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Adam Parfrey: The MrSkin.com Interview
Think books are obsolete? Fool! Ignore the corporate come-ons from the mainstream press, with their presidential-memoir doorstops, flaccid romance novels, and weak thrillers, so tired and trite they never had a pulse.

Instead, feel the beat of a publishing house that believes that books can still excite, entertain, and educate. Meet a little independent publisher who thinks he can and does. His name is Adam Parfrey, and he is the man behind Feral House.

Through his unique imprint, Parfrey has turned the world on with his bile, collecting rants and getting raves from the press and true lovers of the written word. Best known for 1987's still-reverberating endtimes compendium Apocalypse Culture and its 2000 companion Apocalypse Culture II, Parfrey has printed tomes on everything from the satanic metal underground (Lords of Choas) to an expos?n the sexual practices of Eastern and Western religious and occult traditions (Sexuality, Magic & Perversion).

But that's only the tip of the literary iceberg. Prepare for your mental Titanic to be struck and sunk as Parfrey belly's up with Mr. Skin to discuss his hot picture book on the Internet's favorite naked chicks, The Suicide Girls, the history of men's magazines, and why Berlin in the '20s made the so-called sexual revolution of the '60s look like the man in the gray flannel suit.

How did you start Feral House?
I was working with a partner in this company called Amok Press and we had done eight books. What was interesting about it is that at that time publishing was a very gentlemanly industry run by people who had four martini lunches and only saw agents.

It seemed like there was a whole world out there that would be interested in an--I don't like this word--"alternative" that the publishing world as a whole would not do. They wouldn't do a book like Apocalypse Culture, which is basically things I obsessively gathered, and at that time there was no such thing as Internet, of course, so it was far more obscure and hard to find material particularly weird for people and put people off. But I thought that was a great value not only to the fact it put people off, but it was interesting material [laughs].

It veered into a wild world of obsessive people, conspiracy world that can now be more frequently accessed and referenced. The body-modification people I interviewed in Apocalypse Culture and then RE Search did the Modern Primitives book and then all of a sudden the tattoo-and-piercing world really became big.

After Amok Press, I moved out to L.A. [My partner] lived in New York, so I figured it'd be best to start my own imprint, and I started Feral House back in '89. I've done seventy or eighty titles since then.

Again, things are neglected or overlooked by the mainstream presses, but then became, either coincidently or not, after I put it out there became some enthusiasm about the subject and then the mainstream would pop in for their second or third versions of it.

Back in 1990, I believe, I put out a book called Cad: A Handbook for Heels by Cliff Mott [former art director at Cracked magazine] and Daniel Clowes [Ghost World].

That book was about the B-level men's magazines, not Playboy but a notch below, like Nugget and Gem. I was fascinated by the aesthetic of it. The sentiment produced in it. [The book] was briefly banned in Canada. People said, "This is not as hardcore as Apocalypse Culture." Well, Apocalypse Culture was never banned [laughs].

That's what happens when you put sex into the mix.
Yeah, and at that time Andrea Dworkin and Catherine McKinnon were big guns up there.

They created a law, didn't they, that made it very difficult to get certain materials across the border?
It seemed to be very whimsically applied. The law was anything that made women second-class citizens or diminished their stature or something of this nature. It's a very ambiguous law, and if you look at it you could ban the Bible. It was a very peculiar situation.

It wasn't like we had pornography, which is a matter of the way women are treated. They said on the manifest that I saw circulated around that they thought they had hammered the nails into the coffin of treating women like they did in the '50s. Although, if people really examined the book, it was more satirical about those things; I didn't take it entirely seriously.

Since then you've published more explicit books, such as Voluptuous Panic and Hot Girls of Weimer Berlin.
Explicit, yes, but they're historical too. Weimer, the pre-Nazi period in Germany, was really the center of all sex culture in the world. You'd go to Berlin and I think the city printed guidebooks to tell you how to recognize the prostitutes depending upon what they wore. If they wore a certain type of stocking or if they had this lace around the stocking that would be they'd do this or that.

They had very young girls out in the street. They had a kind of performance-art-type situation; they didn't call it performance art then. But this one woman on stage, Anita Berber, she'd strip off all her clothing and start talking really dirty and shoot up drugs on stage and have sex on stage. This is, like, the '20s [laughs].

Mel Gordon, a mad professor at UC Berkeley, produced that book, and his collection also spun off the book Hot Girls of Weimer Berlin. I'm hooked up with similarly obsessive people to produce these really fascinating books about neglected periods in history.

