New York

Lydia Lunch, The Gun is Loaded

The Performing Garage

Like her records, videotapes, and writings, Lydia Lunch’s performance monologue The Gun Is Loaded tried to fall off the edge of the rational world with its relentless obscenities, unrelieved negativity, and flat-footed presentation. What was revealed, however, was not a devastating glimpse of the abyss, but the almost total failure of the clichés of classic blasphemy to shock. Lunch’s “too much” was not nearly enough; her additions to the nihilistic vocabulary—praise of “the plague” (clearly AIDS) as population control, rape fantasies with “niggers”—were as ineffectual as the other, standard tropes she used. Overloaded with tritely cynical messages, clumsily acted out, and headed nowhere dramatically, Lunch’s Gun was, by any logical standard of performance, a fizzling misfire, a blank-shooting popgun rather than a searing, murderous superweapon. Without any potent ammunition, she resorted to overkill, perhaps in the belief that “too much” can never be enough. As a punk Cassandra, Lunch appeared as a human black hole of death wishes, a throbbing crater of desire that can’t possibly be filled. As an example of the oblivion-obsessed world against which it railed, Gun was an impressive display of caterwauling will.

The performance’s will to power was evident from the beginning, with its opening as a pseudo-heavy metal rock concert. Industrial-noise music (by J. G. Thirlwell) strove for a doomy mood while harsh lights played on the stark set, a black, Albert Speer-style pulpit/coffin at stage center, flanked on either side by stylized suggestions of a psychiatrist’s couch and a white picket-fenced “yard” (set by lzhar Patkin and Richard Phillips). This mimicry of an awesome prelude was played straight, as was Lunch’s initial diatribe, a preachy political/social commentary spelled out in obscene terms. But Lunch couldn’t pump much juice into the sucked-dry conceits of cynical truisms that she presented. To hear ad nauseam that life is “all about getting fucked” gained only a small lively spin coming from a female source, as the Céline-Burroughs world-sick trip has been worked over by a line of female writer-performers stretching from Patti Smith to Kathy Acker. Only when Lunch descended from the “throne” and rephrased her disgust in the form of autobiographylike stories did the humor and horror inherent in her death-drenched vision intermittently come to life. For a finale, Lunch indulged in yet another predictable cliché, taunting a sitting-on-its-hands audience to work up a climax, but it was all masturbatory. Lunch’s frenzy stirred no response and only circled back on itself.

As a live performer, Lunch’s “too much” is at the mercy of very little. She has no in-person charisma, no performing techniques (her voice is one-note, her gestures are amateurish), and no dramatic skills, whether writing or staging, to pull off her real aim: killing the audience. Gun wasn’t even wounding. But her furious efforts spelled out in spectacular detail a primo post-Modem question: Is will all there is?

John Howell