and 8-Eyed Spy. The fourth side is comprised by collaborations with Rowland S. Howard, Danish avant-punk band Sort Sol, and German band Die Haut. Lunch, Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth, and drummer Sadie Mae formed the band Harry Crews, named after a contemporary Southern writer. Harry Crews released only one LP, Naked in Garden Hills (Big Cat), in 1990. Our Fathers Who Aren’t In Heaven (1990 Widowspeak) collects spoken word performances by Lunch, Henry Rollins, Hubert Selby, Jr., and Don Bajema. Conspiracy of Women (1990 Widowspeak) captures a spoken word performance in Berlin. Lunch and Rowland S. Howard collaborated once again in 1991 on Shotgun Wedding (Triple X), an album produced by Thirlwell, as well as the live document Shotgun Wedding Live (Insipid) in 1993. In the early 1990’s, Lunch also wrote three adult comic books — Blood Sucker (1992 Fantagraphics), Incriminating Evidence (1992 Last Gasp), and — with Nick Cave — AS-FIX-E-8 (1993 Last Gasp).
As the ‘90s wore on, Lunch focused more on writing and spoken word than on music. 1994’s Crimes Against Nature (Triple X) presented three CDs of spoken word, and Lunch reunited with Exene Cervenka for the spoken word album Rude Hieroglyphics (Rykodisc) in 1995. Another spoken word CD, Universal Infiltrators (Atavistic), followed in 1996. Lunch’s novella Paradoxia: A Predator’s Diary, published in 1997 by Creation, was a fictionalized but frank account of sexual transgressions. On the 1998 spoken word double-CD Matrikamantra (Atavistic), Joe Budenholzer creates the sonic environment for Lunch’s voice, which speaks about the Romanian philosopher E.M. Cioran.
Between the spoken CDs The Devil’s Racetrack (Almafame), released in 2000, and Memory & Madness (Widowspeak), released in 2003, Lunch released the EP Champagne, Cocaine and Nicotine Stains (2002 Crippled Dick Hot Wax) with the band Anubian Nights, and the war protest In My Time of Dying (2003 Widowspeak). Smoke In The Shadows (2004 Atavistic) returned to the cabaret mood of Queen of Siam, and was the first full album of songs from Lunch in some time. Lunch has since released two live performance DVDs — Fueling the Rose of Fire (Widowspeak) and Willing Victim (Atavistic), both released in 2005. Her most recent releases are the limited edition album Ghosts of Spain (Widowspeak) — released in 2007 and recorded at her Barcelona home — and the 7” single “When I’m Loaded” — a collaboration with Minneapolis band Halo of Flies. Teenage Jesus and the Jerks reunited for one night only at New York’s Knitting Factory in June 2008 to celebrate the publication of Thurston Moore and Byron Coley’s book, No Wave: Post-Punk. Underground. New York. 1976-1980, published by Abrams in 2008.