Shotgun Wedding in the Sultry Heat of New Orleans
book excerpt by Nick Soulsby
In this exclusive excerpt from Nick Soulsby's new book Lydia Lunch: The War Is Never Over--a companion to the documentary film of the same name by Beth B--Lydia leaves NYC in late 1990 and settles in New Orleans...
LYDIA LUNCH: Nick Cave and I never agreed on anything from the moment we met--Rowland S. Howard and I agreed on everything.
HARRY HOWARD (bassist, Shotgun Wedding tour): Rowland and Lydia had a kind of quiet mutual respect that seemed to breed each other's confidence. Shotgun Wedding came about during a lull in These Immortal Souls' activities.
LINK WRECKAGE (guitarist, Shotgun Wedding): Lydia did Shotgun Wedding because she really wanted to pull Rowland out of something. He really admired the idea of immortality in music, and that can lead to some dark places. Lydia loved Rowland, and she loved his guitar playing--she wanted him to be working ... and she felt she could help jumpstart Rowland. Plus she wanted to work with him--who wouldn't?
TOM GARRETSON (Lydia's manager and confidante): The Lydia Lunch persona ... this confrontational element is what scares the shit out of some people. No one unmasks bullshit quicker than Lydia, and woe to the bullshitter in her presence! The private Lydia is different--she's one of the most loving, kindest, and funniest people I know.
JIM THIRLWELL (producer, Shotgun Wedding): She uses her mind and body and voice as her weapon. It's the bullet and it's the gun--and the gun is loaded.
HARRY HOWARD: Rowland had an interesting character. He had a very sensitive side, and he was impractical about a lot of things in life. Rowland didn't like any confrontation, which made him pull back from a lot of the things you face in life. But, on the other hand, he was so strong about how he knew what he liked--he was really unshakeable ... he was really good at recognising what was good and what was interesting--he didn't have any confusion about that.
LYDIA LUNCH: I left New York for good in 1990, when the gentrification had begun. There's still great people there, but it's not what it was. There are many artistic cycles either when a place is completely bankrupt or decrepit, or when a war has just happened or is about to happen. We could talk about Paris in the 20s; Germany in the early 30s; Chicago in the 40s; Memphis in the 50s; Haight-Ashbury in the 60s; LA, New York, and London in the late 70s; Berlin for a while in the 80s. Artistic movements--they're never movements at the time, they're just things that happen, usually coming together for economic reasons, and technology has blown that out of the water now.
GLYN STYLER (drummer, Shotgun Wedding): When Lydia moved to New Orleans, she was trying to get a band together with Rowland. And though I'm not really a drummer, so I reluctantly ended up on the drum-stool--it turned out to be a blast!
LINK WRECKAGE: I was there about a week before Rowland showed up so Lydia and I, with Joe Drake--the bass player--we started writing material, things like 'What Is Memory.' Joe was the funniest guy I ever met--he had this very dry sense of humour. After the album was done, he was cut loose--he wasn't invited on the tour-- it was clear he wasn't going to survive the record. Rowland and I really hit it off and we both really liked 'I Touch Myself' by Divinyls and when the video would come on we'd watch it and Lydia would just roll her eyes at us. In New Orleans, we had this big Chevy Impala. Lydia was in the back and Rowland would always ride shotgun next to me--I was the driver--and Glyn got in the car and said something really salty to Lydia. It rolled right off her. That was great. Glyn didn't care who Lydia or Rowland might have been--he was his own person and a really good musician.
GLYN STYLER: The first time we met, I climbed into the back seat with her and said, 'Wow, you look great!' To which she replied, 'I always look great.' I told her that she had looked heavier, weight-wise, in the Kern films. She then pinched me on the cheek, rather hard, and said, 'That was baby fat.' I loved her immediately.
LINK WRECKAGE: As much as New Orleans was known as a party town, Lydia was not about partying. I was a little surprised because I didn't know her all that well, and she had a reputation--people would think she's this wild person, but I saw how business-like she was when it came to her work. She soaked up a lot of the ambience, the vibe of the place, and filtered it through her cycle so it was this different spin, so it was her vision.
GLYN STYLER: I visited her house, on Spain Street ... she finally opened the door in a smart little leather miniskirt with a riding crop in her hand. She sat me down, went to the kitchen to make us tea ... and, suddenly, a shirtless teenage boy appeared in her bedroom doorway, walked briskly across the room, and out the front door without speaking. When I asked who he was, she said, 'I was just showing him the ropes,' with a mischievous little snicker.
LINK WRECKAGE: Lydia was leading a very healthy lifestyle, she was biking a lot, she was in great physical shape--her head was in a really good place to conjure up this dark but accessible vision of what New Orleans was about, in sound. We got to Memphis, the Easley Studios, to start the recordings and Jim Thirlwell and Lydia were very much running things from the control room. She's such a pro, it all went really smoothly.
HARRY HOWARD: You really have to credit Rowland for writing the musical style of the Shotgun Wedding album, and he did it really quickly too, drew it together really quickly. Lydia was a good bandleader--the head of the project. She had high expectations but she was encouraging as well. Rowland was backing her up, making sure the musical details were right, and he was inspiring--together it worked very well. The were definitely acting in partnership and they both played their roles superbly. They fed off each other. I could see it and hear it. They should have done more, God knows.
LINK WRECKAGE: Rowland would hear things and say, 'That sounds so Rowland Howard'--he'd talk about himself in the third person because he was looking for other influences. In the studio, he and I had an argument about a chord change: I said something like, 'You can't play an F over and E,' and Rowland said, 'You might know music better than I do, but I know what I like.' That was how Rowland was. He had an interesting way of writing things, he'd record them onto cassette and then play along on top of it, and he'd memorise all the parts in his head.
GLYN STYLER: Lydia introduced me to a very strange alcoholic beverage called Cisco. It was sickeningly sweet, and she said the orange flavour was best. Turns out it had formalin in it, which I assume was related to formaldehyde. It got us very fucked up. She served it at her many gatherings and barbeques. We drank it all through the recording of Shotgun Wedding. I remember laying on the floor in a recording booth in Memphis with Lydia and Jim Thirwell, recording the backing vocals for 'Burning Skulls' while laughing our fucking heads off. Cisco was taken off the market soon after.
LINK WRECKAGE: There were moments where I thought Lydia was speaking in tongues--she was channelling this Southern gothic mystical thing. Rowland could really see that Lydia could sing. He liked that about her, how good she was. But she's never wanted to be just a rock singer, so she's never really gone there--that commercial, commodified singing like Courtney Love saying she's like 'Lydia Lunch meets Madonna,' and Lydia says, 'Fuck that!' Lydia very much knew what she wanted to do and some of those lyrics on Shotgun Wedding contain themes that are a long-time presence in her work. If you dig into them you can see those ongoing concerns. Lydia was very much a feminist at a time when people weren't really bandying that word around--she had that power and that strength.
CATHI UNSWORTH (writer): The record she did with Rowland S. Howard, it was the aural equivalent of a Sam Peckinpah movie or a Jim Thompson novel. They told such brilliant stories together, and everything they did carried this air of mystery, but you could really imagine these fantastic landscapes unfolding.
© 2020 Nick Soulsby
Lydia Lunch: The War Is Never Over (A Companion To The Film By Beth B) by Nick Soulsby is published by Jawbone Press.
also see our interview with Lydia from 1997
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