House Publisher Adam Parfrey
Most people I interview are more fragile than I expect.
One could have all sorts of horrific images of Feral House publisher Adam Parfrey. After all, he's published many books on such creepy topics as murderers and satanic cults and demon possession.
In person, he's a gentle, shy, soft-spoken middle-aged twice-divorced man wearing soft comfortable slippers that he slips in and out of as he pads around his multi-leveled house and Feral House office in Silverlake.
I drive to his home and office August 6, 2003. Parking on a busy street, I climb a steep hill and ring his buzzer.
Adam clambers down the steep stone stairs, lets me in, and gets me a drink of water. We sit on a couch in his living room, which is filled with bookshelves.
I ask for the story of his life.
Born in New York, Adam moved to Los Angeles in 1962 when he was five years old. "I went to Santa Monica High School and then to UCLA."
His father was character actor Woodrow Parfrey, who appeared in Planet of the Apes, Dirty Harry and Bronco Billy. His mother, Rosa Ellovich, taught speech.
Senior editor at Variety, Pat Saperstein, attended high school with Adam. She writes me: "I admired him as a journalist in high school and was honored that he chose me to be entertainment editor when he graduated. I wasn't too surprised he ended up at Feral House. All of us Malibu kids were encouraged to be as far out as possible. Michael Penn and Adam's brother Jonathan concocted some hilarious tv shows in our junior high tv studio and I knew everyone would end up doing something interesting. In high school, I mainly remember Adam's star turn in a Midsummer Night's Dream. However, it seems Adam also belonged to the Malibu Jr. Optimist Stamp Club, so that's kind of amusing!"
Adam: "I eventually transferred to UC Santa Cruz. I never graduated. I did theater and history.
"UCLA has a horrible undergraduate program. We're in classes with 600 or 800 people. If it wasn't for the paper, the UCLA Daily Bruin, I wouldn't have had anything to do."
Luke: "After you dropped out of school, what did you do?"
Adam: "I had a confused five or eight years. I put on some plays. I did a couple issues of a tabloid newspaper (Idea Magazine) in San Francisco. It didn't go anywhere. Then I moved to New York. I worked at the Strand book store with a guy who was stealing money as a cashier. He had enough money to start his own graphic arts magazine, which I worked on. After that, I worked for a small publisher, PAJ Publications. They did avante-garde theatrical books. I did typesetting and editing and took care of the business while they were getting Guggenheim grants and running around the world.
"I learned about a printer in West LA, Ken Sweezey, who wanted to go into publishing. We got together and did Amok Press. Ken also did a catalogue and bookstore with his brother Stuart and other people. There were fraternal disputes, so we decided to go our own way. I started Feral House in 1989 off of a big $5000 share of profits from Amok Press.
"I started minimally and built it up slowly. It's no big deal. We put out about eight to ten books a year."
Luke: "What was the life you were supposed to lead, that you learned from your parents and from your upbringing? What was the life laid out for you?"
Adam: "I think I was expected to become a lawyer or doctor. My mother being Jewish (Rosa Ellovich). My father not. That was the idea of succeeding. I briefly tried acting in my teens."
Luke: "Were your parents bohemian?"
Adam: "Yes. They had a belief system that was absurd to me - that theater was some sort of religious thing. They met in the leftist New School for Social Research in the 1940s. My mother taught speech there. My father was an acting student after WWII. He was a prisoner of war. He had some close shaves with the Germans. Everyone in his regiment died of starvation. He was 60-something pounds [standing 5'9"] when he was liberated. He didn't like Germans."
Luke: "It was interesting that your parents didn't want you to become bohemian. They wanted you to become professional."
Adam: "My father was a busy actor but it's not a good thing for other people to judge when you get a role. It's based on other people's good will for you to get a part. I didn't want to be beholden to that."
Luke: "What did you want to do when you were a kid?"
Adam: "I had no true aspirations, outside of being a screenwriter or director."
Luke: "When did you realize your life mission was in publishing?"
Adam: "It was 1982 or so. I was living in San Francisco, and had put on a show about Gilles DeRais at the On Broadway Theater. At this time I was wandering down Sixth Street near Howard [and] saw these big dumpsters [with hardcover books] being loaded into a [dump] truck behind a Goodwill store. Inside the store, they only had mass-market paperbacks. I went in and asked the manager of the store what was going on. He said, 'We only keep the shiny books.'
