New York City at the age of 16, Lunch moved into a large communal household of artists and musicians in NYC, including Kitty Bruce, daughter of Lenny Bruce. Soon after she earned the surname "Lunch" by regularly stealing lunches for her (often starving) artist friends. After befriending the 'godfathers of punk' Suicide at Max's Kansas City, she founded the short-lived but influential No Wave band Teenage Jesus & the Jerks in 1976 with her artistic partner, No Wave punk-funk-jazz musician James Chance. Both appeared on the seminal No Wave compilation No New York. Lunch later appeared on two songs on Chance's album Off White (credited to James White and the Blacks; Lunch used the pseudonym "Stella Rico") in 1978.
She appeared in two films directed by the husband and wife film-making team of Scott B and Beth B; In the short film Black Box (1978) she played an unnamed torturer, and in the feature length, neo-noir thriller Vortex (1983) she played a private detective named "Angel Powers". During this time, she also appeared in a number of films by Vivienne Dick, including She Had her Gun All Ready (1978) and Beauty Becomes The Beast (1979), co starring with Pat Place.
In the mid-'80s she formed her own recording and publishing company called "Widowspeak" on which she continues to release a slew of her own material from songs to spoken word.
A self-avowed 'confrontationalist' identified by the Boston Phoenix as "one of the 10 most influential performers of the '90s", Lunch's solo career featured collaborations with musicians such as J. G. Thirlwell, Kim Gordon, Thurston Moore, Nick Cave, Billy Ver Plank, Steven Severin, Robert Quine, Sadie Mae, Rowland S. Howard, Michael Gira, The Birthday Party, Einstürzende Neubauten, Sonic Youth, Die Haut and Black Sun Productions. She also acted in, wrote, and directed underground films, sometimes collaborating with underground filmmaker and musician Richard Kern (including several films such as Fingered in which she performed unsimulated sex acts), and more recently has recorded and performed as a spoken word artist, again collaborating with such artists as Exene Cervenka, Henry Rollins, Don Bajema, Hubert Selby Jr., and Emilio Cubeiro, as well as authoring both traditional books and comix (with award-winning graphic novel artist Ted McKeever).
Simon Reynolds, author of Rip It Up and Start Again : Postpunk 1978-1984, wrote: "And although 'affection' is possibly an odd word to use in reference to a bunch of nihilists, I do feel fond of the No Wave people. ... there are great moments throughout Lydia Lunch's long discography."