Tomorrow Belongs To Lisa (Suckdog) Carver
"My head's in a whirl. I hope you're going to be specific. Wanna know my bra size?"Generation X, meet Generation L. Your slacker days are done. A new cultural icon is being erected in the midst of the alternative empire, and by the time Lisa Crystal Carver's moment of glory has faded, the work ethic and good grooming will be hipper than heroin. The 27-year-old editor of the fanzine Rollerderby is ready to assume the long-vacant post of "spokesperson for her generation," and with all the hoopla that's been gathering around the October publication of her mainstream debut -- called Dancing Queen: The Lusty Adventures of Lisa Crystal Carver -- she could be a shoo-in.Carver doesn't think it's exactly a done deal yet -- "Nobody's called from MTV and said, 'We crown you spokesperson,'" she says -- but with feature articles set to appear this fall in Vogue, Details and The New Yorker, she can probably relax. Utne Reader has already listed her among "The 100 Visionaries Who Could Change Your Life," and Spin went so far as to call her "one of the great minds of [her] generation." And in addition to Dancing Queen, all the issues of Rollerderby 1990-'94 have just been republished in the anthology Rollerderby: The Book, put out by Adam Parfrey's cooler-than-you Feral House Press.So who the hell is Lisa Carver? At the very least, she's this year's Liz Wurtzel. A former teen prostitute, punk performance artist and ex-paramour of the notorious near-neo-Nazi musician Boyd Rice (father of her two-year-old son), Carver has made a career out of trashing the boundaries of cool. She's been actively campaigning for that spokesperson position ever since Kurt Cobain died. Indeed, she celebrated his demise by self-publishing her Manifesto of Generation L, in which she advocated, as she puts it now, a "happy" life based on the premise "hard work, looking good and having sex." She declares that angst, that most favored emotional pose in grunge culture, "is no more romantic than the common cold, and should be treated as such." Her ideal Generation L society is a throwback to a time when "all women wear make-up" and "The men have muscles and erections and fix things when they're broken. They carry both bags of groceries."Dancing Queen is a collection of essays on a variety of Carver's typical concerns, all of them dissing the slack/grunge non-esthetics and political correctness that have dominated youth-marketed lifestyles in the 90s. She describes a dream date with Russian fascist Vladimir Zhirinovsky; sings the praises of sexy lingerie and of Lawrence Welk's manly mastery of his orchestra; celebrates white trash culture and other touchstones of reactionary chic; and all the while unloads bunches of masturbatory fantasies in which her objects of desire include her gynecologist, Quasimodo and a bear."What being American meant in the pioneer days, and what it still means today for those with a little bravery, is to create one's own world," she's written in Rollerderby. And: "Let there be someone left on earth strong enough to take lousy working conditions, sixteen-hour shifts, and get all stinky and filthy. Corporate housewives have to have some dirty laborers left to fantasize about."Can Carver's package of white trash glamour and rampantly libidinous conservatism sell like grunge did? The smart money certainly thinks so. Bryan Oettel, Carver's editor at Henry Holt & Co., says, "Pagan Kennedy opened up the market, and now people who formerly didn't have access to mainstream publications are certainly making their voices heard. Lisa's post-feminism is one of those things bubbling up under the culture right now that is going to have an impact on the trends of the times."Lisa Carver is a perfect standard-bearer for a new culture of revanchist cool. She's got oodles of street credibility, though hipsters might recognize her best by another name: Lisa Suckdog.Suckdog was the traveling circus of punky rage she fronted from 1987 to '92. It was "performance art" only by the wildest stretch; between the wild screeching, beatings and general mayhem that characterized the troupe's performances, it was closer in spirit to an encounter group hosted by the Manson family than anything inviting an N.E.A. grant. A performance I once caught at CBGB featured her now-estranged husband Jean Louis Costes (they have been separated since 1991) plucking chocolate bon-bons out of his ass while Lisa and downtown artiste Dame Darcy beating each other to a background din of their homemade melodies and found sounds.Growing up in the relative cultural isolation of rustic New Hampshire, she recalls, "I didn't even hear about the Sex Pistols till 1985, and then I thought