"I looked at the 'garbage' and was awestruck. I wasn't interested in publishing before that, but I got this pickup truck and made arrangements to get the books dumped into the back of my pickup truck. I sorted through them and I was amazed by the books I found. I learned publishing in the couple of years I became a wholesaler to used bookstores in the Bay Area."
Luke: "What's your best selling Feral House book?"
Adam: "The book that does well now is Lords of Chaos - about heavy metal in Northern Europe. It's partly true crime, mythological, sociological and just plain rock book. Asia Argento wants to make a film of it.
"A book called Death Scenes: A Homicide Detective's Scrapbook. An LAPD homicide detective had a scrap book that he showed to students in high schools to scare them from committing crimes. This is noir era stuff, 1950s and earlier. We kept the original notations the detective made."
Luke: "Was he still alive when you published this?"
Adam: "No. It went to his widow who gave it to a used bookstore."
Luke: "When did you publish [not write] your first book?"
Adam: "It was 1986 with Amok Press. It was a novel by Joseph Goebbels called Michael. It got a positive review in The New York Times. That was my only review in The New York Times."
Luke: "When did you write your first book?"
Adam: "Apocalypse Culture came out in 1987. It's extreme sociology. I was thinking about the millennium. I was thinking about Oswald Spengler and what he was saying about the decline of the West. I wanted to put forward some unusual things I had run into that seemed to fit together in an unusual way. Nobody had done a book like that. At first it was notorious, because it went against people in the art world. It was too weird. It wasn't reviewed by the major places. On the other hand, everybody knew about it. Most people in New York had seen a copy of it.
"It got few orders when it started. Then it sold 50,000 copies.
"Next, in 1988, I co-edited a book called Rants and Incendiary Tracts. It was about the literary form of the rant. I took from the Middle Ages up to Modern Times. I put together a book called The Manson File. My partner didn't want me to put my name on it because I did the introduction to the Goebbels novel. I did Apocalypse Culture. He didn't want it to seem like a vanity press. So we found this weird guy to attach to it.
"In 1996, I wrote Cult Rapture. This book had a lot of material I published in weekly papers like the San Diego Reader and the Village Voice. I was the first person to write about the militias. I wrote a piece for the Voice about this crazy woman [Linda Thompson who threatened to march into Washington DC with thousands of militia members and lynch every Congressman who supported the Brady Bill.]
"I edited Nightmare of Ecstasy, the Ed Wood oral history, whose format was inspired by George Plimptonís work on Edie, the Edie Sedgwick book.
"The Russian version of my 2001 book Extreme Islam: Anti-American Propaganda of Muslim Fundamentalism was briefly banned in Russia because it was misinterpreted as a pro-terrorist book."
Luke: "How did you meet Cathy Seipp?"
Adam: "On the UCLA paper, the Daily Bruin. We both wrote for the Arts section and later became co-editors."
Luke: "What do you remember about her? You were both 18?"
Adam: "Yes. She was raised in Orange County and she was really antithetical to the whole Orange County thing. She's a smart girl. I liked that. She was neurotic. I liked that too."
Luke: "How was she neurotic?"
Adam: "I don't mean it in a bad way. She had an unusual temperament."
Luke: "How was she different then from how she is now?"
Adam: "She's pretty similar."
Adam: "Yes, exactly. Particularly for an 18 year old and particularly for a girl. And that was refreshing."
Luke: "And you guys went out about six months?"
Adam: "Longer than that. About nine months."
Luke: "Then you went off with another woman?"
Adam: "We were starting to fight about the paper. She had to have her way. OK. We started falling apart when I was working on this movie as a dialogue coach, a really bad movie about Douglas MacArthur starring Gregory Peck [1977's MacArthur]. I invited her to come out to Catalina Island where I was working. She didn't. We started going downhill."
Luke: "Did she tell you what to do?"
Adam: "Oh yeah. Oh yeah. It was our initial boy-girl thing and we were obviously confused. I have good memories of her."
Luke: "How did she dress?"
