Looking Back

Adam Parfrey Saved My Life

May 15, 2018

Multiple Pages
Adam Parfrey Saved My Life

During his 61 years on this earth, Adam Parfrey was called a fascist, a commie, a Nazi, a misogynist, a right-wing conspiracy nut, a left-wing conspiracy nut, a satanist, a warmonger, and a peacenik. If there’s a divisive term, he was called it. The legendary independent publisher, who passed away last week following a massive stroke, was my friend of 27 years. He’s the reason I became a published author. He’s the reason I became friends with Jim Goad in the early 1990s. And, indirectly, he’s the reason I write for Takimag today. So a tribute column is certainly appropriate.

Adam was the last great indie book publisher in America. He founded his company, Feral House, in 1989, with a mandate to publish the things no one else would. The controversial stuff. The stuff guaranteed to piss off leftists, feminists, Muslims, and race hustlers, and also rightists, neocons, church ladies, and Jews. Adam’s been called “the most dangerous publisher in America” and “probably the most influential ‘underground’ publisher in post-millennial America.” And he was. But it’s easy to publish books that offend. Anyone can sell a two-bit public domain screed like the Protocols of Zion and become “dangerous.” What made Adam different was that he didn’t just publish “dangerous” books, he published good dangerous books. Unique dangerous books. Hell, the guy even published a book by “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski.

And speaking of madmen, Adam had the business model of one. He’d publish ten books a year, and if two of them turned a decent profit, he could afford to put out eight that were potential money losers. You don’t become a millionaire with a plan like that. But you do become the kind of man whose death sends ripples throughout the independent publishing world.

Adam never had a “constituency.” He published too much right-wing content to be embraced by the left. He published too much fringe conspiracy stuff to be embraced by the establishment. He published too much “degeneracy” to be embraced by the “alt-right,” even though there are some who consider him an early precursor to that movement. His devastating takedown of icons like Andrea Dworkin (and the fact that he published Jim Goad) alienated him from feminists. And the “hail Satan” stuff kept the Christian conservatives at bay.

“What made Adam different was that he didn’t just publish ‘dangerous’ books, he published good dangerous books.”

Here’s how Vice described Adam’s endeavors:

Without Parfrey and Feral House, we don’t get Tim Burton’s ‘Ed Wood,’ the ‘X-Files,’ or the upcoming television series about the sex magickian who helped send America to space. Chris Carter farmed the pages of Feral House books for the adventures of Mulder and Scully. ‘Ed Wood’ is based on a book Parfrey Published…. Since the mid 1980s—when he founded Amok Books—Parfrey had published books aimed at pointing out hypocrisies and inconsistencies in Western Civilization. He published the stories of subcultures considered so vile by the mainstream no other journalist dared touched them. From cannibalism, to Satanism, to a secret project to clone Jesus, there was no topic Parfrey and his writers wouldn’t tackle. He pushed free speech to its limits and never apologized. If you wanted to know what a white supremacist actually thought, not just what the news said they thought, you had to turn to places like Feral House and writers like Parfrey.

Now, you get that that’s Vice, right? “Current-year” Vice. SJW Vice. And they’re praising a guy who published white supremacists. Therein lies the Adam Parfrey mystique. Any one of Feral House’s books would be enough to get the average author or bookseller banned, shunned, kicked off social media, protested, picketed, and defamed. Yet Adam was respected across the ideological spectrum. He was lauded by the Huffington Post and dozens of left-leaning newspapers and weeklies, but he was also praised by National Review and Reason. Here’s a guy who could appear on the podcast of the staunchly alt-right Robert Stark, and the podcast of that most mainstream of comedians, Marc Maron (following Parfrey’s death, Maron reposted the episode, adding, “The books he published blew my mind”). #MeToo activist Asia Argento praised Parfrey as an “author and editor of forbidden knowledge,” regardless of the fact that some of his books would have gotten any other man tarred by the #MeToo crew as an enabler of “misogyny.” His releases were reviewed in major newspapers, and Hollywood continually looked toward his catalog for movie ideas.

How did the man do it? How did he manage to, for lack of a better term, get away with it? Well, for one thing, he was a nice guy. But when has that ever made a difference to the PC pit bulls? He was also somewhat of an “insider,” having been born into a showbiz family. But perhaps most important, Adam had integrity. He stood by what he published, and he never apologized. So he “got away with it” the same way Parker and Stone of South Park do. Produce solid work, and never apologize for it.

