The band Retrovirus is among Lydia Lunch’s 21st century projects. (Courtesy Kathleen Fox)

The band Retrovirus is among Lydia Lunch’s 21st century projects. (Courtesy Kathleen Fox)

For provocateur Lydia Lunch, the war is never over

Punk, performance art legend appears af SF screening of doc about her life

At this point in her diverse four-decade career, it’s safe to expect the unexpected from New York provocateur Lydia Lunch. Since beginning in the late-1970s with the brutal No Wave outfit Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, the traditionally black-clad firebrand has experimented with musical collaborators and genres, as well as with spoken word; stage and film acting; and memoir, fiction and cookbook writing. (Her latest 2019 essay anthology features a glowing introduction from her late friend Anthony Bourdain.)

Now she’s podcasting, with “The Lydian Spin” for Apple, co-hosted with Tim Dahl, bassist from her latest band, Retrovirus.

She’ll be in The City this week for two events. On Thursday at the Makeout Room, she and author and Oxbow vocalist Eugene S. Robinson will appear in a spoken word engagement; she’ll likely air her pointed political, environmental and anti-patriarchal feminist views, which she espoused long before the #metoo movement, often stirring up controversy.

At her and Robinson’s behest, local writer Bob Calhoun joined the bill. “He’s just published a book called ‘The Murders That Made Us: How Vigilantes, Hoodlums, Mob Bosses, Serial Killers and Cult Leaders Built the San Francisco Bay Area,’ and the first chapter is, his mother was a murder suspect,” says Lunch with a wicked cackle. “This is gonna be a great gig, filled with madness and folly!”

On Friday, Lunch, 62, will appear in person at the Roxie for a single screening of “Lydia Lunch: The War is Never Over,” a documentary by fellow punk-era iconoclast Beth B, of Scott B and Beth B renown. It’s a wild rollercoaster that blends riotous archival concert footage, interviews with longtime Lunch fans and/or associates like Thurston Moore, Donita Sparks and Richard Kern, plus clips from early cinematic team ups, like the B’s’ notorious “Black Box” from 1978. More recent Retrovirus concert snippets that close “War” reveal Lunch to be as edgy as ever, astutely needling audience members, some of whom don’t get her acerbic wit.

Beth B says she ended the movie with that show for a reason: “Retrovirus is going to entertain you with all this commercial music,” she says. “But Lydia’s opening, spoken-word message is all about violence and war, which is a little similar to how I make films; it moves between horror and humor and seduction.”

The two met in New York City after Lunch moved there from more insular Rochester in search of a thriving music scene, she adds. “She was 19, I was 23, and I saw her onstage with Teenage Jesus, in a black camisole and a black leather miniskirt, screeching on guitar and vocals, and I was frightened and inspired, simultaneously.” She also was intrigued by the inherent contradictions in Lunch’s work: “At the time, feminists were all about taking on male attributes, but she was basically embracing the female, all while screaming about things that we were told to shut behind the door and be ashamed of.”

Among those things was abuse that Lunch — born Lydia Anne Koch — suffered from her father, prompting her to leave home by Greyhound at 16. But by then, her course was already set. She found punk rock culture in Rochester in a record store called House of Guitars and in local college DJs, one of whom she decided to pester at the station.

“He looked like Gregg Allman, but he was playing the best music, and I was maybe 12 when I went knocking on his door going, ‘Hey, I need to get to some concerts! Can you give me free tickets?’” she says. Stunned by the kid’s brashness, the DJ introduced her to a local promoter, who did, indeed, start allowing her into every show for free. “It was all for my career,” she jokes about such temerity in retrospect. She became a star, it seems, simply because no one ever dared to tell her she couldn’t.

Also, some clever foresight was involved, which made it easier for Beth B to assemble her feature.

“I knew from a very early age that I was going to document everything, and I was going to make all of my musical concepts into a record, whenever I had one,” says Lunch, who has interviewed 35 artists for her own doc she’s directing on the depression, anxiety, and rage they universally suffered.

Lunch also has two new albums on the way. One, with singer Sylvia Black, she calls “forensic jazz-noir.”

Commenting on the title of the documentary about her life, Lunch elaborates, “… There is always so much bulls—— that somebody has got to stand against, whether it’s personal, politics, power trips, pollution, poverty or the patriarchy.”


Eugene S. Robinson, Lydia Lunch, Bob Calhoun

Where: Makeout Room, 3225 22nd St., S.F.

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 5

Tickets: $13


Note: “Lydia Lunch: The War Is Never Over” with Lydia Lunch in person screens at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 6 at the Roxie, 3117 16th St., S.F.; $9-$20;

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