RIP ADAM PARFREY - FERAL HOUSE
PUBLISHED 10 May 2018
The following is my interview with Adam Parfrey from PORK magazine #21. Adam Parfrey passed away on May 10th 2018. He will be remembered for his work in circulating his "unvarnished view of the world".
Feral House & Adam Parfrey first appeared in my life at Cody’s Books in Berkeley on Telegraph Ave. Cody’s had a large section of alternative books & underground comix that I would go read in the store when I was hanging out on the Ave as a teenage Chaos Punk. Looking back at it - it’s pretty amazing that they’d let weirdos like me just hang out in the bookstore for hours every other day reading the books & rarely buying anything. I preferred to buy books from Moe’s or Shakespeare down the street. Anyhow - the first Feral House book that came onto my radar was Apocalypse Culture which freaked me out. I was having a hard time & was teetering between my natural desire to be a strong man experiencing all of the wonders & weirdness of the world & my actual psychological state of feeling incredibly vulnerable & weak. Apocalypse Culture just dunks you into this pool of insanity & I couldn’t help but read the whole thing in one sitting - I didn’t LIKE it - but I HAD to read it. This was the darker side of the seedy underbelly that I was looking for in zines, but presented in a manner befitting a book. As the 80s came to a close there was a definite feeling of apocalyptic change in the air which led into the chaos of the 90s which hasn’t really settled still, decades later. As the internet has opened & closed, the need for books is more obvious than ever & Adam Parfrey & Feral House have been there providing us with incredible reads which will last well into the future. I caught up with Parfrey in the breakfast nook at Wewelsburg Castle.
SEAN: You've made a career out of picking up the well-ordered path stones of society & unearthing all of the creepy crawlies seething underneath, you've described it as an "unvarnished view of the world". What are some stand-out memories that give insight to this lifelong obsession?
PARFREY: There’s an endless supply of lies and half-truths wandering about… makes you wonder about people who buy into them.
SEAN: One of your early projects was the magazine EXIT - the first issue opens with a grid of symbols from the post-WWII landscape & then goes into pieces by Joe Coleman, Robert Williams, S. Clay Wilson, Jim Jones, George Petros & yourself - looking at the magazine it definitely foreshadows your work to come. Looking back on your publications it's easy to see them as a cohesive work - but going from EXIT forwards, the themes are all there - how did you enter into this world & what kind of stepping stones were you following?
PARFREY: Exit was a fun thing to do… graphic weirdness, serial illustration… the big magazine of its type at the time (early 1980s) was RAW magazine, and WEIRDO magazine. A lot of good fun, and innovation, but then there was also a sense of ideas becoming redundant and old hat… so George and I wanted to do things that would never be done in those other publications… totalitarian propaganda, jokes at the expense of “democracy” and elementary civics class bullshit.
SEAN: I heard that Art Spiegelman tried to keep EXIT out of bookstores!
PARFREY: There was a comic store called Sohozat in Manhattan that had to keep their copies of Exit under the front table near the register due to Spiegelman’s threats. For a while Forbidden Planet as well. I guess you could say that he was intimidating to store owners like that.
SEAN: My & a lot of people's first exposure to you & Feral House was your Apocalypse Culture book - the late 80s were a very apocalyptic time, leading into an entirely apocalyptic decade of the 90s, I read the entire book in one sitting at Cody's Books in Berkeley when I was 15 or so & it was the kind of gut-churning read I was looking for, although, being a teenager during the apocalypse I was also looking for some kind of order as well... here we are in 2015, we're definitely in a new world. Thoughts on the apocalypse & what was feeding into your perception of the apocalypse & where we are today?
PARFREY: I bet you feel less apocalyptic today now that you have a magazine that’s doing pretty well. But actually the shit that’s going down is as apocalyptic as ever. In my opinion.
