By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
15 April 1987
I have this really big secret that I’ll never tell anyone. It’s awful and I hate it. Why do I want to cry right now? Perhaps it’s this song. “Giving Ground” by The Sisterhood. I haven’t cried in awhile. Quite often I’ve wanted to, but a few weeks ago a girl from Toledo was riding her bike and was hit by a semi-truck and killed instantly. I guess that all was left of her was her head, an arm and two legs. That is too sad. That makes me want to cry so badly. She was only 17. I’m 17.
The voice is that of Jolene Siana, a goth chick from Toledo, Ohio, who wrote obsessively to Kevin Ogilvie — a.k.a. Nivek Ogre, the lead singer of Skinny Puppy — for nearly three years in the late ’80s, detailing her dysfunctional home life and regular self-mutilation in a cringingly confessional, persistently desperate, yet often uproariously funny, tone. All rendered and packaged in the kind of labor-intensive psychedelic outsider graphic design that is made possible only by obligatory boooooooooring school time.
Nearly a decade later, a chance encounter with Ogre led to the return of the complete correspondence, which he had — incredibly — saved in a box over the intervening years. The result is GoAskOgre:LettersFromaDeathrockCutter— a voyeuristic epistolatory trip to the heart of narcissistic teen angst in a time and place when the prospect of taking a Greyhound bus to Cleveland to see the Revolting Cocks was reason enough to go on living. It’s an overdue riposte to the bludgeoning morality of the fabricated GoAskAlice,and the first original book issued by the just-launched publishing imprint Process.
Process is the offspring of Adam Parfrey’s notorious, perpetually ahead-of-the-curve company, Feral House, whose encyclopedic interest in taboo (and conveniently forgotten) cultural phenomena helped define independent media through the ’90s. Titles ranging from PsychicDictatorshipintheU.S.A.to ExtremeIslam:Anti-AmericanPropagandaofMuslimFundamentalismstretched the parameters of acceptable intellectual discussion, keeping it broad and porous — often by sheer force of will — for almost two decades.
After co-founding AMOK Press, where he edited the widely influential ApocalypseCultureanthology of extreme anthropology, Parfrey embarked on the Feral House list in 1989, beginning with Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey’s TheSatanicWitch,a book that undoubtedly continues to this day to help with the rent. Back then, alongside RE/Search, Loompanics, New Falcon and a host of zines, Feral House articulated the worldview of a global post-punk intelligentsia trembling with premillennial dread.
The other Process parent is Jodi Wille, co-conspirator in Dilettante Press, whose widely acclaimed first publication, TheEndIsNear!VisionsofApocalypse,Millennium,andUtopia,tapped deeply into Feral country. Conceived when the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore couldn’t afford to publish a catalog for Roger Manley’s show of outsider art, the ad hoc publishing company wound up winning the 1998 Benjamin Franklin National Book Award for Best First Book, and producing one of the most thematically coherent publications about the subject, complete with essays by Stephen Jay Gould, the Dalai Lama . . . and Adam Parfrey.
A longtime fan since her days as a not-so-good Christian girl in Toledo, Ohio (what’s with that place?), Wille and her two partners sought Parfrey’s advice and endorsement for their fledgling enterprise. Over the next few years, Dilettante published only a couple more titles, but their impact was considerable — one was ExtremeCanvas,the first publication of hand-painted movie posters from Ghana, curated by gallerist Ernie Wolfe III. As for the other, a chance jogging encounter between one of the other Dilettante partners and a middle-aged gay celebrity hound who mistook the publisher for a soap star resulted not only in the publication of Gary Boas’ superb collection of amateur paparazzisms, Starstruck!,but in an international art career that seems to be only just gathering steam.
During the same time frame, nature took its course and Wille became Parfrey’s partner in Process and in what she refers to as “the hobbit house” — one of those odd fantasy Black Forest bungalows that dot the Hollywood landscape. I buzz at the gate of the Silver Lake–adjacent property, and Parfrey ambles down to let me in and give me the grand tour. “This compound is four acres with five houses on it, and the first one was built by Howard Hughes for a girlfriend in the ’30s. Then, as it happened with that guy, the girlfriend was let loose.
“And so was the property — so the architect took it over and moved his family in. The second house he built was the one Jodi and I live in, and there are other ones up the hill, and the Feral House office is way back behind. Later on, Phil Bonanno, of the Bonanno crime family, lived in the original house, and there’s secret getaway doors, and G. Gordon Liddy wrote his book Willin that house too, so there’s a literary tradition here.” Careful landscaping with winding paths, curtains of bamboo, and burbling artificial springs achieve the intended effect of medieval displacement.
The effect carries over to the interior of the Parfrey/Wille live/work space, which sprawls down a hillside in a cascade of dark wood, stained glass and high arching ceilings. Books, recordings and strange artifacts line the living room — small oil portraits of Heidegger, Nietzsche, Ezra Pound, Celine and Wyndham Lewis are arrayed across one tabletop, and a large photo of L.A.’s scandal-plagued evangelist Aimee Semple MacPherson hangs prominently near the fireplace.
