»Because of death, I am desperate to live« – Lydia Lunch battles war, daddy, death, and sex with music, spoken word and self-love. »We live shorter than sea turtles«, she said in a Spoken Word Interview.
skug: How did you like the skug festival at Fluc? Were you aware that the theme of the festival was connected to the Shoah and second/third generation remembrance culture?
Lydia Lunch: I am always speaking about a war of one type or another, whether it is the battle of sex or the endless war waged by patriarchy or how America is the terrorist. I am always talking about war. I get it into everything. I can’t avoid it.
How is World War II reflected upon in the United States?
We’ve been in World War III since our existence. America started as a war with the indigenous people. We are war whores and war mongers. I left America when George Bush stole the second election. Barack Obama, that miracle of propaganda, that pre-fabricated man, who was invented to take the blame for the Republican party as they destroyed not only America but most of the planet with their false wars.
Would you say discussing World War II is a European question?
America does not teach history. First of all the Bush family was involved in World War II. They just pretend they are for freedom and liberty. Yet we have more prisoners than anywhere else and they pretend they can bring democracy by using war. Everything America says is a hypocritical lie, the reverse of reality. When the poor are disenfranchised, living in this fictitious country that pretends it is the land of the free, home of the brave, and everyone is white, rich, and Republican – which we are not – then people turn violent, when they have been lied to their whole lives. If you have any interest to know how the world works, you go back in history. To me World War II is the culmination of evil ever since the patriarchy took over the planet.
Where you ever a part of a sub-culture that made reference to Fascism and Nazism like for example, The Ramones with their song »Nazi, Schatzi«?
America in their stupidity likes to embrace fashion and The Ramones were very fashion conscious. The swastika is actually an Indian symbol, which the Germans took over. When people are fetishizing Nazism, they are only fetishizing the fashion, they are not thinking about the real repercussions, even when they were Jews. I say with great abandon and polarity: That wasn’t my trip. I wasn’t Punk Rock. I was No Wave. I’ve called my self a »Femi-Nazi« because I don’t think feminist is strong enough. But that is an insult to the word and it is just an exaggeration.
How do you see yourself in the context of Jewish identity?
I’m not Jewish, I am German and Italian. My mother was a fortune teller. I live in America which is a Fascist police state. I was always fighting Fascism. In 1982, I started to become a political speaker against Ronald Reagan, I used the terminology of the war whores. I used aggressive language. I threatened their violence with violence and antagonism because I don’t think peace works against violence. Whoever has the most guns wins. There is no easy solution. My rebellion is to use the enemy’s language and sarcasm.
As a woman in America you need to protect yourself. This is the mad Wild West. I lived in many ghettos. As a person born into poverty and still dealing with poverty, I live where I can afford to live but in my house I will feel safe. Whatever that takes. So it is not about violence against violence. It’s about safety against insanity.
How did your rebellious phase begin in your youth?
I was eight years old, in Upstate New York, in a black ghetto, and I am watching a horror film, and the race riots start outside my house, and my house was the epicenter of the race riots, which struck 17 cities in America approximately at the same time in the late sixties, because black people wanted to work and there was no work and they were fooled into going North or South and they wanted equal pay. I am eight years old, watching a horror film, and it starts, my father’s car gets burned, and a helicopter crashes three blocks away and 2000 people are arrested and this gave me my sense of protest. I knew what they were protesting: equality. We were poor and lived in my Sicilian, non-English-speaking grandmother’s house. It wasn’t the African Americans, it was the treatment by the whites. I can go anywhere in any ghetto in any part of the world and feel safe because I am not there to threaten, I understand what poverty is, I have empathy, and I have no fear. At five years old, I am in my own version of a war zone, a riot that raged for three days, I didn’t know if it was ’64 or ’67. Malcolm X and Martin Luther King came to my hometown to speak. I was too young to know.
My father is the terrorist in my own house, like many fathers are. So I am battling familial trauma and a type of war. Consciousness hit me at six years old. I realize, my life is f****ed up. This is not right. I live with a sexual traumatizer. I am between two wars. The second war, I call a war: you are five years old and you don’t know what is going on. I decided I had to write and I had to start to protest and by nine I was writing and by twelve I was filling journals and at fourteen I ran away to New York. I stayed there for many years, then New Orleans, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Los Angeles, London, Barcelona.
So writing was before music? How did your music first begin?
Reading was before music. Hubert Selby Jr, Henry Miller, Jean Genet, Marquis de Sade, Foucault were my heroes. I knew I had to write because there was no woman in that mix and I had to tell it from a female perspective. My third book was a book then about my sexual war-zone called Paradoxia: A Predators Diary and this was about my battle of sex. My war.
I guess at twelve I got into David Bowie and the Velvet Underground, the Stooges, Elvis, Lou Reed, Berlin, and the New York Dolls. The New York Dolls are why I ran away to New York. Men were dressing as women, this kind of boisterous, joyous raunchy music.
Suicide were my first friends in ’73. Martin Rev would give me vitamins. This was back when there were ten people in the audience. They played at Max’s Kansas City, which I lived around the corner from. I moved into some hippie’s loft and I took the bed of Kitty Bruce, Lenny Bruce’s daughter. This was historical to me.
