:: Article

So Real It Hurts

By Chris Brownsword.

Ludia Lunch, So Real It Hurts (Seven Stories Press, 2019)

When a book comes with an introduction by the late Anthony Bourdain, the bare-knuckle champion of kitchen cuisine, you know it’s going to be one kickass ride. But when said book happens to have been penned by Lydia Lunch, you can guarantee that all hell is about to break loose. ‘I was born surrounded by Death,’ Lunch writes. ‘My mother miscarried before me, after me, and I was born choking the life out of my dead twin brother. When I was six my grandmother, a cruel Sicilian witch with long white hair that smelled of camphor, died in bed while sleeping beside me.’

Since first emerging from the No Wave scene of late-70s/early-80s New York that also spawned seminal artists like Sonic Youth and Swans, Lunch has remained an uncompromising figure in music, literature, film and spoken word. Undiminished by ever-shifting cultural trends, she continues to challenge, provoke and disturb. As she puts it herself, ‘If all this is just too brutal for you to bear…just remember; it’s going to get worse before it gets better’. Life is short, the world dangerous, time precious, and Lunch doesn’t hold back. If you don’t get it — ‘tough shit’.

Essentially a compilation of previously published essays alongside some new dispatches, So Real It Hurts is an acidic belch of anger and despair against the squalor of existence, be it polluted landscapes, corrupt officials, or, yes, T-shirt slogans. Among the most scathing are the new pieces, suggesting that having hit 60, Lunch has plenty more venom to spill and no shortage of targets in sight.

Yet for all its darkness and caustic humour, So Real oozes a kind of rogue positivity. Indeed, many of the essays encourage creativity as release, as if seeking to inspire a New Wave of No Wavers. Meanwhile, a portrait of marginal Beat writer Herbert Huncke contains some of Lunch’s most tender prose: ‘I never met Huncke. Yet he speaks to me in a voice of gentle desperation and compassionate understanding on the complexity and fragility of the human condition, generously revealing the stamina of his tortured soul…’.

So Real It Hurts is anything but a cosy bedside read. It won’t make you sleep easy. But that’s the point. In self-lacerating spasms of undiluted fury, Lunch peels back her skin to reveal a grinning skull.

[Read our interview with Lydia Lunch from 2008. In 2011 3:AM published three of Lydia’s poems.]

Chris Brownsword was born in Sheffield, England. Recent poetry and fiction reviews have appeared in Riggwelter, Tentacular/Elsewhere, Now Then, and 3:AM Magazine. His Word Riot review of Mark SaFranko’s 2014 crime novel, The Suicide, has been quoted in a critical study by Heather Duerre Humann, at Florida Gulf Coast University.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Saturday, October 5th, 2019.