Like Cad, after that the whole burlesque thing, Cocktail Nation, a lot of that easy-listening stuff, this editor used the book to spin off four different books of his own at that company. It became a manifested situation.

Another book we did, it was called Nightmare of Ecstasy [by Nicolas Grey].

Yeah, the great oral history of Plan Nine from Outer Space movie director and cross-dresser Ed Wood.
That created the film [Tim Burton's Ed Wood]. And Tales of Times Square by Josh Alan Friedman, you saved from book obscurity.
Well, Tales of Times Square actually, that was less so, because that was published originally by a major New York house in hardcover and I did the first paperback edition; it was out of print at the time. Right now, with the obsession with Times Square . . .

It just celebrated its one hundredth anniversary.
Yeah, they're more interested in it now than before. Josh Friedman is doing a book, publishing in the fall, called When Sex Was Dirty. It's about the '70s period when he was writing for Screw magazine, his investigations of weird sex culture at the time.

He also contributed to a book with his father, Bruce Jay Friedman, the famous satirical novelist [and Splash screenwriter], who used to work at men's adventure magazines. He was an editor at Male and Men, all with men in the titles. It was not a gay thing, but an adventure thing at the time. Different sensibility, a male magazine was acceptable and encouraged.

Is that your book It's a Man's World?
Yeah, I'm working on a book right now called Sin-A-Rama about the sleaze paperbacks of the '60s, which have been a thoroughly ignored aspect of American publishing, but it's fascinating. The cover images were amazing. What they had to do to get away with writing about sex so they weren't put in jail. Some people were put in jail for things now you'd think, "Oh, my God, people were put in jail for this?"

One of the dirtiest books ever written is the Bible, and you've published a tome that fast forwards to the good parts called The X-Rated Bible.
I found that book. It was published before by some nonprofit atheist organization. It was kind of big in the late '70s and early '80s. I heard rumor of its existence. I finally discovered in it in a bookstore. I thought it was a punch line for a joke, an actual book that has all the dirty parts to the Bible. [Author] Ben Akerley wanted to show the hypocrisy of the Christian fundamentalists and that the Bible had its salaciousness.

The perfect union of the Feral House world and the Mr. Skin world is your coffee-table picture book on The Suicide Girls. How'd you hook up with these sexy punk-rock chicks?
I heard about them from a friend who was going out with one of the girls. It was a different sort of way that women are treated. Usually if there's a magazine or even a web site it's from the male point of view. But here the girls were competitive with one another to show themselves, to show off. The sense of the girls was different.

The girls weren't absolutely perfect in every way. But they were sexy in other ways, not like supermodels. It's like the true girls, they can be a lot sexier than the women who get a million plastic surgeries.

It's not that Playboy sensibility, you've got to get breast implants, go under the knife all the time. They're real people and they do their own photographs. It's a different world where they participate and they're happy to pose.

Do you buy their whole empowerment shtick?
If they feel empowered, then they are. That's why I'm interested in it. Things I don't truly understand fascinate me.

Just to get a snapshot inside your mind, do you have a favorite Suicide Girl?
There are some pretty fascinating, pretty far-out girls in there that I just don't know how that person can walk on the street day by day. It really takes an obsession to be able to do it. How can you get a job having hair like that, having piercings like that? It just makes me curious how people can live with that very severe, extreme take on the way they dress up and make up and cut their hair.

Is that your style?
No, I don't care for that myself.

You're working on a expos?f Hustler magazine by one of its longtime editors, correct?
Allan MacDonell, the editor at Hustler for fifteen, seventeen, eighteen years, something like that, is a friend of mine. I wrote for Hustler quite a bit. He kept me going when I was just starting the company and needed to support myself better. Alan after all the years and working on Hustler and Barely Legal and their other publications, and that whole political investigation thing during the Clinton impeachment, obsessions that [publisher] Larry Flynt has, a fascinating character.

One day, a year or two ago, he was fired from Hustler, and the reason was, I believe, that he said something wrong at a roast of Larry Flynt. When he told me the story of what he said about Larry Flynt at that roast, it was the funniest thing I ever heard.

What did he say?
You'll have to read the book. I don't want to diminish that first chapter, because it's going to be the first chapter of the book. But beyond that he has a great knowledge of what went on in that structure, the weird videos that came in that people wanted to sell for a lot of money that had huge not only celebrities but political figures doing things of questionable taste they didn't know were being filmed. It's sort of like a bottom-feeder network. It's an amazing story of how he played into it, how Hustler magazine worked, that you're not going to hear in a Larry Flynt autobiography [laughs].

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