Rollin’ around with Lisa Carver

Linda J Dacio of The Dacios chats to American writer and performer, Lisa Carver, in Australia to perform a series of ‘gore operas’.

Lisa Carver is one of America’s most prolific and original underground writers and performers. She’s famous for her wild and fantastic blend of chaotic noise art and physical spectacle under the SUCKDOG moniker and as editor and creator of long-running 90s zine, Rollerderby.

In interviews, Carver introduced many to the work of Vaginal Davis, Dame Darcy, Cindy Dall, Boyd Rice, Costes Nick Zedd, GG Allin, Kate Landau, Queen Itchie & Liz Armstrong. She has published several novels, including her darkly funny autobiography Drugs Are Nice, a treatise on Yoko Ono, a writing guide, a dissection of American pop culture and more. Her latest book, The Jaywalker, is a collection of short stories illustrated by her friend and collaborator, Dame Darcy.

Linda Dacio is of “high-octane, lysergic, nitrous sucking rock n’ roll beast” Melbourne band, The Dacios. She’s a long-time fan of Carver, especially her 2014 book Money’s Nothing of which she says: “It’s been good for me to read through my six months of unemployment – not because Lisa advocates not working, but because of the insights this can give you into money, friendships, romance, kids, communicating, honesty, betrayal, cowardice, healthcare, authority and a lot more.”

Carver is in Australia to perform a series of gore operas with her troupe SUCKDOG. The operas are described as “Part Antonin Artaud, part Showgirls” and involve her teenage daughter, Sadie and the mysterious and “hard partying” Kuzak Sisters.

Carver discusses writing with musician Adalita; writer and filmmaker, Michelle Law and writer, Jenny Valentish on Friday July 29 at the State Library Theatrette. Suckdog play the Tote on Saturday July 30 with Sky Needle, Shrimpwitch and SMOXED. More info here.

Lisa and Linda recently chatted via email.

LINDA: In 2005 interview, after the release of Drugs Are Nice, you said you’d like to do something in music, “to tell funny, truthful little stories, but make them have a rhyming chorus.” Is your new Suckdog performance a fulfilment of this wish? It has been referred to as a ‘gore’ opera. Judging by the bruised legs in the photo, things may get rough. Is there something you’d like to say about the show for those unfamiliar with the force of Suckdog?

LISA: No one is a backup “ooh-ooh” girl in the show. Maddie and Gen Kuzak wrote the music and each wrote one of the songs (Maddie’s is in Japanese). Everybody created their character according to their personality or secret wishes, so Gen is the guy who goes out and beats people and pulls their chairs out from under them, Maddie is like Marilyn Monroe in my opinion – you can’t not look at her when she’s on stage, and Sadie is pretty disgusted with all of us and is this cool and removed presence… she kind of freaks me out.

I don’t know what my character is. I was this backstabbing Jackie Collins-type Other Woman, but then when Dame Darcy dropped out, it fit better for me to take over her role as either dying or dead (a ghost) and give Sadie my old role because there would be less lines for her to memorise so we’re all just a mess.

In my mind, the show is playful and fun, but to someone else, maybe it would be scary. I am scared of mobs, but a riot is undeniably fun nevertheless – it’s an excuse for everything pent up to come out. You lose your sense of civilisation. There is so much joy in breaking something. Everything I’ve done on stage has been childlike. People make the mistake of thinking that children are innocent and unknowing and powerless. The children I’ve ever seen or been are nothing like that. They’re like our shows.

LINDA: Throughout your writing there is a recurring belief reiterated in your description of this show’s creative process. And that is the importance of allowing people to discover and reveal something secret within themselves, to know and trust their own minds.

In Money’s Nothing you describe children on the receiving end of adults’ misuse of their power. I wish all parents and teachers read the chapter ‘Child Power’. Everyone should read it.

It occurred to me that the unhappiness of my mum slaving away at a job she hated may have warped her. So my brothers and I were put to work performing relentless menial chores and our imagination was not particularly encouraged and our opinions were not considered relevant. My mum was doing what she thought best but it was crappy information handed to her by her parents; just ‘garden variety’ bad parenting.

She has said sorry to us, which I appreciate. I love my mum. Thankfully we discovered song writing and performing and went some way to reinstate what was lost: our imagination and the confidence to trust what makes us happy. To decide how we want to live our lives regardless of whether our culture sanctions those decisions as successful or of value. That’s my way of fighting back.

I don’t have children, but I think the future happiness of humanity depends on the way we raise our children. Do you think people are evolving in the way they communicate with children?

