Lisa Carver may not be the last of her kind, but she definitely belongs to a dying breed. In her genre-pioneering zine Rollerderby, Carver unraveled the tightly wound intestines of her obsessions. She always kept her prose beguiling and clearheaded, even while documenting the most noxious and unhinged characters (foremost among them herself). Those who figured her as the finest stylist of her generation will feel vindicated by Drugs Are Nice, an amazing elegy for the lost underground of the ’80s, whose denizens—that Forced Exposure roll call of GG Allin, Michael Gira, and Lydia Lunch—equated authenticity and edge with abasement, abuse, and rolling in the anti-p.c. mire.
Trawling through her own life, Carver poignantly uncovers the damage that lay behind the thrill-seeking urges and audience-violating impulses. Her adoration for a cruel, reckless father might help explain her attraction to Allin, notorious for his attempts to outgross Iggy with violent stage theatrics. Inspired by GG, a teenage Carver formed the shock performance troupe Suckdog, later recruiting future husband Jean Louis Costes, an unstable Frenchman with questionable hygiene. Carver conjures grotesque scenes from Suckdog’s tours with such vividness you almost wish you weren’t there—but then you’d miss the sly humor and surprising reasonableness with which she navigates her way through the unsanitary insanity. Carver sees herself as part of a wounded pack of transgressives who survived chaotic childhoods by spinning protective cocoons around themselves, then took desperate measures to penetrate the numbness.
The zine age came and went. Carver argues, “You cannot translate Nietzschean self-immolation to a mass pop audience,” though grunge did convert alt-culture rage into aboveground fare, and Courtney Love could be seen as a Carver-manquée with a careerist streak. But at least there is finally a great book to memorialize that era’s wanton, misfit energy. Maybe someone will even turn it into a movie. Hey, Frances Bean should be old enough to play the lead real soon.