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(Photo by Jasmine Hirst)

THERE ARE THINGS everyone understands. Poets and spoken word performers don’t live high on the hog while spoken work performers/writers with a strain of rabblerouser don’t live well enough to sniff a hog.

And spoken word performers/rabblerousers who emerged from the New York underground in the late ‘70s and mingled with the narcotic-fuelled rock scene in the UK, Europe, USA and Australia (The Birthday Party and offshoots were collaborators), who have remained on the fringes because they just won’t play nicely with the corporate kids and see their mission as bringing The Word to pockets of the world willing to listen, well they don’t live long enough to discover there is a hog to sniff. And that’s just the way it is.

Yet here we are, nearly five decades since Lydia Lunch was the teenage voice and face of New York’s Teenage Jesus And The Jerks, sparking a writing, multi-discipline art and performance career that refused any accommodation, and Lunch is prone to telling interviewers “I’m having too much fun. I’m too stubborn to die, too much to do still.”

And she stands by it. There’s too much going on in that head – the crumbling environment, high level corruption and low level bastardry, racism, sexism and religious fascism, a war without pity in the Middle East, to name a few – to stop anytime soon.

“You know, sea turtles live longer than humans. There will be plenty of time for that dark velvet caress; I’m not anxious,” she says today, having just pulled into her B&B midway through her American tour to take the call. “Plus I’m just so stupidly healthy. I didn’t get Covid, I haven’t had the flu or a cold in 20 years, I’m just a fembot.”

Fembot? That’s one explanation, and one that might soothe the minds of those who have – from a distance, from reading or from reputation rather than actual experience – a sense of trepidation about meeting and even attempting to banter with the pointed wit and broad intellect of the woman born Lydia Anne Koch, who calls herself a confrontational artist

(As well as the wit and intellect, another area not to compete with L. Lunch is food. She got that name from the early days in New York’s alternative scene for her skill with and love for cooking, and for stealing the food for the cooking.)

There is another explanation for this longevity, one that underscores her coming trip to Australia with fellow downtown singer/performer Joseph Keckler, under the make-no-mistake-about-it title Tales Of Lust & Madness: a sense of purpose.

“This is a duty of mine to do what I do, to say what I have to say to an intellectual, moral, philosophical and political and sexual minority. And I don’t think my voice is represented anywhere else. And back to my one main mantra, the war is never over,” says Lunch, casually reminding us at the same time of the name of a new documentary about her, Lydia Lunch The War Is Never Over, which will have a limited screening during the Australian tour.

“I mean that on many fronts, so therefore I am the bullhorn on a hill babbling off into the distance.”

And who is that bullhorn directed to?

“Again, that minority that needs to hear what I have to say.”

Shouldn’t some of the majority be hearing this too?

“Yeah, but it’s not my job to do that,” Lunch rebuts. “My job is to do what I do for those who want to hear it. I am not going to force it on anyone else. It’s hard for people to hold on: they are only catching up to what I did 40 years ago, yesterday [she chuckles].

“I don’t have time to do just one thing in order to penetrate further into the mainstream.”

There is an alternative: she could abandon scruples she says mockingly: “Maybe if I lied more.”

“What’s interesting is with the last presidential election, with the greatest liar ever on the planet Earth, I’m like, I’m in the wrong field; my problem is I’ve been telling the truth for too fucking long. Maybe I need to start lying: I’d be a lot more fucking popular. I’m an idiot!

Shame Lydia, shame.

“As far as expanding my audience, look, I’m surprised people still come out for anyone, including myself,” Lunch says. “So whoever comes, I don’t know why they are there, I don’t know what they think they are going to get, I only know what I’m gonna give them: my energy, my power, my need to strive beyond just mere existence, my humour, my aggression, my violence, and ultimately my generosity in sharing all this.”

Reading that, are you poised to leap to your feet, punch the air and go “Yeah!”? Fair enough. But imagine what it’s like hearing it – to the barricades!

But if we’re at the barricades we’d be doing it with a grin, the humour in Lunch’s work no small thing. How is she still laughing?

“I consider myself naturally hilarious but most people are just too frightened to laugh. I’m a natural born hedonist: I seek pleasure and good times. But during the day I’m obsessed with the statistics, the war, the abuse, the negativity, this reality that is no different to the Middle fucking Ages,” Lunch offers as a partial answer. But wait, there’s more, and it’s a little wild.

“What I don’t share necessarily is the secret to my happiness. I am an optimistic nihilist, I’m an apocalyptician, I am laughing at the mouth of the volcano, and a sadistic part of me is taking great delight in the ruination of civilisation according to the way I always knew it fucking was. That’s a huge part of my personality: I’m chortling over the horror, so therefore I have to find a way to express it.”

It’s one thing to laugh at the apocalypse, it’s one thing to stare into the abyss and say, fuck you. But explain how someone can be an optimistic nihilist?

“I guess because I’ve been saying this all along. I’ll quote Kafka: ‘there is hope but not for us’,” says Lunch. “I don’t know, is it a surrealist dictum that says those who create, demand destruction? I’m not demanding destruction; I’m creating in spite of all the destruction that surrounds me.

“But I am optimistic. I don’t even understand the perversity of my very nature to be a cattle prodder, to be an endless collaborator, to continue, to still seek out. I embrace the duality; most people box themselves into a corner. I think you have to recognise this and I’m not afraid of dark shadows: they have to come out to play or create as well.”



Lydia Lunch and Joseph Keckler – Tales Of Lust & Madness will play at.

Ohm Festival, Brisbane, March 7-8

Byron Theatre, Byron Bay, March 9

Adelaide Town Hall (Adelaide Fringe), March 14

Melbourne Recital Centre, March 15-16

Theatre Royal, Castlemaine (with screening of Lydia Lunch: The War Is Never Over, and Q&A), March 17

Phoenix Central Park, Sydney, March 21

The Great Club, Marrickville, March 22

MONA, Hobart, March 23



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