Adam: "I must've dressed worse because it was that horrible '70s thing with [bell-bottom] levis with patches all over them."
Luke: "Did she dress slutty? Did she dress conservative?"
Adam: "She was conservative. She had good stories about drinking with guys and listening to heavy metal music."
Luke: "I've met several of her ex's."
Adam: "What can you tell about her from that?"
Luke: "I've never met any that she's compatible with. They're usually writers."
Adam: "I've never met any except for Jeff Berry, who worked for me on the UCLA Daily Bruin. I was in Santa Cruz [by the time Jeff and Cathy got together]."
Luke: "Have you kept up with her over the years?"
Adam: "Not really. When I moved back to LA, I ran into her.
"I had these girlfriends who were very exclusionary. Now that I don't, I'm looking forward to socializing."
Cathy Seipp replies after reading the above:
Luke: "What brought you to bring out It's A Man's World [Adam's latest book]?"
Adam: "I found these [post WWII mens pulp magazines] magazines and they seemed so much like post 9/11 material. Quasi-patriotism and quasi Ozzie-and-Harriet reversions. I found out that no book had ever been done on this type of magazine. These magazines were mainly from the '50s and '60s."
Luke: "You must be gratified by all the good reviews?"
Adam, lifting up The Los Angeles Times (most highbrow book section in country) Sunday Book section cover devoted to his book: "Yes. It's my first cover review. Doing this sort of book makes it easier for mainstream publications to acknowledge. The other stuff I did was apparently too much. I get reviewed much better over in England, more often, more frequently and more respected.
"I think they're more conservative over here about publishing. My stuff lends itself more to the British sensibility [home of the world's great tabloid papers]. To this magazine Head Press, I'm a big deal. Over here I'm a crazy guy, a weirdo."
Luke: "Do you still hear from Mr. Awesome [wanna be male stud] and Whitney Wonders [guess her profession]?"
Adam wrote about them in his Apocalypse Culture book.
Adam: "Thank God, no. He was the most pathetic loser. He had a big problem and needed to be famous. He was a wanna be on a dismal insane level. That's why his story is in the book - to point out that aspect of our culture.
"People don't really see the humor in that book. I do."
Luke: "I guess it's an acquired taste.
"Has it taken a toll on you being regarded as a nut?"
Adam: "As long as the books sell, I'm all right. As long as I can keep doing what I'm doing. I'm doing what I want. How many people can say that?"
Luke: "We're all affected by other people. No man is an island."
Adam: "I'm not an island and certainly I'm affected by things. Certainly I want the gratification of seeing people acknowledge my work. But if it is not going to happen, I'm not going to roll a bong."
Luke: "If you would plump your childhood psychology, what would you find that would link to your interest in the bizarre?"
Adam: "I had a normal childhood. It was a theatrical family. I once went out with this girl whose parents and grandparents had a very negative feeling about that. At the turn of the century [19th into 20th], most people did. I'm not sure how much that affected me. I think my mother calling me a little Hitler affected me."
Adam laughs. "I'm not sure. I don't know where this comes from."
Luke: "Did you enjoy shocking and provoking people?"
Adam: "I was the class clown in high school. That's what they called it. I was brought into the principal's office for making people bust up.
"I did the punk rock thing from 1977-79."
We've been conducting our interview under the stern but reassuring gaze of Joseph Stalin.
Luke: "Why do you have a picture of Stalin up?"
Adam: "He's the greatest mass murderer of all time. I find it intriguing that it makes some people very uncomfortable. I find that recent piece of human history fascinating. It's not really discussed. That was our ally during WWII but he made Hitler look like a piker."
Luke: "Would you put up such a picture of Adolf Hitler?"
Adam: "Hitler, there's an affect with people and with me. Maybe if I was a Russian from Kazakhstan and my family was murdered by Stalin, I wouldn't have it up."
Parfrey does not practice Judaism or any religion. He says he's struggling with belief in God.
Luke: "Where do you get your moral code from?"
Adam: "I treat others as I want to be treated. I believe in karma."
Luke: "Do you publish books about how to make bombs?"
Adam: "No. I have no interest in that. It's never occurred."
Luke: "Do you struggle with feelings of responsibility to society as a publisher?"
