In years to come, as the dust settles and people look back at early 21st-century Barcelona, they won’t be admiring the city’s overstretched stint as a mass tourist attraction, its fleetingly fashionable shops and restaurants, or the names of now familiar but soon to be forgotten Barça players. If future society has any sense to it, it’ll admire, among other things, the fact that Barcelona was home to Lydia Lunch.
Since her creative debut three decades ago in a seminal No-Wave band, Teenage Jesus, in New York City, Lunch has forged a legendary underground career as a prolific, at times demented, more often brilliant singer, writer, photographer and plastic artist. She has lived in the Catalan capital since 2004.
For the uninitiated, the artist has recently released a retrospective double CD, Deviations on a Theme, which includes 64 of her songs and spoken word pieces. Paradoxia, the second of her three novels, meanwhile, is a sexually charged, autobiographical tour-de-force.
When did you first come to Barcelona?
I first came in 1984 on a tour. Somehow, I got thrown into the arms of a guy, Guillem, who was doing the G-club at Sidecar. He’d hooked up with the people in Mars (the New York City band). Of course it was so different then. Later I spent a summer and I kept thinking I’ve got to move here.
You've said elsewhere that cities are like vampires. Do you feel that way about Barcelona?
I was referring especially to New York and San Francisco. I’ve lived in lots of cities and first of all, I think there’s something called geographical sickness. Take New Orleans, where I lived for a few years in the early Nineties. It’s below sea level, a swamp, and there’s an energy vortex that traps things there, things can’t rise up too high; then the storms come along and clean everything out. As for Barcelona, I like the city because it’s got history, but it’s not haunted, it hasn’t got that sucking force that drains your energy like New Orleans does.
Is there a single reason why you’ve moved around so much?
I think it’s important for a writer or musician, or maybe just for me, not to remain in one place too long. I don’t feel any pull to anywhere. I’ve lived in New York, London, Los Angeles, New Orleans, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, and now I’m here. Sometimes I’m drawn to a place by collaborations, sometimes it’s economical. I've been here two years now, but I’ll be staying longer.
Is the political climate in the USA a reason for your living abroad?
Absolutely. I came to Barcelona before the last fraudulent election in 2004 and after the election I said, I can’t go back. They lied the first time (in 2000) and they were going to lie again. I thought, why not be in a place that’s 30 years out of fascism, instead of a place that’s rapidly heading into fascism. I’ve always felt like the spy of America anyway, because I've been making political speeches since Reagan.
Are you afraid of living in the US?
No, even though it’s terrifying what’s happened to America. I’ve done my time in the trenches there. Europe has always supported what I’ve done and always understood my politics. And right now, Spain is one of the sanest and safest places in the world.
What is your latest performance piece about?
‘Real Pornography’ is a sermon, in a sense, on war, violence, God, nature’s retribution and the need to remain sane in all of this, which is not easy. The piece is the culmination of what I’ve been doing musically (psycho-ambient soundscapes and live percussion), and politically for the past 20 years. I was working on it during the last US election and the flooding of New Orleans. When Hurricane Katrina happened, it made me literally ill. The government knew long beforehand that the levees wouldn’t hold and they just let it happen. What Katrina points to is this: one of the worst things America represents is what it doesn’t represent, that there are more people living in poverty in the US than I think the entire population of Spain. And that’s by the US government’s own statistics; imagine if they really tallied the number of poor. That’s what people don’t realise about America, how incredibly poor it is, because all people see is Hollywood.
What roles does sex play in ‘real’ pornography?
To me, real pornography is religious fanaticism, war, God, God as the excuse, bullyism, violence, selling something to excite people for fraudulent gain. It’s also a part of what America has done to not only me, but to many people who are victims of their insanity, victims of their sexualising everything except for sex itself. Sex is used to sell everything and yet sex itself is still a taboo. We can have as much violence as we want in films, but erotica, forget about it. In other words, it’s titillation in the most perverse way.
Are there differences between American and European women?
Sexism, of course, is everywhere. But the women seem more empowered here. I think European women are very sexual and beautiful; they love to flaunt themselves, but it’s in a different way than in America. It seems more empowered, maybe because there’s less sexual pressure: they like sex and they’re not afraid to say it. In America, you can look like you like sex, but don’t dare have it. In Europe, sexuality is not a bad thing; it’s not evil and dirty.
How much importance do you give to image?
Well, I try to look the best I can, for myself. But sometimes to be honest, I think, just give me a burka, a jumpsuit and a baseball bat and I’m ready to go.
For those who may not be familiar with your work, what would you most like to spotlight about it?
Although as an American and especially as a woman I feel I have been victimised in many ways, by poverty, the government, religion, sexism—and if you open your eyes to it, just about everyone is being abused and lied to in one way or another—my goal has not been to be reactionary, but to react, to find a way to lash out at the right enemy and not at myself, or the people around me. I can’t change the world, but at least I hope to give other people who have felt outside, battered or abused, a voice, an aggressive, passionate voice that will not be fucking stifled. And I’ll do it in as many ways as I can, I will scream, whisper, shout, purr, I will seduce with music, I will horrify you, tease, tantalise and terrify you. I will try and use every emotion I have to depressurise the many demonic forces that are travelling around this fucking planet. Basically, that’s it.