Saturday, February 17, 2007

Plaza of the Mind Interview with Adam Parfrey.

I first heard of Adam Parfrey in the late nineties when I picked up a copy of his record A Sordid Evening of Sonic Sorrows: A collection including covers of Lou Reed [Kill your Sons] and Black Sabbath [Paranoid] as well as several memorable originals, my favorite being Nation Down For the Count, which can best be described as an easy listening rant.

I later discovered that Mr. Parfrey was also a book publisher and is the founder of Feral House books. I had already been a great fan of Donna Kossy’s book Kooks, which was published by Feral House. Feral House specializes in books dealing with the extremes of human behavior and outsider art. They are not books for the squeamish but they are quite well crafted and nothing if not interesting.

I sent Mr. Parfrey an invitation to participate in a short piece for the Plaza of the Mind and he was generous enough to accept it. What follows is an electronic interview conducted over a couple of days. Enjoy!

[The Plaza of the Mind quotes appear in Bold-type, Mr. Parfrey’s in normal-type]

You appear in Crispin Glover’s What is It?. I saw a very rough screening of the film in 1997 and your part was yet to be added. Judging from the preview it seems as though Mr. Glover went leaps and bounds above what I had originally seen.

Have you done any other acting?

Not much. My father {Woodrow Parfrey} was a stage, television and film actor, so I know the racket.

Did your father enjoy his work?

Yes, I think he enjoyed his work. I visited sets with him, and everyone seemed to love him.

I actually toured with a second-rate Shakespeare company just to see the country when I was 21... But I didn’t want to get stuck trying to appeal to the whims of casting agents and whomever, so an acting career wasn’t for me.

What role did you play?

Oberon in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the bad brother Oliver in As You Like It.

What was it like to appear in ‘What is It?’?

It was fun. Crispin has a very wide acceptance level, and anything goes.

How did your collaboration begin?

Crispin and I talked about Hollywood and its particular aesthetic and cocooned sense of righteousness. We both thought that retarded people are more interesting to look at, and so would make a more interesting film than looking at Tom Hanks playing retarded. We were right.

I think that Mr. Glover is doing a service for that population. It’s too bad the developmentally disabled don’t have a strong enough voice in this culture to order these other actors to just knock it off. It amazes me that as soon as someone with a handicap decides to do something truly empowering people begin crying exploitation.

I believe that all the guardians and parents of these retarded kids were grateful that they had a real world job. They all had fun working on it.

I got the chance to meet him [Crispin Glover] at his Big Slide Show and he seemed quite genuine and kind. I can’t help but think that this quality must help him work in the mainstream at the same time that he is producing arguably subversive films. Any insights?

He means what he does. If it was a simple prank I’m sure he wouldn’t have the wherewithal to carry it all out. It took him nearly ten years to film and edit What Is It? But he learned a lot and only spent a couple years filming and editing his next film, It is Fine. Everything Is Fine!

I listen to ‘Nation Down For the Count’ on the way to work sometimes to get myself prepared for a rough shift. Do you have any other musical projects planned?

Boyd Rice and I talk about doing an album called Lovesville, a kind of B-side to Hatesville. Haven’t gotten around to it yet.

Boyd Rice is another person that seems quite genial in his audio interviews but gets an undeserved infamy for his artwork.

Boyd has been one of the nicest and enjoyable people I’ve ever been around {but} I actually don’t agree with some of his ideas. We’re in the land of the Freemasonic constitution, aren’t we? Or are we fighting sectarian wars? We thankfully don’t have to agree down the line with every single one of another person’s beliefs.


What made you decide to be a book publisher?

Back in ‘84 to ‘86 I worked for a small publisher in New York, and discovered that it really wasn’t as intimidating as I thought to publish books. Now everyone thinks they can publish, for better or for worse.

I really enjoy the works of Donna Kossy, it was her book ‘Kooks’ that turned me on to the works of Paul Laffoley and led me to the Feral House label to begin with. What is she like?

Donna is a nice person and sees any particular project to its conclusion, and I’m grateful for that.

Does she have any new projects coming out?

I don't know what she's up to.

When I read the Apocalypse Culture books and Cult Rapture I was blown away by the articles. It was truly an eye opening experience. You seem to possess a journalistic spirit that I quite admire. What is it that draws you to articles such as these?

Maybe because I find them intriguing on some level.

Where do you hear about your subjects?

Somehow they float my way...


What do you look for in a book that will appear under the Feral House label?

Does it interest me, but more than that, can I interest a buying audience... I’m hemmed in by consumer culture.

Of all the books you’ve published, is there one that you are most fond of?

All of them have their particular strengths. Hard for me to pick one out for a personal prize.

It seems as though you have tapped into a vein that runs through the extremities of human existence. Yet you portray your subjects in such a non-sensational, human level and I find that quite empathetic and inspirational. I guess this isn’t a question so much as a statement.

What does a day in the life of Adam Parfrey look like?

Emailing or talking to designers, writers, distributors, publicists, artists, and agents once in a while. When I’m lucky I get the time to work on my own projects... but usually I run a publishing business, and have to get all the facets together... I don’t hobnob or go out so much... not enough time for all that.

You seem like a guy with a pretty strong stomach but while writing your articles has there ever been a moment when you’ve felt like perhaps you’d gotten in over your head?

You mean when something repulsed me so much that I couldn’t face reporting it?

Yes.

If something was that strong, it would give me the fortitude to report on it.

Thanks again for participating in this interview.

Enjoyed answering the questions. Thanks, Kurt, for your interest!

...

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