It also helped that Adam never gave off the vibe of an ideologue. But was he one? Was all the right-wing and satanist stuff just a goof? The “8/8/88” rally he helped organize, and his seeming promotion of “counterculture fascism,” was it all just for shock value? Adam was a hard guy to pin down. Yes, he loved playing around with “dangerous” ideas and imagery, but he also had well-thought-out opinions. For example, in a 2002 interview with music critic Mark Prindle, Adam spoke about race and immigration:

Personally, I find the Balkanization of the races here fascinating, but it truly is, at a wide-angle view, a very curious thing that no one can look at with honesty without being termed a racist or a neo-Nazi. Next spring I’m publishing a book version of a cholo gang magazine by one Reynaldo Berrios called ‘Mi Vida Loca.’ Reynaldo is all about “Aztlan”—the idea that brown-skinned people will retake North America from the honkies in any way possible. It occurred to me that this is not a good time to be light-skinned…. In any other era, a country that is overcome by immigrants of racial difference would have been called an “invasion.” I live in a Mexican gang neighborhood, gunfire every night. Many of the Mexicans who move here aren’t aware that we have flush toilets, so many deposit their babies’ shitty diapers in public places. What might happen when these people cannot get food stamps or welfare? What about a simple drought, or severe economic situation? Will everybody be nice and pleasant, and talk about Jennifer Lopez fondly? I don’t look forward to those times, but I do have front row seats to the apocalypse.

That, in a nutshell, was Adam Parfrey. He viewed things from a detached, amused perspective. And he loved publishing books that stirred the pot (like the one by the “Aztlan” hombre), even if they didn’t reflect his worldview. The man had no sacred cows.

Well, he had one. From a 2010 article in the Seattle Weekly:

Asked if there’s anything he’d draw the line at publishing, Parfrey quietly begins, “When I was in L.A., there was this Jewish guy I knew who went to Auschwitz under the pretense that he was doing Jewish studies, but really he was into the whole Holocaust-revisionist thing.” The son of a POW who hated all things German, Parfrey adds, “No, I’m not going to get into that world.”

You can probably guess the identity of that “Jewish guy.” On a personal level, Adam had no problem with revisionism. When the IHR’s Mark Weber and I appeared on The Montel Williams Show in 1992, Adam was right there in the audience to support us. He even gamed JDL golem Irv Rubin into admitting on camera that I had been assaulted during a speaking engagement at UCLA. But I knew that Holocaust revisionism was a topic he never wanted to bring into Feral House.

In early 2013, when I was living as David Stein and working as a mainstream GOP operative, I was tipped off that my past was about to be “outed.” I knew that meant I’d soon be broke and unemployable. I called Adam, and I asked him if he could bend his “no revisionism” rule for an old friend. My life story was my only remaining asset, but I knew that no publishing house on earth would touch my autobiography. Adam signed me to a Feral House contract and paid me an advance that carried me through the rest of the year. He even offered me the use of his Washington guesthouse, should I need a private getaway in which to write (I told him that all I needed was vodka). I stipulated that the book would have to include lots of hardcore revisionist historiography, and he was fine with that. Over the next few months, as I began turning in chapters, Adam faced a mutiny at Feral House. Several high-level employees objected to my book, and they let him know it. He’d never dealt with that kind of an insurrection before.

Even in the face of his own employees’ complaints, he refused to back down.

He knew he’d take a loss on my book, and he did. There was a 100% blackout on advertising and reviews. But he took the hit as a favor to an old friend, and, perhaps, to prove to himself that he truly had no sacred cows after all.

It was through my book that I landed the job here at Takimag in January 2015. Suffice it to say, I owe a lot to Adam Parfrey.

We kept in touch over the last few years; I’d see him whenever he’d come down to L.A. But something about him changed after the 2016 election. He became obsessively, humorlessly anti-Trump. He started to resemble the petty moralists who in the past were so often his foils. Other people noticed this change too. He was no longer the bemused observer.

Adam always loved the idea of anarchy, of mixing things up, of overturning the old order. Even if he disliked Trump as a human being, or even if he disliked some of Trump’s policies, surely he could appreciate the absurdity, the surrealism, of the current situation. Surely he could embrace the chaos.

I’d planned to have a sit-down with him about that the next time I saw him. Which would have been this week, when he was scheduled to be in L.A. for a book reception.

It kills me that I’ll never have that conversation.

There’s so much more I could write about Adam Parfrey. His music, his collaborations with the likes of Jim Goad and Boyd Rice, his journalism career. But I wanted to focus on what Adam meant to me. He was not just a friend, but a guy who threw me a lifeline when I needed it the most.

I’m going to miss Adam Parfrey. And the publishing world—whether it’s willing to admit it or not—is going to miss him too.

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