Lydia Lunch’s transgressive vision, which expresses brutal truths that most would rather ignore, started in the late ’70s No Wave scene in New York. It has filled over three decades’ worth of documented personal-political hysteria in the form of song, writing, performance, photography and installation. Lunch brings her newest multimedia experience, Dust and Shadows, to the Meow Wolf performance space (7 pm Sunday Nov. 6. $15).
Your Dust in the Shadows tour incorporates many visual elements, featuring footage of abandoned spaces in the Soria province of Spain, which you explored with Elise Passavant. When I read accounts of countercultural movements, they usually talk about finding solidarity amongst each other, a band of outsiders. Did you find in your travels, either through Spain or elsewhere, that same kind of solidarity, but with place?
I left America when Bush stole the second election. I’m moving to Mars in a few weeks I guess, I’m not sure. Shouldn’t we all? I first saw Spain in 1984 and I knew I’d live there eventually, mainly because of the duplicity and juxtaposition between its wretched history and its amazing present—how the spirit of the people through 400 years of the Crusades, the Inquisitions, the Civil War, their spirit was not battered down. In America we don’t even have a history because we either forget it immediately or invent it on the spot, but in Spain they actually have a media law written into the Constitution to not talk about the Civil War.
Belchite, which is where some of the footage was shot, was a civil war town where a country bombed its own people for the first time. It remains as one of the biggest monuments in Europe that they haven’t torn down or repaired, a testament to man’s brutal insanity against the individual and against human life. I made a pilgrimage there twice a year. Belchite just made sense to revisit as it dissolves over time; photographing, documenting and using it in some of my war rants. Which I can’t stop doing either. They won’t stop having wars so I won’t stop fucking speaking about them.
I became a political spoken word artist under Reagan and I can’t not speak about the wars that never end. It doesn’t matter where it is, it’s the same war. War is a contagion, a viral infection. Most of it based around the viral pathogen that is “my god is bigger than your god” or greed—the god of all American kleptocratic society. I lived in Spain and I didn’t learn Catalan, which is almost as hard as Russian. It reflected the sense of being an outsider to me. I’m even outside of the outsider community, no matter how deep in that community I am. We’re all ultimately alone in the end, and the more comfortable you are with being alone with yourself the more comfortable you are with other people—or, the more you can’t fucking stand it.
Currently, I’m a nomad. But I lived in Barcelona for the longest amount of time I’d lived anywhere—8 years. Place does matter; my addiction has been moving every 2 to 4 years. Sometimes it’s for the architecture; Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Barcelona. Sometimes it’s to collaborate. Or, sometimes, I knew nobody there. So, place matters a lot to me because when you’re in a country as old as Spain, you look into any window and you know all of life, death, murder, love and violence has gone on in there and now how do you decode all that? And that’s part of what I’m doing in Dust and Shadows—decoding the history of our insanity.
How have you evaded being put into a box or commercialized throughout your career?
It seems like countercultures fall into this trap and lose their potency. Is the art world only interested in certain movements in retrospect once the coast has cleared? We’ll just look at some examples that you can compare me to, in a sense. Sonic Youth were highly influential, but didn’t sell a lot of records. They became as big as they did because they basically made the same record for 20 years. It’s kind of the same with Nick Cave, he has his ballads or his rock stuff. People knew what they were getting. I’ve always been a musical schizophrenic.
It’s just the nature of who I am as an artist, more akin to Dadaists, Surrealists, or Viennese Actionists, where the concept comes first, then I find the collaborators. I had to develop something like Dust and Shadows because I perform so much in Europe and got tired of doing translations, backing vocals, turning a quarter of the text into a foreign language ... People just want to see a show unadulterated, so to make it easier to get into the Lydian womb, I created this video backdrop with psycho-ambient music and I’m channeling the words a lot of the time.
I also just have different concepts going on simultaneously. For example, for four years I’ve been doing Retrovirus, which is a retrospective of my work because a lot of people didn’t hear it the first time. I mean, I love when Jesus Lizard reforms because they were amazing, or Butthole Surfers. If people didn’t get it the first time there’s no reason why people shouldn’t give it another go. Retrovirus, however, is slightly different. It’s not just one album or project, it’s 35 years of very diverse musical projects hemmed together by intensity, my obsessive nature, and by the musicians I’m working with now; Weasel Walter, Bob Bert, Tim Dahl.
How do you feel about the current censorship rash from young academia based on political correctness, trigger warnings and safe spaces?
To me, “I’ll shoot you if you don’t get out of my fucking house”—that’s a trigger warning. Safe spaces? They’re called institutions of higher learning, not this infantilization from the mass collective of these tempered, spoiled millennials whose attention span is less than that of a gnat. How did we develop a nation of such pampered little pussies, especially when we are the mass-murderers of the planet? If this were a rebellion against the vulgarity of America, I’d have more respect, but if it’s just whining from those who don’t want their emotions hurt, or call “you touched my ass five years ago” a criminal assault, then it’s an insult to people who’ve really been traumatized. They better toughen up, they live in America. And with technology like smart phones, everyone’s experience is being whittled down to the size of half a postcard.
Yeah, I see on my Facebook feed atrocities locally and abroad alongside ads for VR technology with pictures of kids wearing these massive headsets that look like they’re out of an old cyberpunk film. It’s just more distraction and escapism.
It’s a numbing and dumbing down of people. … As for the internet, it’s called “the web” for a reason. They’ve succeeded at turning a nation of young people into a nation of fucking zombies who don’t know how to talk to each other. As for my Facebook pages, I’m not on them, other people run them. They’re like a billboard. I don’t comment, or want to read comments. Write a fucking essay. You want to be a friend of mine? Look me in the eye, motherfucker. You’re not my friend just because you think you’re my friend. And I’m very friendly—trust me.
*Editor’s note: You may have noticed this week’s 3 Questions is pretty damn long. Y’see, writer JC Gonzo’s interview with Lydia Lunch wound up being too large to print, but given her contributions to our cultural landscape, we’ve chosen to run the interview in its entirety here on the site. Enjoy!