Diary of a Mad White Woman
Lisa Crystal Carver
Lisa Carver’s memoir Drugs Are Nice: A Post-Punk Memoir is too disturbing, able to disgust and intrigue at the same time. Its pages are filled with images of pseudo-sex acts, a grown woman urinating into kitty litter, her male performance partner dragging her naked body across stage—scenes that hold the attention like a horrible car wreck on a rainy day. The first viewing of the co-released DVD was held with the volume muted, paranoid that someone might mistake it for a snuff film. And yet, throughout, Carver’s memoir is completely enthralling.
Drugs Are Nice, Carver’s self-described “suckumentary,” recounts the 36-year-old’s time as a member of the bizarre opera troupe Suckdog. Even its cover elicits nervousness: a scraped-up Carver passed out on the street. And if you brave the DVD first, be forewarned: You’ll either want to read about the woman who strips down in front of an audience and gets molested by some dude wearing a homemade prosthetic penis made of sausage—or you won’t. Carver, the former publisher of early-’90s zine Rollerderby and former Nerve.com columnist, regurgitates the nitty-gritty of her life on these pages, and that story is freakishly interesting.
At its core Drugs Are Nice is a classic coming-of-age saga with some decidedly nonclassical twists: Girl forms band with her best friend, girl leaves country and marries much older Frenchman who speaks broken English. The husband and wife form a troupe with a cult following; husband and wife cheat on each other, but, boy, do they love one another—it’s like crackhead love. Girl returns to America and becomes a teen prostitute. Girl returns to Europe, leaves husband, returns to the States, and begins a zine with a cult following. Girl mothers the child of an abusive neo-Nazi and, through all of this, discovers herself.
It’s easy to read all this and feel pretty darn guilty about finding it all so fascinating, as if it were something concocted in her head and not a lived experience. Voyeurism is a strange American habit, and Carver takes advantage of it, baiting you in with her schizophrenic prose, which moves at a dizzying pace, cutting her frenzied narrative with introspective, honest proclamations. In regards to her experience as a teen prostitute, Carver writes:
I love that my life consists of sucking a businessman’s cock at five, relieving a probably mentally retarded gas attendant of his virginity at six, and peeing into the mouth of a perfectly elegant man of independent means at seven-thirty [ . . . ] I get to change my personality five times a night, stepping into other people’s ideals. I can guess—from a man’s greeting, from his clothes, his eyes—who his dream woman is, and I become her.
Such brutally honest, provocatively scripted passages are found throughout Drugs Are Nice. Carver’s writing talents are in plain view, as they were early on. “It’s good to be with you,” admits Carver’s ex-husband, Jean-Louise Costes, the aforementioned Frenchman, “because you have a big potential. You will be a famous writer, it is sure.”
Fame might escape Carver, but her cult following grows. Drugs Are Nice is some sort of transgressive nonfiction, as the libertarian Carver lashes out against cultural conventions while simultaneously abandoning most every conventional technique in her writing with the intent of redefining art. Socialized by her ex-convict father not to abide by society’s rules, she goes about destroying things only to construct something new in their place. This book is for neither the literary aesthete nor the social conservative. Traditions collapse under the weight of Carver’s myriad ambitions.
“[I] wanted to change the very foundation of what music was, what it meant to be a girl or boy, what performance was, what movies were, what writing was for,” she writes. Her memoir might not change anything, but it’s certainly an engrossingly adequate attempt.