Adam: "I feel there is a lot of corruption and hypocrisy and the inability of humans to examine the world honestly is a big problem. That's what I hope to do - to be unsparingly honest."
Luke, thinking, OK, if Adam wants to be unsparingly honest, let's swerve over here: "What do you think of the book THE BELL CURVE? About the purported differing mean levels of intelligence between races?"
Adam, not comfortable with the question: "It all depends on who you speak to. If I say there's something to it, is it nasty and racist to say that blacks or African-Americans are more gifted athletes? What does it mean? In terms of THE BELL CURVE, Asians are more intelligent. Whites don't make out. Well...
"I did a piece in the original Apocalypse Culture about eugenics. I discovered the Third Reich used California eugenic law as the model for their own. Then I found out that these major liberal people like Oliver Wendell Holmes promoted it and passed laws. There are things about history that people don't want to look at or acknowledge."
Luke: "Do you think that people of different races can live together happily?"
Adam: "I did a column for San Diego Reader called "HellLA." I spoke to this Asian guy who ran an office [for the city of L.A.] about how people can get along. He told me, 'This is the first time in human history that so many races in such great numbers have gotten together in this one place.' I'm not sure if it can work or not. There's an intense Balkanization. There have to be some economic benefits to all these people to be in the United States at this time but when things get more desperate, it's not going to be so nice.
"The Hispanic department of UC San Diego got really upset about my piece [about the Ď92 riots]. They thought it was racist."
Luke: "Why is that?"
Adam: "I pointed out that the riots came on the same day as a violent pagan holiday practiced by Aztecs and Incas."
Luke: "Do you think California is better off for having eight million illegal Mexican immigrants here?"
Adam: "Why are you getting into this stuff?"
Luke: "You said you wanted rip off hypocrisies and talk straight?"
Adam: "Yeah, well, of course, but there are certain things I won't talk about. Anyway, no, obviously. I'm doing a book with this guy Reynaldo Berrios. He's a Mexican gang member from the San Francisco Bay Area. He's talking about Aztlan. It's a racist religious belief that western states like California are really their land. It's like Nazism. But then they can say that Israel is a racialist state too."
Luke: "Except that any race is welcome to move there so long as they are Jewish. And any one of any race can become Jewish."
Adam laughs. "OK Whatever."
Luke: "You can't convert to Mexicanism."
Adam: "I've seen some people try. You can see it with blacks. They call them whiggers - the white kids who imitate hip hop culture."
Luke: "What do you think are the primary issues that challenge this country? What do you worry about?"
Adam: "I'm worried that the elite have no interest... They're into grasping the last little small crumbs before it falls apart."
Luke: "So you think we're on the verge of an apocalypse?"
Luke: "Do you own weapons?"
Adam: "Yes. I've been through the LA Riots. There were people driving by with rifles sticking out of their van in my direction. I was living in the Melrose/Normandie area. It was flaming up from all four sides."
Luke: "Did you own a gun then?"
Adam: "No. I wanted to. I said, well, look, if I am challenged to defend myself, I will. I don't want to die because I don't have the capability of doing that. That's when the police said, you can't rely on us. When they said that, that's when I went out and got a gun. Afterwards, I found some guy in my living room. I had firearms. Was I going to kill somebody? It wasn't pleasant. I thought I should get out of town. It was tense between races then, a lot more than now. Soon after that, I went up to Portland [about the whitest city in the whitest state in the US.]
"Did you live here then?"
Luke: "No, I lived in Northern California but it is an area of fascination for me."
Luke: "Nobody wants to talk openly about what they think and feel. Therefore, it's fertile ground for journalistic exploration, particularly if you can get people to give voice to what they truly feel about race. Therefore I can make an impact.
"What do you think about the majority of true crime books from straight publishers?"
Adam: "They're dull and hypocritical. They glorify these crimes but make like they are against them. CourtTV is the same."
Luke: "How is your true crime stuff different?"
Adam: "The true crime stuff I put out is by the original source material. It's by the minds of these people. They're more rewarding as sociological study than some secondary guy putting that stuff down.
"We did a book by that Moors murderer called The Gates of Janus. We're doing True Vampires about people who committed crimes believing they were vampires."
Luke: "What's that creepy painting over there?"
