Lydia Lunch: THE WAR IS NEVER OVER by Nick Soulsby

Release date: April 30, 2020
Label: Jawbone Press

The book of the film of the life of the girl who stood up and screamed out her pain and did not ask for pity or bend to scorn or play nice or just sit down and shut up. No chance. Lydia Lunch is a living embodiment of the word defiance. Dark Queen of No Wave New York, restless collaborator, musician, writer, loudmouth, actress… the list of inadequate labels is long. Beth B is an underground filmmaker whose career has wound in an out of Lunch’s and addressed similar issues. They became friends in late 70’s New York, Lunch has appeared in several of her films. The War Is Never Over is the film Beth made to tell the story of Lydia’s wild career.

I haven’t seen it yet, it’s supposed to be touring film festivals and such at the moment. Obviously that isn’t happening right now so unless Netflix or somebody step up and buy it we might have to wait a while. This book is a companion piece but should not necessarily be seen in the film’s shadow. As I understand it there is overlap with Beth B’s material but Nick Soulsby has conducted extensive interviews of his own, is able to include a great deal more than a documentary can and has created something that stands up by itself. Aside from an introduction he steps back, skilfully editing together the voices of those who were there in the room as they tell the story.

 

If you’re already a fan, then fairly obviously this is, at bare minimum, interesting but most often a great read. What if you’re not? Is this a good place to start? A voice as loud and fearless as Lydia Lunch, you’d think surely start with some of her own work. Maybe last year’s collection of essays and interviews So Real It Hurts. Thing is, her work is such a hydra headed beast that it’s daunting to approach. A ‘do it, record it, move on’ policy has left a dizzyingly long list of projects behind. Only the most obsessive fan can have engaged with it all. Or, as it turns out, Bob Bert. Screen printer to Warhol, drummer for Sonic Youth, Pussy Galore and now, Lunch’s band Retrovirus, a late career project that to some degree acknowledges that her fans might like a chance to hear some of the old ‘hits’ that happened with bands that lasted one album, one tour.

Daunting and disparate as the back catalogue might be it provides an ideal structure here. A chapter per project unrolling unstoppably from one to the next. Soulsby’s book offers the most comprehensive overview assembled thus far of a singular voice. Told through many voices although, for the eradication of doubt, there’s plenty from Lydia herself. So, what’s the gossip? Is she a witch? A whore? A pain in the ass diva? Well, where do you go with an artist already happy to call herself all those things and more, and onstage too. If this entire world is new to you there may be the odd salacious or shocking moment but there’s nothing that wouldn’t have made it into her shows if she felt it was interesting enough.

It turns out that while her fearlessness appears bone deep, an endless string of collaborators’ assessments of her character run from ‘no really, she’s lovely’ through to absolute awe. Perhaps a couple of dissenting malcontents might have livened things up. Maybe they truly don’t exist. The old lags from the earlier days, longer in tooth with time worn tales, are a little more entertaining. The story of each project coming together, her skill and general fierce compassion begins to get repetitive. Just as you’re starting to tire of it you get hit with a raw and confounding real life episode that reminds you where you are.

It’s a fine and entertaining book, capturing something of Lunch’s powerful impact and a wider sense of a New York underground long gone. If you’ve any sense it might be interesting to you, then you’re probably right. All in all, it seems only fair to end with a couple of quotes from the book, here’s Kid Congo Powers – “I remember someone asking her ‘how do you keep going and doing all these things?’ and she said, ‘I know my place within my culture.’ I thought that was amazing.”

Lydia Lunch – “From the time I was young, I knew that these were universal traumas, and that’s what gives me the strength to continue talking. It’s not my war, it’s never been my war, there’s just no choice, because if I don’t, who will?”

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