I was on the cutting edge. When you grow up in New Hampshire and feel weird, there's no readymade subculture. So you have to create your own, and it ends up being pretty off-kilter." She cites fellow New Hampshirites GG Allin, the Shaggs and Jon Spencer.Asked how Suckdog began, she replies, "My friend Rachel and I organized a hardcore show and the headline act was GG Allin. I guess we didn't give him good directions and he got lost and ended up at some other Elks Club in New Hampshire. So at the last minute I got the idea that we would have to put on a show ourselves. I happened to have a Saturday Night Fever soundtrack tape, so we put that on and had a guy play keyboards over top of it. Then Rachel decided she would play bass [she had never played before], and she also took off her shirt and happened to have this leather get-up with nothing on the boobs underneath it. I just ripped off my clothes and ran around and slapped everybody in the audience. I don't remember much more than that, but it was fun."And that pretty much defines the Suckdog experience. Carver recoils at hearing it called a "sadomasochistic extravaganza," but she'll admit that during the troupe's last incarnation in 1992 her husband was whipped until his back was a festering wound."We were telling a story about gender and social hierarchy," she maintains. "Our shows were supposed to be operas, full of incest, rape, murders and uprisings. We put a lot of thought into them, and created songs and tape loops, but once we got on stage things got so wild we got off the program."Then there was her other career. When she was 19, Carver worked as prostitute in Portland, ME."I try to keep that under my hat because of my mom," she says, "but it was the best job I ever had. I got to make people really happy and got paid a lot of money for it. I don't know why anybody would have a problem with that. I have always liked putting on a show. I know how to make somebody feel happy, comfortable and pleasured. It's really easy for me and it's my greatest skill. I'd do anything they wanted me to do. Some of the guys, after sex, would say, 'Would you tie my shoe?' and I was like, 'Yeah, I'll be your slave. Do you want me to lick it, too?' I liked gross men. Old, hairy, fat, I didn't care. I already had the enthusiasm but I learned the technique. I gave 3000 blowjobs."Carver talks about whoring that way -- with such zest you almost buy her explanation that it was a perfect opportunity for young woman with a wild imagination and an extremely dirty mind. As she puts it, "I was overly sexual even at one. I was always shaking my bum at everybody, constantly talking about it and drawing it. When I was little I was always thinking about what I called 'the hot dog.'"Then again, anybody who's made it to the age of 27 has come to realize that acting out has its limitations. Carver slowly began to sublimate some of her monster libido, and the excesses of Suckdog were gradually channeled into more passive pursuits.Today, she says, "I'm not Lisa Suckdog anymore. Just like I'm not the kind of person who drinks an entire fifth anymore. You can't be Lisa Suckdog and live."The key, she says, was founding Rollerderby in 1990. Like all of her major life's decisions, she describes that turning point without sounding terribly pretentious about it. "I was writing for Conflict, Forced Exposure and Ugly American, and I didn't like being edited for fanzines and not being paid. They would always take out the best parts because they thought it wasn't fanzine-like or it was embarrassing. So I just decided to do it myself."Like Suckdog in its way, Rollerderby turned out to be an original. At a time when "angst" was becoming a fixture in the national vocabulary and the fanzine circuit was mostly misanthropic mama's boys documenting the decline of punk, Lisa Carver invited you in for a little intimate talk, upstairs, in her bedroom. In lighter pieces, her dad reminisced about his drug bust and her mom recalled discovering sex. When interviewing indie rockers, Carver never asked them, say, about their musical influences; instead, she'd gently cocktease Cop Shoot Cop's tough-guy Tod A. into confessing his monogamous relationship, or work Boss Hog's bitch goddess Cristina into a jealous rage. Even Courtney Love was putty in her hands, revealing little autobiographical fragments like, "I lost 40 pounds by not eating cheese... I swear to God. I was a fat girl my whole life. No one would fuck me, and when they did they would do things like fart in front of me."In the most recent Rollerderby, published earlier this year, Carver had the infamous Holocaust revisionist and Nazi apologist David Irving making a complete fool of himself. As she