Adam: "It's by a Christian fundamentalist Norbert Kox. That's his depiction of the Pope."
Jim Goad On Adam Parfreys
I know at least one literary agent who considers Jim Goad - sentence for sentence - as good as any writer in America.
He calls me Saturday night after I emailed him for a quote on Adam Parfrey.
Jim Goad: "The first I time I ever heard of Adam Parfrey, I was working at the Los Angeles Reader. He'd submitted something there. And the music editor disapproved because she was certain that he was a fascist. So I was a little scared of him at first. I read in the Reader that Apocalypse Culture was a landmark work. It was just light years ahead of anything else."
Luke: "Do you feel like he is a kindred soul?"
Jim: "On some levels. I'd asked my friend Nick Bougas about him about a popular predatory publisher in LA Amok Press, which Adam was once a part of. I asked Nick why Adam and Amok didn't get along. Nick said it was because Adam wanted to go balls to the wall and they were scared. Adam obviously got my respect because of that."
Luke: "What do you guess are the social consequences of publishing the type of books he does?"
Jim: "He's been sued. He seems to have plenty of friends. He doesn't get into nearly the same amount of scandals that I do. There's a lot less raw anger in the stuff he does and he comes off more genteel and literary. People fear that I'm going to do the things written about in his books, rather than just write about them.
"I can you tell a freaky story that still scares me. July 4th, 1996, at 8:30AM. I call up Michael A. Hoffman II in Cordelaine, Idaho. He's a white separatist and a scholar on the history of indentured servitude. He's a self-professed scholar on Masonic assassination attempts and conspiracies. The conversation drifted to Adam, who'd recently posed in a San Francisco satirical magazine called The Nose in a Knights of Pythias costume. I know nothing about the Masons but I suspect that is a breach of the Masonic code. Hoffman started going off on how Adam should never have done that. The Masons don't like to be f---ed with. That they will strike him. It will be severe. It will be on a day with great political significance. It will be the final blow to Adam Parfrey.
"Six hours later, Adam was blowing up firecrackers in Vancouver, Washington, on the fourth of July. He inexplicably fell to the ground and had some sort of seizure. I believe he went into a coma for a while. He became a ward of the state for about six weeks. It struck me as odd that Hoffman made this ominous prediction and six hours later, Adam had this seizure.
"Adam had been in a truck accident a few weeks before and was thrown through the window. He had water on the brain.
"He did a great column in the San Diego Reader called 'HellLa.' He was writing about the LA Weekly and that the only person of color is the Mexican janitor. And that all these people without color were clueless and always were. I don't think he gets enough credit for being funny."
Luke: "So are things going good for you?"
Jim: "I'm trying to walk the straight and narrow. Sometimes in life there are ripple effects to things you do and even though you try to stay out of trouble, you can't. This town has been poisoned for me. I wind up feeling like a battered wife who keeps going back.
"The morning that resulted in the evening of my crime [beating his girlfriend severely], I called up Adam. My car had been totaled the day before. I asked Adam basic car insurance questions. He commented on how bad my luck had been in Portland. I said, 'I'm going to stick around just to spite the town.' I've just been in a maelstrom ever since.
"Sixteen hours later, it all went down. The day started out hopeful. I went to the doctors to see if I had a concussion from the car accident. We got into a fight on the bus where she wound up leaving a permanent scar on my arm after biting it. Then just more Jerry Springer stuff all evening. We traded insults. We got back together again and had sex. Then the fateful car ride after that."
Luke: "The colorful life you lead."
Jim: "I wouldn't mind some black and white. The color is fine but it gets in the way of being productive. Somebody said, 'Lead a dull life so you can have danger in your writing.'
"I remember the first time I met Adam was at Nick Bougas's house in 1992. Adam had just purchased a small videocamera that he was going to use to film people without their knowledge. Adam used a video camera, I don't know if it was concealed or not, while eating spaghetti with Irv Rubin at Franks in Hollywood. He just got these angles under Rubin's face that made him look like a dinosaur munching on Eucalyptus leaves. These impossible angles of Irv Rubin stuffing spaghtetti in his mouth.
"Bougas and Parfreys had a huge influence on me doing my zine Answer Me, which started out tame and progressively became more unhinged."