I was NOT ready. Sure, I'd read about the legendary Lydia Lunch's previous local appearances right here in the pages of Orlando Weekly, and my friend Jodi Thomas (founder of AntiBabe) has been raving to me about her for years. But nothing could have truly prepared me for my vicious verbal devirginization at Enzian Theater last week, where the pornographic high priestess of No Wave punk poetry presented a big-screen retrospective of her boundary-breaking career, accompanied by a bracing double-shot of her provocative political philosophy.
The War Is Never Over, which shares its title with a photography series Lunch exhibited at downtown's Gallery at Avalon Island in 2015, screened at Enzian on the eve of its release as a special feature-laden DVD. Ironically, it was the same day that the United States completed its evacuation in Afghanistan, "ending" our nation's "forever war."
Director Beth B has edited together deep-cut archival footage with new interviews from collaborators like Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore to paint a portrait not only of Lunch's prolific performing career — from Teenage Jesus & the Jerks through Retrovirus — but also the deeply rooted personal pain that fuels her still fiery fearlessness.
Her film places Lunch into her post-Watergate context, tracing how she and her cohorts channeled the crumbling creativity of New York's Lower East Side into an anti-musical revolution against right-wing Reaganism. The result is both an energetic introduction to this explosive artist's lasting impact for newcomers like me, and also a sometimes uncomfortably intimate exposé that may hold some surprises for even Lunch's hard-core fans.
By historical standards, I understand, Lunch's appearance at Enzian was exceptionally civilized: Nobody got punched in the face or spat on, as far as I'm aware. She even chatted casually with fans, gossiping over preshow cocktails about iconic musicians she's known (in the Biblical sense). But when the credits rolled and it was time for the post-film question and answer period, Lunch showed she's lost none of her vituperative vitality. Audience prompts propelled her to spew venom at a variety of targets, from Bill Clinton and anti-abortion Texans to all men writ large.
Since I could never say it better than she can, I'll turn the floor over to Lunch for a small sample of her raging responses:
"My whole life is a document. I've been in other people's documentaries. By the way, I am the only one that gets paid [for interviews] because I don't need to be in anybody else's documentary. I don't care. The thing is, Beth approached me and my question was ... how do you squeeze 43 years in the 70 minutes? She did a pretty good job. The reason I chose Beth is because she's like I am; she's relentless. She wears a lot of different hats, she does a lot of different art forms, and she gets it. ... What's interesting to me in retrospect is even from the age of 17, I knew I had to document everything.
"I am not a solutionist. This is not a philosophy or a dogma. I am poetically documenting the hysteria of my time. And sometimes I am telling the absolute motherfucking truth. Another time I might be using a poetic of brutality to express something, and sometimes I might be saying the exact fucking opposite. How are you going to decode that? The thing is, you don't have to decode it, because there's not a dogma or philosophy at the bottom of this. Sometimes it's poetry; sometimes it's just ugly.
"I try to make some kind of beauty out of what has been hideous or ugly, or the war inside/outside/all around. And I'm not saying that my art is beautiful; that's never the intention, if it is, it's by accident. But it's to reclaim and take the power of brutality away from the asshole assassins who have murdered the individual.
"I started speaking politically under Reagan. So did Exene Cervenka, so did Henry Rollins, so did Jello Biafra and other people too, because we just couldn't fucking believe that's where we were after the failure of the '60s. It was like, are you shitting me? But to me, I always knew ... it is the same as it ever was. The emperor has no fucking clothes; the war is never fucking over. Now, modern slavery means you're getting $15 an hour, aren't you fucking lucky! No you're not. You're still enslaved. Now slavery has been sophisticated to make people think that you're doing really good. No, we're not doing really fucking good.
"The white supremacists are still fucking here, they're still in power, and they got to fucking go. And there's no one worse than your fucking state. Good luck, you can't even vote them out of power ... I got no more to say, it pisses me off."
With that, Lunch literally dropped the mic on the befuddled emcee and strode offstage to her merchandise table in the lobby, leaving the crowd appreciatively stunned. Buy or stream her film now (if you dare) at kinolorber.com, and the next time Lydia comes to town, you can't say I didn't warn you.