recalls it, she and boyfriend Boyd Rice invited the 60-year-old over to their place after a speaking engagement, and Irving proceeded to come on to her "in a really uncool way when [Rice] wasn't around. He asked me if I needed 'rewiring,' weird things like that. Then we went out to a diner with another couple and he forced me to slow down and said, 'Walk slow. I want all the people in these cars to see us together and think you're my girlfriend.' He started criticizing the girl we were with, saying, 'She's so boring, I can't imagine her having sex,' and then I found out later that he had hit on her."Carver's journalistic coups didn't go unnoticed on the zine underground, and even notoriously crabby figures like Jim Goad of Answer Me! began to registered their approval. "There was a weird mutual dislike between us early on," he recently told me. "I thought Rollerderby was dippy and insubstantial, and she thought Answer Me! was cartoonishly angry. But sooner or later we recognized the control freak in both of us and mended our ways. Somewhere along the line I realized she was a really good interviewer. Her future really lies in becoming a AM radio-type of counselor. She also seems really driven and so am I, so there was some simpatico there. What we really like about each other has nothing to do with any alleged 'outrageousness.' It's more that we recognize a mutual Presbyterian work ethic."As for her apparent rightist tendencies, Carver admits, "I don't want to control people's lives and I can't get into God, but yes, I am secretly right-wing. I was a member of the Libertarian Party when I was a teenager -- I used to lick envelopes for them. You either believe in a strong, small government, do-it-yourself and taking care of your family, or you want to party and believe that the government should take care of us. The latter position is what the whole 'I'm going to be an artist' really boils down too. I, too, used to be a rover, but I still always knew I was going to have a family and take care of them and be successful. Today I'm a stay-at-home and take-care-of-the-garden type."Goad nicely describes the fertile youth-culture soil that spawned Generation L. "In latter-day America, excellence is uncool, and if you try too hard you're nerd.Slackerism is punk rock without anything that was good about punk rock. While punk rock's primary message was that passion was more important than craft, slackerism has no craft. The esthetic holds that you should be entirely insincere and ironic in everything you do. Most of the people who are whining about government oppression and everything that's fucked up about the world are heroine addicts."When questioned closely, Carver says that all her arch-conservative posturing should be taken in good humor and with a grain of salt. "Part of the extremism of Generation L is in reaction to the extremism of saying there are no differences [between the sexes]," she declares. "That is just so clearly wrong."She tells me about the scores of women she knows who ensured themselves great nights out simply by applying some sparkling eyeshadow, and the guys who've written her to report how their doing a little manly maintenance work around the house incited their mates to sessions of frantic coupling. When she puts it this way, only a grouchy Stalinist wouldn't cut her some slack.But then you recall that the father of her two-year-old is Boyd Rice.In addition to the Holocaust-hoax man Irving, Rice is a longtime supporter of Charles Manson, follower of Satanist Anton LeVay and friend of the infamous American Nazi propagandist James Mason. He prefers to call himself a "social darwinist," but when pressed will admit to fascist "sympathies." Outside of those circles, he may be best known for a photo that appeared in Blood in the Face, James Ridgeway's 1990 book about neo-Nazis and white supremacists. It's of Rice and neo-Nazi Bob Heick wearing the brown-shirted uniforms of something called the American Front, which may or may not have been just a punk-arty prank.Rice's most recent CD (as Non), called Might! (Mute), is a reading of a 19th-Century Social Darwinist text, Ragnar Redbeard's Might Is Right, set to an atmospheric industrial soundtrack. Previous efforts included lots of martial symbolism overtly giving homage to the imagery of the Third Reich.When I spoke to him by phone recently, Rice took a lot of credit for Lisa's ideological development. "I think a lot of Generation L came from me. She was already into sexual differentiation, but then she took the whole thing a lot further after we met."For her part, Carver says she hated Rice when they first met, but then fell under his "spell" after an exchange of letters resulted in a