We ended the Medusa’s Bed concert at the festival with a version of »Harlem« by Suicide. My version gets more into the American politics, Harlem is one of the places they ruined, because we kill our own. I went to New York thinking I was going to be a spoken-word poet, but it didn’t exist yet. It was past Beats past Lenny Bruce, past Patti Smith. So to make the words get out, I started to make music for Teenage Jesus and The Jerks. Someone gave me a broken guitar. I am a contrarian. My band Teenage Jesus was precise, brutal, blunt. We played seven to thirteen minute sets. I had another band called Beirut Slumps, which was slow like horror-core with a male singer that I wrote all the music for. I had a surf jazz band and did my album »Queen of Siam«. All in three years time. I was a musical schizophrenic from the beginning.
You are lauded as the queen of self-empowerment. The festival took an optimistic look at post World War II identity. In the frame of third generation remembrance culture, what is your advice on how to create a positive identity for continuing generations?
I’ve been doing workshops called „Post-Catastrophe Collaborative Workshops“ for women only. I try to create a space to experiment. This is like the coven, go back to the circle of stories. My biggest advice to women is don’t be afraid to be ugly. My music is very ugly. How I speak about things is very brutal, I am not trying to romanticize things, glamorize, or pop-pornify. Be real, be comfortable, and also satisfy yourself. Because if you do not know what you want, you will not get it. We are compartmentalized people. We are whole within the compartmental. We are fragmented people, we have many parts. We have many sides and many desires. We shouldn’t expect one person, Mr. F****ing Right to solve this. We need as many lovers as possible. We need to embrace our friends. We need to experience live-art. We need to make music or hear music. We need to embrace a creative life-style, which we can do with the simplest things. You don’t have to be an artist to have an artistic life-style. You have to live art creatively. You have to not let the enemy win to take pleasure in the smallest things because if you never find pleasure in the smallest things you will never be satisfied. Take it from a glutton. In order to satisfy my gluttony, I had to reduce it to the basic, how the light falls on a shadow… If you don’t find appreciation in this, you appreciate nothing. You become like an American, always wanting more.
Did you take revenge on your father?
Well he is dead. When I first came out as a spoken word artist it was against what I call the Unholy Trilogy: Father, father of my country and God, the Fucker. These have always been my targets. My father was not a bad person, a trickster, archetype figure. He was very charismatic, very funny, a con-artist. He never had a steady job, he worked changing jobs all the time. My father gave me a lot of beneficial attributes, because of him, I create.
My father just had a generational disease, he couldn’t control his hands, especially with me. He couldn’t control himself. It was a sickness, nobody dealt with it. I asked other members of the family, my cousins, my aunts: »Why didn’t you say something?« It was the ’50s and ’60s. My first spoken word show was called Daddy, Dearest. On this day, I got my revenge. I had to speak out for everybody that has suffered abuse. I had sisters but I was the focus. I got everything I wanted because of his guilt. I was going to concerts at twelve. My father was not sexually violent, he was a stealth attacker. I was never beaten, it was more insidious. It wasn’t violent, it was a violation. I rebelled with literature and I rebelled with art.
When I confronted him he admitted to everything. Most times when you confront the abuser, they deny everything. This was almost worse. I told him, »All my hatred and anger and bitterness is because of you!« and he said, »I know.« I couldn’t say anything else because you don’t expect them to admit to it. He is dead now. I killed him but he was not a bad man.
The theme of death in your music, spoken word is that mainly from a personal source?
I was born in the most toxic Superfund site in America. My mother had eleven brothers and sisters, only three lived. I had a death before me, after me, with me, I was born with a dead twin, I consumed him. So because of death, I am desperate to live.
Now the question you didn’t ask: I told my story »Daddy, Dearest« first in my spoken word. My details might be specific, people have had it much worse, and unlike most victims of trauma, I never turn the knife inward, I always turn the knife out, with my tongue as the fork. I knew I had to speak. This is universal issue, like death. I went flat-line as a protection against the trauma, I taunted death. The killers would run from me because I have no fear. The victimology is: I turned depression outwards, I was more aggressive than depressive. It’s another form of depression, rather than sit inside and cut your wrist, look for somebody’s throat to slit. When you already feel dead, you chase after death itself. You look for danger to make you feel alive. Most people fear me because they know I have no fear. As a matter of a fact, the most wounded people come to me for what? A hug.
So whatever trauma I’ve had, whatever war I’ve lived through, whatever death I’ve challenged, there comes a point, when you start appreciating everything and stop taunting death. We live shorter than sea turtles, and what if death is not the end? This is a horror we would rather not face. Can you access, can you face the fear of what you were, of what is in your bloodline. Yes, this is the knowledge I seek.
How did your battle reach a truce?
I drew a truce with myself. I had to detox from my self, my own contamination. The victim becomes the victimizer. I had to stop every relationship, stop every drug, stop every alcohol, stop everything to become my own lover, to find the right reasons: to know what I wanted, not to fear the obsession, to acknowledge it, and find people that can accommodate me.
My first lover in 1979 committed murder-suicide on his way to see me. I wrote an Opera called »My Lover The Killer«. I am alive, because I did not have the fear. He tried to kill me many times. Why did I stay with him? Because I saw the wounded child before the asshole the man became. You cannot save anyone from themselves. However, a wounded child is very attracted to the another wounded child. This is how these dynamics begin. It is the trauma bond. It takes decades to understand. This is why we need to become our own lovers. Oh, Mr. Right is not going to come along, give me a six pack of men and couple of women on the side (smiles). And we will see what happens.