Lydia Lunch's Autobiographies

A young Lydia Lunch.

Reviewed below:
Paradoxia: A Predator's Diary
Incriminating Evidence
Will Work for Drugs

A mixture of "truth beauty love filth," coupled with a loathing of the mainstream (and much else) characterizes much of Ms. Lunch's works. On stage or screen, Lydia Lunch is a fascinating character: intensely charismatic, charming and intelligent, Lunch's art touches on the most primal elements of human experience. It's therefore interesting to see how her personality translates into prose, and how her experience of life––traumatic, transgressive, transcendent or all of the above––shaped her art.

A life like Lunch's would have, and probably has, killed a lesser person. Her parents were both alcoholics. As a teen Lunch was sexually abused by her father, and other men as well. Her mother, an ex-beauty queen "fading fast," was intensely jealous of the young and pretty Lydia. She took her jealousy out on her daughter in physical and emotional violence.

As a teen, Lunch ran away from home and became a hustler/squatter in New York City. She quickly became one of the driving forces behind the nihilistic no wave movement; Lunch headed Teenage Jesus and the Jerks and collaborated with underground personalities like James Chance and Richard Kern. These books document her life as a child, teenager and adult, as well as some of her political convictions.

Paradoxia is a novel/memoir of Lunch's teenage years and young adulthood. Its subtitle, A Predator's Diary, aptly describes the book's contents. The book's protagonist spends the book in a nihilstic quest to find an outlet for her demons, to purge something inside of herself through pain. "So twisted by men, like my father, that I became like one," is the first sentence of the book. All this is, apparently, so she can win:

To trick the next john into relinquishing his moral, financial, spiritual or physical guard, so that no matter what the outcome, I won. I got what I wanted. Whether it was money, conversation, drama or sex.
Revolting details and turns of phrase pepper this book; the frequent sex scenes focus on anatomical detail. A sadistic dynamic characterizes most interactions in this book, even between near-strangers. But there are also moments of weird beauty; in one scene, Lunch describes an abandoned letterpress printer, with the metal letters "spelling strange haikus on the floor."

Like Valerie Solanas, this protagonist seems to view the world through a lens where sex is power and men have the power. Unlike Solanas, who became a lesbian and militant feminist, she became like the men who ruined her life, staying true to both her masculine nature and her misandry.

There's also something of J.T. Leroy in Paradoxia; or rather, there's something of Lydia Lunch in LeRoy's prose. Both are gender-ambiguous, teenage hustlers living a psychically fragmented existence in the city's underbelly. Both have suffered hellish upbringings and sexual abuse. Since J.T. LeRoy never existed, it's possible that Laura Albert adopted Lunch's attitude in her own life––or adapted it to suit her creation.

Those looking for a first-person memoir of life in an influential art scene would do better to look elsewhere, e.g in Thurston Moore's no wave book. Paradoxia focuses on the filthy, depraved and private side of life, and the protagonist/narrator is not exactly reliable. The book covers lots and lots of intertwined sex and violence that some might find grotesque, others tiresome.

Incriminating Evidence and Will Work for Drugs are both collections of personal and political essays, as well as some memoir pieces. Of the two, Will Work for Drugs is more polished, and shorter; it also features interviews with other artists like Hubert Selby Jr. Anyone unfamiliar with Lydia Lunch's work might peruse this book, by way of introduction. Those with a passing familiarity with her might prefer Incriminating Evidence, as its focus is more on the personal, instead of the political, it features beautiful illustrations and details her relationships with some famous people––about which more below.

Lydia Lunch's prose is so hyperbolic, so melodramatic, that she could write about eating a sandwich and it would read like an eschatological perversion. Her sentences run on, deep into obscurity, sometimes meaninglessness. Though she can be a good writer, one can't hide from oneself how many of her ideas fail to come off. Take this sentence from "One Dreary Night," a story in Incriminating Evidence:

Dipping uneasily, perhaps from experience, into this festering vat where love like liquid shit contaminates all who slip into the great quicksand of its mystery, misery, magic, voodoo, treachery, venom, death, love so enticing this delirium, so lush the lure, so simple and sneaky this insanity, that not until we are neck-deep in this discomfiture, do we realize are drowning in this man-made hell-hole.
There are maybe three ideas in this sentence, each struggling to get out beneath clashing metaphors ("liquid shit," "great quicksand"; "vat," "hell-hole") and inconsistencies (how can you drown if you're neck deep, for example?). Similar sentences and paragraphs pepper all three books, but moments of great descriptive power emerge. From the same story:
...he'd walk in and it would come with him. That sweet sexy stink of dirty jeans and pointy boots. The stink of an animal skin slowly rotting. The smell of countless cartons of cigarettes smoked non-stop and washed down with endless beer. Throw in a couple of dozen hamburgers, a hang-over for every day of the week, impersonal health and hygiene, the heart of the homewrecker and there he was...The boy of my dreams...
"One Dreay Night" is about Nick Cave, or "the ghost of Nick Cave-past." The above paragraph vividly describes Cave's smell, and, from that, his personality and lifestyle. It's an unusual device, and an effective one. Too bad that these moments of clarity are often obscured by purple prose.

In writing, Lydia Lunch seems to be waging war, not just against her own past, but against the hypocritical veneer of modern life. She focuses on the brutal, ugly and violent side of existence, sometimes with prurience, sometimes with clarity, sometimes with disgust. Whatever her demons, Lunch projects a fearless self-confidence and fierce intelligence.

This said, these books are not as effective as some of Lunch's other works––her films with Kern, for example, or her spoken word pieces. I won't say "enjoyable" because they're not meant to be. But while something like "Daddy Dearest" feels like a punch to the gut, something in these books keeps them from firing on all cylinders. I don't know what that something is.

Related Reading:

Lydia Lunch Quotes

No Wave Style

Johnny the Homicidal Maniac

No Wave Style

Gothic Clothing Online

Goth Culture Misconceptions


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