date. Though the two-year-long relationship ended acrimoniously last December, she still does not deny his influence on her thinking. "He's as close to me in nature and taste as anybody I'll ever meet. We could agree on anything, and the things we didn't agree on -- say, the effect of skull-size on intelligence -- we could at least talk about."Skull size? Intelligence?"Boyd and I have drawn different conclusions from that question. I think it's just a physical attribute. After all, Asians have smaller skulls and they have higher IQs." Asked whether her ex-beau is a racist, she remarks, "I think his agenda is to feel good, and if it makes him feel good to believe that white people are the best, then he'll think that."Hm. Well then, is Lisa Carver a racist?"People act differently, and they usually act according to their race," she replies. "When I lived in San Francisco I would see different races, and the black kids would be more aggressive in general. There are findings that back the fact that black people are more aggressive. What's the big deal?"Rice's influence is also evident in Carver's thoughts about womanhood and childbearing, a compelling mixture of pseudo-science and trash credibility. "The smarter you are, the more you get away from your purpose," she declares with authority. "But I believe that men are looking for a woman of childbearing years, with the right measurements, who is healthy. Even if you're a prostitute using a condom with a stranger, it's still about mating. I was getting paid because I had round hips, a thin waist, and was young and unmarked. They were there because they had a yearning to sow their seed. It seems so obvious. I can't fathom why I have to state it."For the most part, you won't find Carver's more controversial and extreme opinions in Dancing Queen, largely because she had very smart editor in Bryan Oettel. "I've been very conscious about her connection to the Boyd Rice/Hitler controversy," he tells me. "At one point there was a reference to Hitler, and I said you have to be very careful about that, because you do have that association. We had a long conversation about [that] one word. I told her, 'You're pushing the edge a little bit. You should think about your audience. Is this something you want to present as you?' She's been wonderful about that."So readers of Dancing Queen will enjoy a sexy romp untroubled by the subtext that runs silent, runs deep through it. And yet, when we're discussing various parts of it, Carver's explanations might be used as clinical data on the mass psychology of fascism. For example: "The essay about Lawrence Welk is really about the hard-working, mature man and the big-hipped woman with all that goopy lipstick mating." Another chapter is "all about my father fixation. Dads usually leave their young daughters, and then the daughters really miss Dad laying down the rules. That's also where my Zhirinovsky obsession comes in. It's not that I really want someone like that in power, but I'm sick because my Dad was busy running around or being in jail."And then there's that sexual fantasy involving a bear. "The bear is the big, hairy, forceful male who comes and kills all my friends and relatives because he wants me all to himself, and then he has his way with me totally and I have to do everything he says."Unfortunately, Carver has discovered that the realities of such total submission to manly power don't always live up to the propaganda. Speaking about her relationship with Rice, she says, "He really is the great love of my life. I hope I never find passion like that again, because he eclipsed my personality, became more important to me than anything. I wanted to be totally dominated. I thought that meant you were also taken care of, but Boyd doesn't want to be responsible for a family. He wants to dream all day and go out at night. He started getting violent, because that was the only way he could get rid of me. He started on the furniture, and when he got to me I had him arrested. I left 12 hours later. I was back in New Hampshire before he got out of jail."For his part, Rice makes them sound like a pair of TK Nietzschean tragic heroes. "We are both self-obsessed sociopaths who are more concerned about our work than keeping up relationships," is the way he put it to me. "We get more satisfaction out of doing our personal stuff than having some happy family home situation. When we first met she was the most glamorous person I'd ever been with. She wouldn't even let me look at her when she was wearing glasses. But by time she was going on National Public Radio talking about Generation L she was wearing sweatpants and t-shirts everyday."Well well. Maybe there's hope for her after all.