Lydia Lunch: The War Is Never Over (A Companion to the Film by Beth B) by Nick Soulsby
Jawbone Press| Paperback
The War Is Never Over is Nick Soulsby’s companion to Beth B’s film about Lydia Lunch. It’s graphic and comprehensive and definitely a must-have for the fans. Gordon Rutherford walks on the wild side for Louder Than War.
Imagine how bad must things be to run away from home at the age of thirteen. To run to one of the biggest, most violent, depraved, seedy cities in the world. To become sexually promiscuous just to “wash away the taste of her father”.
Such experiences in one’s formative years will undoubtedly shape and define who one becomes. This girl became Lydia Lunch. Here is a woman who decided that she wasn’t going to take it anymore. She was going to write her own rules. Define her own brand of feminism. No more abuse. No more objectification. Lydia Lunch was #MeToo decades before #MeToo.
Where to begin in appraising the multi-faceted, chaotic life and career of this legendary and complex artist? Given the multiplicity of her projects, from music to spoken word, writing to film and photography, I am relieved that my task here is not to write her biography. I am not writing a blow-by-blow account of Lydia Lunch’s life. Rather, this is a review of Nick Soulsby’ book, The War Is Never Over, which is actually a companion to Beth B’s documentary of the same name.
It is irrefutable that Soulsby’s book is faithful, detailed, meticulous, excellently curated and well structured. However, I am, not sure how much is his ‘writing’ and how much is straight transcript from the documentary. It certainly reads as though it is the latter.
Because of that, I found it difficult to emotionally engage for long periods. Basically, what we have is 273 pages of snippets from a range of contributors who have flitted in and out of Lunch’s bubble at various points. The contributors are all very interesting in their own right and include Thurston Moore, Mick Harvey, Cathi Unsworth and J.G. Thirwell. They offer great insight to the period and Lunch’s life and art.
Of course, it’s precisely the kind of approach that works so well in modern music documentaries. One talking head follows another, relaying anecdotes and acumens about the subject. It works on screen because it fits with the way our brains now work. Short attention spans feed on bursts of infotainment. But it is less effective with the written word and, as a reader, I found myself really wanting to be drawn into the story and engaged, but unable to. It’s just too jittery.
Despite that, there are parts of the book that are incredibly graphic and paint a vivid picture of Lunch’s unconventional lifestyle. You get a sense that there has never been a single night where Lydia Lunch has spent an evening sitting on the sofa watching Netflix and working through a tube of Pringles. I’m not sure she has ever stayed anywhere for more than a week at a time. Every single day of her life, since age thirteen, has been a whirlwind of activity. Every day brings a new project to pursue. A new lover. It’s a cacophony of chaos.
There are also little stories that are incredibly funny. I have no idea if this is intended to be humorous or not, but when future Bad Seed, Jim Sclavunos, tells the story of how Lunch deflowered him because she wasn’t going to have any virgins in her band, Teenage Jesus & The Jerks, it is hilarious.
Talking of Bad Seeds, I found it interesting that Lunch states that her favourite film as a child was The Bad Seed. There’s a kind of irony then in the fact that she allied herself closely with The Birthday Party and Nick Cave. Pure coincidence?
Followers of Lydia Lunch will love Soulsby’s book. It’s one for the fans. But despite its qualities, it’s not one for everyone.
Nick Soulsby is on Twitter
All words by Gordon Rutherford. More writing by Gordon can be found at his archive.