Lydia Lunch talks art, bohemia, and, yes, drugs, in Will Work for Drugs, Lunch’s collection of interviews, performance pieces, and eye-opening details on the post-punk New Wave movement.
The title of Lydia Lunch’s recently published compilation of new and classic writing is a hilariously ironic misnomer. There are plenty of drugs consumed in this tome, but the hard-working author is nothing but lucid in these autobiographical essays, performance pieces, and interviews with other artists, all of which document her life on the margins: of suburbia, the counterculture, and the patriarchy. For those unfamiliar with Lunch’s history, artist Karen Finley lays it out in her terrific foreword. They’re somewhat kindred spirits, Finley and Lunch; both are art-world provocateurs who burst onto the scene in New York City’s post-punk No Wave movement of the late 1970s and have taken their respective experiences of abuse and turned them into difficult, angry, funny work. But whereas Finley’s fame has come from her infiltration of the mainstream art world, Lunch has actively shunned it. For more than 30 years, she has rejected both institutional and commercial affiliations, publishing her own writing and releasing her own recordings, collaborating prolifically but without strings. Will Work for Drugs brings together a cross section of her work from the past decade or so, all bound by the overarching themes of abuse and redemption. The collection is a bit of a grab-bag quality-wise; thumbnail character sketches like “Dead Man” or the punk burlesque of “Assume the Position” (about her lifelong cop fetish) seem terribly slight alongside poignant, incisively observed essays and conversations about motherhood, addiction, and organized religion, many of which she refined through years of spoken-word performances. However, the eclectic approach of Will Work for Drugs also provides a useful portrait of a restless, promiscuous artist who, like this volume, refuses to be pinned down.