What's for Lydia Lunch?
She trusts you as far as she can throw you. Or maybe that's just me.
Lydia Lunch’s Retrovirus, Oxbow, and Victims Family are playing at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco on November 27. A limited number of tickets are available for sale HERE.
Strange. I’ve seen that face before. It was a Grace Jones and Barry Reynolds lyric written to a piece of tango by Astor Piazzolla. In it, a lurker/stalker follows the followed who, moreover, knows she is being followed with a lyric that proclaims "What are you looking for? For death? Who do you think you are? You hate life, you too..."
She had always been a lodestar for this kind of energy I am sure. And I am sure because I’d been following her. Not in an abstract or casual way, via press and press announcements, but in a very real way. Through the streets, and to clubs.
Pre-the Internet this is the way things worked. You read about kids who were Kennedys getting high on heroin at Columbia and you wanted to get high on heroin with kids of Kennedys? You went to Columbia.
And while you could just read about the downtown scene and decidedly non-hippy happenings at Max’s Kansas City or CBGBs? If you were brave, desperate or stupid enough, that’s where you went, and what you did when you were there? You just waited for something to…happen.
The format, from the outside, was familiar, in that everyone was there for the music. But the music was really the least of why you were there. You, and a passel of other refuseniks, were there because there was no place else to go where it made sense to be. So goth before goth was a thing, punk before punk was a thing, creatures of a desire to run at death did so and looking at the picture now, I note how young everyone looks but when I was 15, I was galvanized and it was this pic that did it.
And it was Lydia, Lydia Lunch, who caught my eye. Like people who think the TV talks to them, the photo, an invitation, felt like it was a message meant for me. Specifically for me. I went to high school on 15th Street at the time, so the Lower East Side, the Bowery, the East Village were places where it was easy to find her and walking distance from school.
To talk to her? The time wasn’t right for that. Mostly because to these center stagers, a Black kid from Brooklyn dressed like Travis Bickle attracted less than zero notice in 1977. But more than that, and speaking of Bickle, there was his speech to Betsy, which would have worked just as well had I spoken it to Lydia.
I think you're a lonely person. I drive by this place a lot and I see you here. I see a lot of people around you. And I see all these phones and all this stuff on your desk. It means nothing. Then when I came inside and I met you, I saw in your eyes and I saw the way you carried yourself that you're not a happy person. And I think you need something. And if you want to call it a friend, you can call it a friend.
Creepy? Now more or less so because I own it?
Anyway when I think of the music I followed her to — James Chance, Suicide, all of her bands — it’d have been worth it even if I never met her.
Which is what I was scheming to do when I wrote her for an interview years later, 1985 now, for an interview in my Birth of Tragedy Magazine. She agreed, and pulling into a show in San Fran that kicked off with a knifing, and a bottle attack — photog Kern having perpetrated the knifing and a random audience member with the bottling of Lydia’s head — we were off to the races.
The piece she had read that night, “Daddy Dearest”, was about, as near as I could tell, being fingered by her father. I was on edge after it but eight years of waiting resolved itself with me following her, again, to the club back and while watching her climb the stairs to the green room finding my voice with a one word query.
She turned, looking down to where I was standing.
“Eugene?!? Come on up!” She was, and here’s a word you can laugh at but it was more true than not: effervescent.
After the interview, and a week had passed, maybe more, a postcard from her, its contents mostly lost in the mists of time but for one line: “we shall dig no graves before our time.”
In 2021 there are not many people I would kill for. But Lydia’s on that short list.
So, forthwith: a FIVE EASY PIECES. Five questions, five answers. None (sort of) about what the person is noted for. Enjoy.
[ONE] When was the last time you hit someone in actual anger? It seems like you do a great job of self-regulation that I can see...but losing it happens to the best of us sometimes. Though, if truth be told, I rarely "lose" it.
LYDIA: I NEVER “LOSE IT”. My violence, when it erupts, is usually requested by someone who is trying to erase their father's fist from their face, or it is expressed with extremely calculated and accurate precision. I don't fuck around. But you fuck with me? I could kill you. In a manner of speaking.
[TWO] Being a father now I can imagine I would handle this differently than your parents did but how did your parents square themselves with you scooting at 13? Did they try to force you back into high school/the standard mold? Or was it, "Okey dokey...one less mouth to feed!"
LYDIA: My father ran away at 15. What the fuck could they say? They knew I was on a mission. I left at 13 or 14 for a short spell, looked around, went back and hustled some cash in upstate...then split around 16, 17 for NYC. I only recently contemplating how painful it might have been for my mother. But I made it pretty clear I had shit to do...so ‘nuff said. I went and did it.
[THREE] What did your parents think of the transformation...that is when Lydia Koch became Lydia Lunch?
LYDIA: Who the fuck knows? They always had some idea of what I was. The change of my name didn’t change me. My first performance was at age 14 at an acid party in Buffalo, NY.
My father drove me, and picked me up (often at 2 AM), to dozens of rock concerts when I was 12-15. Roxy Music. Lou Reed, Mott the Hoople, etc.
When they asked why I had to stay out so late I replied “It was for my career.”
My mother asked “What Career?”
My retort: “Don’t ask - You wouldn’t get it.”
[FOUR] How much did your father’s sexual weirdness affect your early-stage decision to run away from home?
LYDIA: I first ran away at 13/14 to NYC. I had shit to do. I knew what that was. I sniffed around, went back upstate, rustled some cash and left again out my bedroom window to the Greyhound station. More important than the urge to flee (from my family in general) he ran away at 15 too like I said. But he instilled in me, the art of the con, how to grift, charisma, how to hustle. The art of predation. Existing on your wits. The will/power to never give in or give up.
He was a door to door salesman. Bibles, hotel chemicals, carpeting. Good way to get into women’s houses.
So I am a city to city salesman. I feel I learned more from him, than what it was he stole from me: the innocence of childhood, sleep. I also realized his insanity was as old as man himself, which is why I could speak about the abuse of power, the horror of the nuclear family, the ridiculousness of religion right out the gate. My first spoken word piece was “Daddy Dearest”.
[FIVE] Sexiness has always confused me...its conscious manipulation of symbols designed to mythologize an experience that if you look on it with the naked eye hasn't gotten more interesting in thousands of years, is what confuses me. Talk about sexy and your later life decision to get sterilized? Or do I have that totally wrong?
LYDIA: Totally wrong. I want EVERYONE TO BE STERILIZED. But I don’t find anything “traditionally” sexy. It depends on my mood. The year. Decade. Drugs. Etc…Right now I’m dating myself (laughs). Whatever most reminds me of myself.
In other words…a sexual schizophrenic. Someone who can keep up with the ever morphing twist of the radio dial that is the Coney Island of my mind.