LISA: Whatever kids hate or feel squashed by in their parents, their parents usually hate and feel squashed by in their own lives. So parents working all the time at jobs they don’t love make their kids do a lot of chores and study hard for careers they may not love either, because it’s what everyone thinks success is. We all want our children to be successful. It’s the society that’s sick, that’s upside down, not individual parents. We’re just mirroring.

I guess only philosophers are real experts on how to live, yet we seem to think that the pack, or “everyone”, or authority, or that’s-just-how-it’s-done, somehow have the key on what everyone should do. It’s hard for parents to stand up against that and set their child up as a mark by allowing their true nature to thrive. Most people aren’t that powerful. I try to never, ever criticise anyone’s parenting because that just becomes part of the “you’re doing it wrong” chorus that makes people fearful and more powerless. So I can’t answer your last question about whether or not I think the parents around me are evolving!

LINDA: During my childhood, teenage years and even as an adult, I’ve had experiences that have left me confused and conflicted with feelings of hurt and shame. I’m sure I’m not alone there. You say in the first page of How To Not Write, that you have “never once been tired of writing.”

I have long periods when I don’t write songs because I’m fearful of self-examination – opening a can of worms. You also go on to say “I hope for a horrendous break up rather than a clean break, a crushing public humiliation rather than a minor mix up … to lose big is to learn big, live big.”

I imagine the horrendous nature of the abuse you suffered as a child has given you a perspective others cannot fathom. I heard Lydia Lunch say to a perplexed Australian interviewer, Andrew Denton, that she felt fortunate she had been abused because it “peeled away the bullshit and the façade” that most people live. I think people like you who are able to transcend the experience of being abused and go on to create with honesty, intelligence and humour, are super heroes. It’s alchemy. Your power is turning shit to gold. How did you get so brave?

LISA: Writing isn’t all opening cans of worms. Sometimes you can just tell stupid jokes and make lists. Sometimes that’s really great!

Whatever happens to you when you have no independence or means of escape (most of your childhood and sometimes beyond) is a huge deal, whether it’s being beaten and thrown down stairs or your mom not having time or interest in the thing you made. Either one takes up all the space in your heart. So I’m not sure having either a “worse” or “easier” childhood is even possible.

I’ve read about Lydia Lunch’s childhood – ours were similar – and I think we both got two great lessons from it:

  1. We don’t have to be fearful and wonder “what if something awful happens?” because we already know it just happens and then it’s over and then other things happen, and we’re still us, we’re still alive
  2. We both ran away from home and made our way in the world as children. So we know you don’t have to stick around anything dreadful. There’s no reason to! We don’t need it!

I feel no regret or shame, but that’s just my personality. I don’t know if I’m brave or just don’t care about being scared or unhappy. I do feel scared or unhappy at times but I don’t ascribe much weight to them. They’re feelings that pass, just like confidence and happiness are feelings that pass. I care about experiences, finding out what really happens, good or bad doesn’t matter. Oddly enough I think not caring about being happy makes me a very happy person, compared to most of the people I know. It’s a shame all this happiness was conferred onto someone who doesn’t appreciate it properly!

A friend of mine got trolled on Facebook for stating an opinion about Trump. This guy called her “retarded” and an idiot and a “fuck brain” and threatened to “kick her teeth in.” He lives right near her. My friend was too afraid to report him or say anything and felt like she should stop talking so much, almost like she was “asking for it.”

I WISH he’d said that to me. Men said stuff like that to me so many times when I was a child and I couldn’t do anything. Now I live for the time when a man will say it to me now that I can do something. I get all excited and feel like The Incredible Hulk. I can’t go back in time but I can bring my prior self into the present and say, “Here you go, Lisa, here’s dinner.” Of course, no one ever talks to me like that, because bullies have excellent radars and only talk to those afraid of them. They’re so petty.

LINDA: In the text accompanying your book of paintings, you say “a lot of how I learned what happened to me and what I am came through painting it.” I believe it was part of your therapy for Dissociative Identity Disorder. Now you have dealt with this are you going to continue to paint for fun?

LISA: Painting wasn’t part of any therapy for me. I decided to paint a hundred paintings in a hundred days, just for no reason. I had no idea how it would go, and all this horrific stuff came out. It just opened me up to telling things I hadn’t been able to explain with words, because I have such control over how I write. I didn’t know how to paint, so I was clumsy and feral and, like, ancient. I guess it was the same in the shows (I can’t sing or dance for beans), but it was harder to recognize that I was talking about my real life in the shows, I guess because rape and murder and beheading the king are just normal for operas. Anyway, yes, I still paint. But I got better at it, and the subject matter is mostly pretty stuff now. I’m really good at animal eyes. Actually, I’m good at the whole animal faces!

All Australian and NZ Tour dates here.