Adam Parfrey, who founded and ran Feral House, a publisher dedicated to the obscure, strange, distinctive, and disturbing, died yesterday of complications from a stroke.
I interviewed Parfrey for Reason back in 2002, and as we said then,
Parfrey says his goal is to act as "a facilitator for the important and overlooked." Yet he bridles at being written off as "underground." Indeed, the wide open feel of the contemporary cultural scene makes distinctions between the margins and the center less and less important. And larger, more mainstream culture has long noted what Parfrey has accomplished….Beholden only to its owner and audience—not to commissars in the public, nonprofit, and high-culture sectors—Feral House provides information and viewpoints that may alarm or even disgust many. It is able to thrive (or not) precisely to the degree that it provides entertainment or edification for all who care to partake.
His power as an editorial curator is largely responsible, either first- or second-hand, for any opinions or interest most people might have in topics ranging from the fascinatingly incompetent film director Ed Wood to the weirdness of satanic black metal, the baroque conspiracy theory known as "The Octopus" (and conspiracy theorizing in general), the bizarre European Christmas tradition of Krampus, America's curious post-pulp men's adventure mags, the Process Church, secret societies' hidden role in history, the curious big-eyed paintings of the Keanes, chemtrails, primitivism as a philosophy, and the Church of Satan.
After 9/11, he exhibited a temperamental lack of pollyannaism by issuing Extreme Islam, a collection of works from Muslim sources that presented an alarming vision of the potential danger from that world. As Parfrey told me, "One lesson is that we need to ask, what are the consequences of putting American troops in Saudi Arabia and keeping them there? Some Americans might think we should be able to put troops anywhere we want. But it's arrogant to believe there are no consequences to those actions. Or, if there are consequences, that we should just knock anyone who objects senseless."
Physical books seemed a potentially endangered species even back in 2002, but Parfrey remained dedicated to their aesthetic power. Publishers with a viewpoint and sense of mission are key to the spread of culture and the changing of outlook, and whether you found Parfrey more interestingly provocative or wildly perverse, his handprints are on our culture and will remain there. He was personally a winningly mordant fellow, and that I had an essay appear in a Feral House book—Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth, a volume that showed his interest in peculiar culture extended beyond just the dark or perverse—was always a point of pride.