Forced Fists in My Brain: Lydia Lunch’s cataclysmic collaborations are “Video Hysterie”

By on September 14, 2017

Video Hysterie: 1978-2006 — collecting twenty-four of Lydia Lunch‘s cataclysmic musical collaborations over a twenty-eight year period — is just one of the thirty New Arrivals we’ve recently added to Night Flight Plus!

The first half of this exhaustive compilation of filmed performances (varying in degrees of quality) chronicles her earliest performances with Teenage Jesus & the Jerks and 8-Eyed Spy.

The second dozen, meanwhile, feature some of her post-’80s collaborations, including those with skronky spazz-jazz saxophonist Terry Edwards.

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Lunch was born Lydia Anne Koch on June 2, 1959, in Rochester, New York (also the birthplace of Wendy O. Williams and Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth).

She says she wasn’t “born mad, but I got mad real fucking quick,” and at age sixteen she ran away to New York City.

At first, she lived with hippies who let her stay in their fifth-floor loft near Max’s Kansas City, located on a nowhere stretch of Manhattan’s Park Avenue.

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Max’s was just a mile uptown from the East Village haunt CBGBs — where the Ramones, Talking Heads and Television launched their careers — but they were miles apart in terms of what their different scenes offered up.

Lunch — who worked as a bar maid/go-go dancer at the Baby Doll Lounge in Tribeca — became close to Suicide’s Alan Vega and Martin Rev, who she says “kind of adopted me and looked after me.”

Willy DeVille dubbed her “Lydia Lunch” because she often stole lunch for Cleveland-transplants the Dead Boys.

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At this point in her life, she’d mainly written poetry — about “patricide” for the most part — and she saw herself  more as a writer and a conceptualist (“more akin to Marcel Duchamp than any musician ever”).

Nevertheless, she formed her first band, Teenage Jesus & the Jerks, with saxophonist boyfriend James Chance, whom she’d met at CBGBs.

After she moved into his funky two-room fifth-floor walk-up on East 2nd St., they began turning her poetry into songs she later said were ”a means of violent expression and as a reaction against the stagnancy of music and culture.”

Read more about Lydia Lunch below.

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Teenage Jesus — along with Mars, DNA and the Contortions — were mostly a collective of art school dropouts who didn’t necessarily have any musical skills. She would later describe their No Wave music as “an affront to the world.”

Lunch wrote songs that were “short fast sound stabs” — some were just forty seconds long — with titles like “Popularity is So Boring” and “RTMT” (after a NY music critic called them “arty and empty”).

The longest set they ever played was thirteen minutes long.

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Teenage Jesus went through several lineup changes until they solidified around Lunch, Chance, bassist Jim Sclavunos and drummer Bradley Field, who had just one cymbal and a broken snare.

Their best song was their Robert Quine (of the Voidoids)-produced single “Orphans,” described by one rock scribe as “a howl for blood which delighted the few and outraged the many.”

The video that opens this collection features “Orphans” accompanied by a nightmarish collage of black & white images.

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Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore once said this about the track:

“‘Orphans’ is one of the greatest, weirdest maniacally propulsive No Wave masterpieces ever released in the advent years of NYC punk rock. While every other pioneering punk band was rehashing rock n’ roll barre chord boogie (albeit in a gloriously messed-up post-Stooges/New York Dolls manner), singer/guitarist/leader Lydia Lunch and her slave rhythm section of drum (yes: drum) and bass disposed of any sense of boogie or trad-rock expertise for true yowl and rage from the ashes of social disgust and erotic fury. To this day it is a prized possession in my library of audio erotic perversity and purpose.”

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As for her own musical influences, Lunch says she hated everything, telling Simon Reynolds, author of Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-84 (Penguin Books, 2006):

“I hated almost the entirety of punk rock. I don’t think that No Wave had anything to do with it, and I resent it when people try to paint it as the same thing.”

During one weekend in May of 1978, Brian Eno — who’d just arrived in NYC to produce the second Talking Heads album — found himself drawn to several of the No Wave bands playing a five-day underground music fest in Tribeca.

He ended up curating the No New York compilation (Antilles Records, 1978).

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After dissolving Teenage Jesus & the Jerks (they released just a few singles between 1977-’79) and another band, Beirut Slump, Lunch focused next on a swampy Southern Gothic rock combo called 8-Eyed Spy.

She called their cover of CCR’s “Run Through the Jungle” “a spit in the face of American music,” but says they came to “a crashing and violent halt all too quickly because I thought it was too traditional.”

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In the early Eighties, Lunch encouraged “the evil sickly little girl to come out” in new songs for her solo debut, Queen of Siam, released on ZE Records on February 9, 1980.

The psycho noir lounge album featured jazzy orchestral arrangements by composer/arranger Billy Ver Planck and Robert Quine’s reverby guitar.

One of our personal faves was “Knives in The Drain” (“My windows are on the street, and there’s knives in my drain/I’ve broken the cardboard, forced fists in my brain”).

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Lunch later lost interest in music and moved to Los Angeles, where she ended up penning a poetry book, Adulterers Anonymous, with Exene from X.

There’s much more to her story, of course, including her appearance in Mondo New York, which was theatrically distributed by Night Flight’s Stuart S. Shapiro’s International Harmony.

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Lydia Lunch – Video Hysterie: 1978-2006 is now streaming in our New Arrivals section over on Night Flight Plus!

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.