Adam Parfrey, RIP

The Feral House publisher exposes American minds to wide variety of fascinating and often disturbing culture.


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.

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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.

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  1. I didn't know he did Lords of Chaos. I remember when it came out. I just felt impressed anyone else was paying attention to Black Metal. And now, it's a big fancy genre, at least as far as underground metal goes.

  2. Black metal isn't weird. Some of the dudes involved are crazy though.

  3. RIP. Speaking of publishers of weird titles, is Michael Hoy still alive? My first introduction to libertarianism was finding a Loompanics Unlimited catalog wondering the streets of New York City when I was 13, so thanks for that, Mr. Hoy. Yeah, that was analogous to having your first sexual experience by accidentally stumbling into one of Caligula's parties.

    1. Mike Hoy is alive and well. He is a regular customer at my bookstore. As was Adam until a few days ago

    2. Mike will hear about your comment. That's a pretty awesome analogy.

  4. I think my introduction to the Process Church was through the band Integrity:

    I'm sure I originally heard about them at some point in regards to Manson, but I can't say when.

    Their reconciliation of Christ with Lucifer seems to mimic similar solutions that arose from the theodicy of Zoroastrians over the centuries--from the Zuravan controversy to Manichean solutions. There are other surviving influences from those sources today with some varieties of Muslims sects still holding that Satan is simply doing God's work. ISIS called them devil worshipers.

    I stiff find the omnipotent God's reverence for free will the most compelling explanation. All God's creation, from subatomic particles and ideas to conscious beings and galaxies, it all seems to cry out for freedom.

    I'm not most people, but there were a number of other religious movements that were associated with the hardcore/underground in different ways. Krishnacore and Hardline got a lot of press, but there was also the former underground/punk members who became Russian Orthodox monks and put out a punk zine for the underground:

  5. The most interesting stories are hardly ever read by anybody. The most interesting stories read by everybody are hardly ever understood.

    The internet destroyed the underground. Maybe there's still an underground in highly oppressive societies elsewhere, but I'm not sure having an underground is really possible anymore. He shouldn't have felt put off by being called part of the underground--especially if it turns out that it's something you just can't be anymore.

    1. The internet is destroying everything excpt the internet. Ned Ludd was right.

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