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Feral House, unpaged, $14.95, paper
If one must publish a ’zine “about me and my friends and my cats,” it helps to have led the life of Lisa Crystal Carver. The only child of a usually jailed, pot-dealing father and a loving but medically star-crossed mother, teenage Lisa corresponded from Dover, N.H., with members of the cassette and video underground. She formed Suckdog, a troupe whose “operas of rape, murder, and revolution” employed naked screeching, bodily fluid-letting, and brawls with the audience. Lisa Suckdog, as she was known, toured the U.S. and France, released three unlistenable CDs, did a six-week stint as a prostitute, and married and divorced a 34-year-old French performance artist.
Then she turned 20 and started publishing Rollerderby. The Xeroxed quarterly was initially for and about her group of pen pals, which grew as she moved from Dover to France to New York to Dover to Guerneville, Calif., to Denver. The ’zine, now in its 19th issue, includes excerpts from Carver’s correspondence, feature stories about her new friends and lovers, transcripts of her cretinous neighbors’ dialogue, and essays both confessional and critical. Since its first issue, Rollerderby has grown in circulation from 15 to 5,000, and has gained mention in publications from Hustler to Harper’s. Now Carver has compiled most of the first 16 issues (1990-94) into Rollerderby: The Book, published by Portland, Ore.’s Feral House. (Some longer essays from these issues are set aside for Carver’s next book, due out from Holt in November.)
Carver blends passionate youth and dispassionate observer into one utterly original persona. Unlike fellow perverts Henry Miller and William S. Burroughs, she approves but does not romanticize herself, noting precisely how much her lack of education, her white-trash roots, and her “unhealthy” craving for attention shape her life and her autobiographical impulse. And despite her demographic and sex-positivity, Carver is nothing like the riot grrrls, whose ’zines tend to be as cautiously doctrinaire as the fanboys’. More like John Waters’ early movies or Pamela des Barres’ witty groupie memoir, I’m With the Band, Rollerderby (the ’zine and the book) embraces its milieu of weirdos.
Carver’s casual disrespect for propriety is contagious. She elicits fascinating confessions and hysterical rants during her impertinent Q&As with Royal Trux, Lydia Lunch, Kim Gordon, GG Allin, Courtney Love, Fabio fans at the mall, conspiracy theorists, drag queens, and her eccentric friends and family. Carver even grills her dad coolly about her one-night-stand conception, his drug busts, and the contrasting “rape scenes in Mexican and American prisons.”
But Rollerderby does not rest on shock value. Its pornographic photos and stories are not the point but the starting point, a distinction unwittingly highlighted by Feral House’s packaging. On the book’s back cover is a shot of cheesecake icon Chesty Morgan and her 2-foot-long breasts, flanked by titillating blurbs from Pawholes and Screw magazine. If this photo appeared in Rollerderby, it wouldn’t be plopped down in such an unimaginative, sex-sells way; there’d be exhaustive transcribed talk about those freak-of-nature tits—what it would be like to have them, what men like to do with them, and what they have to do with the worried expression on Ms. Morgan’s face. In its willingness to burrow further where most turn away, Rollerderby is, in the best sense of the word, shameless.
And fearless. In describing things most people never experience, or at least rarely examine in detail, Carver is our correspondent from the dark side. “On Killing Yourself,” an essay about her handful of suicide attempts, is typically clear-eyed: “At the time,” she writes, “I thought I was a passionate person, but now as I look back on the circumstances that directly preceded the thrusting of the beer bottle shard into my wrist, it occurs to me that it might simply have been the easiest way to avoid taking part in the orgy that one of the party-goers had suggested.” “Candy Factory,” an essay about Carver’s prostitution gig at age 19, is similarly candid and lacking in self-pity:
“You have to wear [a rubber],” I said. “If you don’t, you won’t get in.” He took it, unwrapped it, and started haggling about prices. I didn’t know yet that you never bargain: It’s demeaning. I wanted to cry. The man was inside me, yanking my head from side to side by my hair. Gradually, in echo, the words reached me. “You’re fresh and young now, but in a few months you’ll be just like those rotten girls on the streets in New York.”
“It’s demeaning.” In this nugget of insider information, Carver conveys all the bleakness and absurdity of the life. There’s nothing showy about her writing, yet it’s always precise. She consistently picks the right details, editing herself as judiciously as she edits her contributors. In one of her few discussions of craft (unfortunately not included here), she scolds another ’zine for sloppy editing: “a writer’s words are like a porn queen’s boobs—she must be careful of them.”
Rollerderby: The Book also includes the odd turn that Rollerderby the ’zine took in 1994. Around the time she got pregnant (with the child of purported Nazi Boyd Rice), Carver began enlisting readers to join “Generation L.” In her manifesto, partly reprinted here, she instructed her readers to be more like her—“proud, excited, and groomed”—and less like the “guilty, bored, ironic, baggy Generation-Xers….Kurt Cobain resented being the spokesperson of his generation….I am proud to be your voice.” Among her planks: “All women wear sparkly blue eyeshadow. All blacks have big afros. Men have muscles and erections and fix things when they’re broken. Ladies have hair-dos….We like boobs, money, and manners.”
Generation L seems in part a complicated response to Carver’s personal class struggle. It’s not surprising that she prefers an affluent ’50s world of powerful men and ladylike women to her peers’ slacker lifestyle: The latter can’t hold much romance for a former welfare kid who’s about to be a single mother. At the end of 1994 and of the book, she continues to defend her platform energetically, supplementing it with post-Cosmo advice on blowjobs, clothing, and makeup. One of the best of these pieces, “The School of Soft Knockers,” passes along fashion tips (“carry small, furry purses—reminds the men of you-know-what”) and her friend Jaina’s encouragement to buy a fall: “Just think of it as a really hairy barrette.”
As she has grown famous, Carver’s bully pulpit seems to have gone to her head, and half-baked cultural criticism like Generation L have begun appearing alongside the true confessions. But even when its editor spins out of control, Rollerderby remains compelling. Carver keeps taking chances and taking herself just seriously enough. As she writes in the original L essay, “Dostoyevsky said God loves a hot sinner better than a nontemperatured abstainer—or something like that. History loves a person who makes a really big mistake.”CP