SEAN: To a degree, but I felt that there was an apocalyptic peak in 2012 & since then we've gone through a gate into a new world, which had little to do with the momentum of my business, but was a real historic window. I feel like 1988 was very similar actually. During the same time you were involved with the Church of Satan & participated in the infamous 8-8-88 Ritual in San Francisco & maybe what was the peak of the Dark Subcultural scene in San Francisco, part of this ritual was to bring Satanism out of the ritual chamber & into the mainstream - looking back on the 90s up through now, this has happened going from Marilyn Manson to Lady Gaga to Miley Cyrus, Satanism has come into the light & is being packaged in a candy-like way. I've seen memes portraying the Abrahamic religions as evil & Satanism as the reasonable, positive alternative & in going back & listening to Nikolas Schreck talk about Satanism bringing about the worship of the self as God & making your own reality, it doesn't sound much different than modern materialistic feminism. Was this the purpose? Are we living in the world that you guys thought you were bringing about?
PARFREY: Let’s go back to 8/8/88… This was a year or two after finishing up my association with Exit magazine, and after starting Amok Press with a friend, and then Feral House. I enjoyed hanging out with Boyd Rice and materializing ideas we had in mind… One just gets tired of the usual politics and false notions being projected into the world. It was fun to see another way, to challenge the usual idea. It was really fun to hang out with Anton, and we shared quite a few ideas and interests. Like Ben Hecht, noir films and literature, Nightmare Alley, carnivals, sideshows… The joke was this: “Satanism” in the way I experienced it those days were part of Anton’s life, a curious and intriguing sideshow. Did I take it seriously? I don’t know what is meant by taking things seriously. In a sense, yes, I suppose, but it was all a lot of fun. That was the main motivation.
SEAN: The next big hit for Feral House was Lords of Chaos, focusing on the Black Metal scene & its sensational qualities with murder & church burning to the fore.
PARFREY: Actually we published a number of books that sold well prior to Lords of Chaos, like a couple of Anton’s books, the homicide detective photograph book, Death Scenes, and other releases.
SEAN: I went to the San Francisco release party for that book...
PARFREY: What book?
SEAN: Lords of Chaos - got my copy signed! I came away from that book feeling like Satanism was a big joke & also with this concept of Resurgent Atavism that Michael Moynihan was really into & really resonated with me, as a kid who was obsessed with history & mythology & felt out of place in the modern world. At the same time, this concept is actually contained in some of the Church of Satan philosophy & was being expressed by Nikolas Schreck in some of his late 80s interviews which is also found in American Hardcore. In other tangential observations I see that Varg Vikernes is very interested in survivalism now, which you've gotten into.
PARFREY: I’m not really interested in survivalism per se, the head for the hills with guns stuff. The more I go on, the more I see that people don’t even have the most elementary idea of how things work, how to grow things, how to prepare for anything at all. I think people would die if their local grocery or 7/11 wasn’t around. So Jodi Wille and I wanted to make things clear and easy to understand with books like Preparedness Now and The Urban Homestead… Those are part of the Self-Reliance Series of my imprint Process Media. Schreck is an odd bird… My business partner with Amok Press didn’t want me to be credited as the editor of The Manson File as I had already been credited on the first two Amok Press books. The Manson File was envisioned as the first book to provide the perspective of Manson from the family itself. To get around my partner’s demands, I asked Schreck to assist on the Manson File, and he agreed and promised to lay the whole thing out. Meanwhile I had collected hundreds of images and stories from Lynette Fromme and Sandy Good. Months passed and I never got the promised material from Schreck. I was living in Portland at the time and had to fly down to LA to pick up the my material that Schreck never returned. He was apparently hiding from me, so I left a message for his house saying that I was flying back to Portland. But it was a ruse to catch him red-handed at his place. The main need for him was to be a front man for publicity, and that he did well. Schreck told me that he had made a full-length documentary about Aleister Crowley, and wrote books about Nazi holidays… Never seen any of them. Although I did see a book of his called “Demons of the Flesh” which I thought was quite good. Apparently he put out another version of The Manson File, and he kept the same title I originally came up with, but it’s unavailable anywhere, except for its French version. However anyone can order a print on demand version of The Manson File, which is just like the original Amok Press edition except for a new cover.
