BOSTON, 1980 – Gurl 13 is, as the number would suggest, a “bad” girl. Not the buxom, blonde in a hayloft type that can tie a cherry stem into knot with only her tongue and a shot of Southern Comfort bad girl but rather the enticing scary – drain your testicles of every drop of yer manly essence before crushing them with a stiletto heel while picking her teeth – fondling a switchblade type.
From the first moment her visage was glimmed and her careening caterwauls of lust, death, betrayal and salvation-through-sin in the essential document “No New York” burned the brain cells of musical first responders, it was clear. Lydia Lunch was a bad Gurl.
From the first blows against the empire contained in the grooves of her wax in the band Teenage Jesus and the Jerks she put the world on notice that your safe world of Tura Santana bad would never be the same.
Her meteoric burn through bands and confounding collaborations with some of the most outre’ artists extant was mind-blowing in its scope and consequence.
Following Teenage Jesus a dizzying romp through a burgeoning psyche formed in the cauldron of the sordid underbelly and festering streets of the big city manifested itself in her bands: Beirut Slump, 13.13, Harry Crews, Big Sexy Noise and JLP Sessions.
Her cohorts in other projects included; James Chance, Jim Thirwell, Nick Cave, Henry Rollins, Michael Gira, Lucy Hamilton, Roland S. Howard, Exene Cervenka, Alan Vega and Genesis P. Orridge.
One other was the band she fronted when she first frightened your humble narrator, “Eight-Eyed Spy.”
The stories about her that were shared among Boston’s scene spielers always occurred in the same hushed tones and peeking-over-your-shoulder paranoia that you hoped you wouldn’t (but secretly wished you would) excitement that small children would use when they’d talk about the boogeyman.
“She punched her drummer in the face before and after she fucked him.” “She carries a gun, a knife AND a vial of poison.” “She is banned from that last club she played at and now she’s coming here.”
When you added in the fact that her band Eight-Eyed-Spy contained some of the biggest names in the New York No Wave underground like Pat Irwin, Jim Sclavounos and Lydia’s male counterpart, the staggering George Scott, the anticipation of their arrival was intense and full of an unidentified dread.
Like a child waiting for Santa, a Santa that you just found out may want to kill your parents or, give you candy, we counted-down the hours until their arrival and feared for our safety.
The band arrived for sound check on time and mentioned that Lydia was running a little late. They loaded in their gear down the twisting stairs and surveyed the tiny stage and pitiful P.A. system without complaint.
Rather than the marauding band of musical pirates with bags of syringes and gravity blades we were expecting, they dressed and seemed more like a polite combo of 50’s jazz musicians arriving for a cotillion.
Slightly disheveled and asking for only Pepsi and a power strips for their amplifiers they exhibited less menace than the mean girl that was the cashier of the Orange Julius in the Paramus Mall.
Then, Lydia arrived. A shrieking “Fuuuuuccccckkk!” appeared before she did. “This place looks like it’s gonna suck” arrived as she came into view.
She was everything that was expected. Fierce, feral, fantastic in the original sense of the word.
With her entry into the room every spine seemed to stiffen and nostrils flared as a whiff of something dangerous mixed with endless possibility jarred the lizard brain center into action.
As she said “I’m separated by other performers with whom I might be lumped, since what I say is so intensely personal. I’m anti-art and anti-poetry. As much as possible, I want to inflict my personal pain on the rest of society.”
After a quick sound check where you would normally do like things like check for tonal balance, eliminate squeals of feedback and mix the instruments, it became more of an extreme test of the maximum red zone of the V.U. Meters and the heat capacity of the speaker coils than anything else.
It was incredible to witness the simple presence of Gurl 13 manifesting this debauched transformation of what was, to most extents and purpose an non-descript group of young musicians into a ferocious, compelling and world-crushing gang.
Joined by some savvy Boston folks that had deep NYC scene roots, they slipped out into the night to while-away the hours until their post midnight performance at the Underground.
Soon, like breathless reports brought back to command central from the front lines, stories trickled in. “She fucked em’! Right there.” “She told this guy that was following her that if he really loved her he would go rip that receiver of that pay phone…and he did!”
She was capital BAD bad. But good. Like so many amazing Gurls she has no idea how she formed new ways of looking at things in so many complete strangers.
The show that night was in front of a packed-house. It was hot like only a hot club can be…sweaty, heady, uncomfortable but made bearable by a sense of urgency and purpose no matter how personal or obscure.
The band rumbled and took apart the entire idea of rock and roll with glee and precision. With Lydia directing alternate waves of lust, evil, desperation as personal dialogs for them to channel and disperse like some mind-altering cloud of C.I.A. Compliance dust, it/it/them fucked you up.
No weapons were used in writing this piece.
Your humble narrator, William Skip Sands is the main character of “Tree of Smoke” and known for being a desperate character short of salvation but long on detail.
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