At the far end of the room sits a recently uncrated robot of the most stripped-down sort — a dildo on a stick jutting from a generic plastic toolbox housing a powerful electric motor — research material donated by one of the subjects of a forthcoming Process title exploring the largely unknown folk-art subculture of sex machines and their remarkable (though curiously unspectacular) creators.
It’s an extraordinary space that has been regularly opened to invited audiences over the last year or so for salons exploring such topics as Germany’s Weimar-era sex culture, the African medicinal entheogen ibogaine(hosted by Daniel “Breaking OpentheHead”Pinchbeck), and White Panther founder John Sinclair. “We had a political salon right before the election,” remembers Parfrey, “with the Feral House book 50ReasonsNotToVoteforBush— the only real partisan book I’ve done — and my brother Jonathan Parfrey, who runs Physicians for Social Responsibility, had people speaking here for that.”
Election results aside, the events have been surprisingly successful — given L.A.’s reputation for cultural discontinuity — averaging more than 100 attendees. They’ve only been placed on temporary hold due to the double-hectic publishing schedules. It strikes me as perhaps a little ambitious to start an entirely new publishing house with so much already on your plate.
“Process is a personal as well as a business thing,” responds Parfrey. “Jodi and I knew each other for about five years, but we were with other people. Then we weren’t and we got together. We were both interested in publishing — I tried to help with Dilettante, and Jodi helped with Feral House a bit, so we thought it would be fun to publish together.”
“We love a lot of the same things but also see a lot of things differently,” adds Wille, “so we thought it would be exciting to do a company that combined the best of what we both love and can do.”
There’s more to Process than that, though. As far back as 1999, Parfrey spoke publicly of forming a subsidiary imprint. “I think Adam wanted to create a new company,” Wille acknowledges, “where he could put out things like the Freemasonry book (an upcoming Process project compiling a vast amount of Masonic visual materials), a company that would stand apart from Feral House and not necessarily have the same connotations that Feral House has built up.
“Nowadays, ideas of counterculture and alternative culture can really be limiting. They can compartmentalize and marginalize progressive and important ideas that need to infiltrate and get out to a broader audience. Especially now. One reason we wanted to do GoAskOgreis that it’s a book that goes into the young-adult market. I want to get it into the young-adult collections of libraries and the young-adult section in a Barnes & Noble somewhere in Mississippi. Most independent presses completely neglect young-adult books and children’s books. And one thing we’d like to do with Process is expand into different areas . . . literary memoirs, historical fiction.”
Process’ initial offerings are Go Ask Ogre and a reissue of Jerry Stahl’s surprisingly out-of-print Hollywood junkie literary memoir PermanentMidnight— and there are several works waiting in the wings. Far from diverting energy from his primary business, the new partnership seems to have kicked Parfrey into overdrive. Five Feral House titles are currently optioned — including SexandRockets:TheOccultWorldofJackParsons(detailing the fascinating connection between the Jet Propulsion Lab founder, occult dope fiend Aleister Crowley and pre-Scientology L. Ron Hubbard) and LexiconDevil,the un-put-downable oral biography of Germs front man Darby Crash, co-written by Parfrey, L.A.Weekly’sBrendan Mullen and renaissance troll Don Bolles.
This year’s spring lineup includes Sin-a-rama: Sleaze Sex Paperbacks of the Sixties(click here for a review), a dazzling sort-of sequel to It’s a Man’s World,2003’s tremendously well-received coffee-table book of vintage men’s adventure-magazine illustrations; enlarged editions of SexandRocketsand AgainstCivilization— a collection of luddite writings compiled by Unabomber pen pal John Zerzan; and BigDeadPlace,a “grunt’s-eye view” exposé of the underside of Antarctica’s corporate bureaucracy by former IHOP valet Nicholas Johnson.
As with Feral House, Process has a discernible regionalist tendency — deathrock cutter Jolene Siana is now a well-adjusted artist living and working in Los Angeles, Jerry Stahl remains a local legend, and research is under way on a volume recounting the history of the hippie-inspired phenomenon of Jesus People.
“L.A. is still undiscovered in a way,” says Parfrey. “There’re so many pockets of fascination all over the place here. N.Y. to me is a bunch of middle-management people trying to steal from one another — ‘This is hot.’ ‘No, it’s not.’ — this obsession with the brainscape of television-inoculated dullards. I just don’t understand it. And N.Y. publishing thinks it’s the center of the universe and nothing else is worth any regard. Here, there’s a lot more openness.”
“There’re so many fascinating subcultures out here that just haven’t been tapped into,” adds Wille. “Aimee Semple MacPherson, the theosophical roots of L.A., Pentecostal splinter groups — there’s such rich spiritual esoteric histories, and such an expanse of land that there’s room for hidden pockets of discovery. You can still even find good thrift stores deep in the Valley.”
Aah, the thrift store. We may think we’ve left our late-’80s bohemian hipness behind, but we pass by a really good thrift store and start to drool, and it’s game over. Similarly, Generation Whatever’s millennial dread has modulated into a free-floating apprehension about the future of government, culture and our species past the current generation, and we’re still desperate for guidance. If you could go back to your teenage self in Toledo, Ohio, in 1987, what would you tell yourself? Process wants to know. If it involves sex machines, all the better.