SEAN: In an old interview you say that you are providing the truth in your books & that you're not an illusionist, candy-coating reality in order to insure that people continue their thoughtless, consumerist lives. In the same interview you talk about Satanism giving you a clear understanding about the nature of power, not unlike the point of the book "Might Makes Right" which is excerpted in the Satanic Bible, which isn't a statement of intent, but a statement of the unpleasant reality that the strong do indeed rule the world with tooth & claw, but in the maintenance of order, this brutal relationship is disguised with the veneer of rational order. Looking at the Feral House catalog, this is still an operating mentality. So I got to thinking that in some ways maybe this generational desire for a clear view of reality with a direct, un-obfuscated portrayal of the world comes to most of us who came up in America during the Cold War - which overlays a smoke & mirrors national & foreign policy on top of an already smoke & mirrors country.
PARFREY: It's worse now more than ever.
SEAN: I came back to the Feral House oeuvre with the publication of American Hardcore, closely followed by Lexicon Devil. By this point I had dropped out of the Punk scene & was just pursuing my own interests but the way these books looked at Punk & Hardcore was so much more in line with my attitude & the way that I thought about things & the connections made in the books & the obvious continuum of the underbelly of LA & Beach Culture which had been bleached out of the 90s version of Punk by the hard-left strangle-hold on the scene by MRR & Profane Existence or its castration by Punk's commercial success - they helped me to see that I still loved & could still be into Punk. I was particularly into the revelations of Darby Crash going to this experimental Scientology high school & having this Manson obsession... this resonated so much with the California that lurks right underneath the surface & that always gave me the jitters as a kid with adults into weird creepy shit but not being open about it & pretending like they were totally normal. How did these books come about & how did they play into your participation in the Punk scene?
PARFREY: When I first read about the Sex Pistols that really rocked my boat and opened my mind. It was exciting and a little bit scary. I often went to the Masque and other places from that very new and nutso world. You can’t imagine what a big deal it was for me at the time. I often saw the Germs and other bands at the time. I worked with Don Bolles of the Germs and Brendan Mullen, who ran the Masque, on Lexicon Devil… Some people have called it the best book about Punk Rock by far.
SEAN: One of your more recent releases is RITUAL AMERICA which shines light on the weird & pervasive world of secret societies. As much is being shown about the old secret societies & as much has been unearthed about them recently, sometimes I wonder about currently operating secret societies that we know NOTHING about. I mean - I think about the appearance & sudden disappearance of the ABRAXAS Foundation & well, did it stop operating or does it still continue? And how many actually secret societies exist today that no one knows about!
PARFREY: Secrecy and secret things are attractive, aren’t they. What’s funny is that almost everything is not actually secret but easily uncovered.
SEAN: If you look at the progression from the discovery of LSD & the creation of the modern American intelligence apparatus to the rise of the American counterculture & the spread of alternative ideas & obscure knowledge to the birth of the internet you get a history of people who are searching for other ideas & ways out of the status quo. With the internet being something like baby-steps in the direction of a collective human mind, I see the tendency towards totalitarianism, willful ignorance & frighteningly closed mindedness increasing in all directions. In this way, the initial novelty of the internet & being able to "know everything" has worn off & the old way of wearing blinders has returned & in this way, that threat of free knowledge has gone away making room for books like Feral House publishes & giving them newfound importance.
PARFREY: You need context or all you have is a bunch of stuff you can’t make heads or tails of.
SEAN: That said, what's next for Feral House?
PARFREY: I signed up a book from Harley Flanagan, who I thought hasn’t gotten a fair shake… When I lived in New York in the 80s I remember running into Harley quite a bit, on Avenue A and Tompkins Square Park. Also met him through Steve Blush, who did Seconds magazine and American Hardcore with Feral House. A massive-sized book about white nationalist skinheads is also coming out shortly. I know people generally hate their guts, but I think it’s worthwhile to step back and look at the whole scene more objectively at this time. Also signed up a book from this fascinating filmmaker Richard Stanley who writes about living in this mystical, occult territory in Montsegur France. There’s a lot of stuff coming in all the time, keeping myself interested…
Originally published in PORK magazine #21. I still wish Parfrey had been as loose-lipped as me, but the piece is a fun read nonetheless.
RIP Adam Parfrey. Thank you for your works - we will keep you alive in ours. x Sean Aaberg - PORK magazine.