Lunching with Rowland S Howard

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And why we need female role models in the music industry

by Andrea Baker

She counts Kim Gordon, formerly of Sonic Youth, as one of her best pals; and has collaborated with post punk St Kilda musician, Rowland S Howard, whom she loved and misses dearly.

At age 56, Lydia Lunch, the New York, No Wave Noise poet, guitarist and singer song writer who burst on the music scene during the 1970, is no shrinking violet in an industry that glorifies new talent.

At her recent Melbourne performances for the Super-sense, Festival of the Ecstatic at the Arts centre; and the following evening at the post goth, punk haven of The Tote in urbane Collingwood, this girl in a band was confronting and scary as ever on stage.

And yes Lunch still has an appetite for punishing volumes of swearing on (and off) stage.

But this outspoken provocateur per excellence, failed to shock her fans who were happy to see her perform in Melbourne after a seventeen year hiatus.

At both gigs Lunch strutted out her “scorcher” collaboration with the late Rowland S Howard, Slow Burning with an emotionally gut retching, misty melancholy.

Slow Burning is also a track on Lunch’s band (Retrovirus) new album Urge to Kill which was released under her own label (Rustblade) in May this year.

Other Retrovirus band members include “Herculean guitarist” Weasel Walter (Flying Luttenbachers), “fret-destroying bassist” Tim Dahl (Child Abuse) and “legendary skins-basher” Bob Bert (Sonic Youth/Pussy Galore).

Lunch is “tough”, she told audiences and with a tear in her eye in memory of Howard, she continued her raw, noisy songs, shielded by tall, male band mates, who seemed like security guards of her emotional rage.

But Nostalgia is for the faint hearted and I wondered whether Lunch had time during her recent visit to pay homage to the Rowland S Howard laneway between Eildon road and Jackson Street in St Kilda. I hope so.

Lydia Lunch is also a feminist music icon. In 1998 I interviewed her when I was the Executive Producer of national radio program, called Women on the Line, which was based at the activist radio station Community Radio (3CR) in Collingwood, around the corner from The Tote.

Lunch was in Melbourne as a spokesperson for a talk fest about the No Wave, Post Punk, and underground Movement (1976-1980), which was sponsored by the Australian Film Institute.

The No Wave Movement was a short lived, Dadaist inspired, nihilistic arts movement which was responding the poor but sexy, drug infested, dirty and decaying seedy squalor of the pre-gentrified lower east side of New York City during the 1970s.

Back then Lunch’s band, Teenage Jesus and Jerks, along with James Chance and the Contortions, Mars, Sonic Youth, often played at CBGBs venue, the then home of underground rock, which was located on the Bowery.

When I met Lunch in 1998 she was outspoken about her anti-commerce stance, “Don’t buy name brands. Don’t buy Nike”. She still is today. In July 2015 an article in the Guardian newspaper by Nadja Sayej, Lunch was quoted as saying, “If you’re doing it [art] for the money, you’re not doing art. You’re doing commerce”.

As a young reporter I wanted to impress her with my savvy questions (hmm). Lydia Lunch was cool. She was sharp, quick-witted, irreverent and not afraid to piss off music executives with her harsh commentary about the male dominated, industry.

It was Lunch, more than anyone I interviewed as a producer of that feminist program, who clearly articulated the meaning of F word.

Lunch spoke passionately about the underrepresentation, misrepresentation and marginalisation of women in the music industry

She acknowledged that the masculinisation of the music press has resulted in the female fatales of music being pigeonhole and categorised into certain stereotypes such as posh or ditzy, and not taken seriously.

Young female musicians often evaluate their female elders both in terms of their achievements and the way they navigate the highly competitive industry.

On 4 August 2015 in an interview by Danielle Street for the website Under the Radar, Lunch was asked if she thought mainstream pop country artists, such as Taylor Swift, were feminist role models?

“If that’s as good as it gets, I’m committing homicide immediately”, Lunch replied.

After thirty seven years on stage, Lunch is constantly reinventing herself as a musician, a poet, spoken word artist, children’s writer, cookbook extraordinaire and feminist inspirer and mentor.

Lydia Lunch is a role model (and a loyal friend) in an industry that is fundamentally unkind to female musicians (okay, all musicians).

Research by a global female think tank, Female Pressure found that in 2014 less than ten per cent of female musicians were featured at music festivals, got record label contracts or won music awards.

“Will I ever become invisible?”, Lunch responded (with a grimace) to one of my boneheaded questions many years ago. “Hell no”, she said.

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