Ladies Who Lunch

Lydia Lunch was punk back when it took guts just to look strange

These days it seems almost too easy to be punk. We have Hot Topic stores in the mall, green hair on professional athletes, and Ramones T-shirts on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Once upon a time, it was a whole lot harder. Consider 1978: Most homes were without answering machines or VCRs, let alone personal computers — ideas traveled from one teenager to another much more slowly. It must have taken guts just to look strange, let alone get onstage and scream, “Mommy please, can I bleed just once?”

Lydia Lunch was 19 in 1978, and she didn't have Kelly or Brody or Gwen to encourage her, but she went ahead and tried to destroy rock music with her band Teenage Jesus & the Jerks anyway. In truth, Lunch and her compatriots considered punk rock passé even then — but that's always been the sign of a true punker.

Despite the mainstreaming of oddness, the concerns that brought Lunch to that stage in the first place — kids in high school being criminalized for their political views; the United States fighting a mean, dirty war; sexual abuse of children — are still around. That's why dissonant, harsh, angry music, whatever you call it, is still important. These issues also keep Lunch busy with what seems like a million other methods of resisting complacency: Famous for her film collaborations with the notoriously gnarly Richard Kern and her many intense, intelligent publications, Lunch is currently most interested in spoken-word poetry.

If you haven't heard her work already, we know what you're thinking. Performance poetry is really easy to do badly, and many mistakes have been made publicly in its name. But this is Lydia Lunch we're talking about. She's one of the reasons so many people want to do this kind of performing — and one of the best at it. She may not be quote-unquote punk, but she sure does have a loud mouth and a bad attitude.

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