10 Questions for Adam Parfrey
Writer, publisher and former Portland resident Adam Parfrey is returning to town with a multimedia event that recently sold out in New York and Los Angeles, and received a positive mention in the online edition of Artforum.
Parfrey, owner of Feral House books, is promoting a new book on an obscure 1960s cult that attracted the interest of such Swinging London scenesters as Mick Jagger and Maryanne Faithful, The Process Church of the Final Judgement. Some think the group inspired the Rolling Stone's album, 'Their Satanic Majesties Request.'
The book is written by former member Timothy Wyllie and named after the titles of four intentionally provocative magazines he designed, 'Love Sex Fear Death.' He will also be at the event, 'Occult USA', 8 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 1, at Mississippi Studios, 3939 N. Mississippi Ave. Admission is $15.
The Tribune caught up with Parfrey:
Tribune: Feral House publishes many different kinds of books these days, but you started out with a special interest in people and groups that have extreme political views and end-of-the-world predictions, like those in your best-selling Apocalypse Culture. What attracted you to such topics in the first place?
Parfrey: When I began publishing in the mid-'80s, the book industry was a three-martini lunch crowd, dealing with agents and books that weren't particularly interesting - or risky, particularly subjects that did not appeal to middle-aged matrons who were the primary buyers for independent bookstores. Today there's a new paradigm with the Internet, where one can find almost anything, but still there's a huge number of subjects that still need to be investigated, reported and contextualized.
Tribune: What do you make of the widespread popularity of Dan Brown's book, which are based on such controversial subjects as Freemasons, the Illuminati and a theory that the Catholic Church is based on a lie?
Parfrey: Dan Brown is not so much an investigator as a pulp writer who knows how to fictionalize interesting source material. I'm glad that he has people interested in subjects that I've been publishing about for decades.
Tribune: Any thoughts about the most-talked about doomsday scenario these days, the alleged Mayan calendar prediction that the world will end in 2012, which is the theme of an upcoming Hollywood blockbuster?
Parfrey: I don't have any personal ax to grind regarding 2012, but it does seem to me that a different sensibility is being forged these days. And I'm grateful for that. Many people behind the 2012 prophecy don't believe it's world-ending, but world-changing.
Tribune: After you've spent time researching such beliefs and even dealing with those who believe them, do you ever think, 'Maybe these people are onto something?'
Parfrey: Absolutely. One might think that an apocalyptic and gnostic group like The Process Church was a bit Chicken Little-like, but they appealed to me in the way they did not shy away from shaking things up, and being super-intelligent about it. They were decades ahead of their time.
Tribune: Rumors about the Process Church of the Final Judgement have circulated for years. When did you first hear them and what made you decide to try to publish a book about them?
Parfrey: More than rumors. More than a few books were published circulating that turned out to be total nonsense regarding The Process Church; that they were behind, somehow, the Manson murders, and after that The Son of Sam murders, and many more. It intrigued me that somehow there was an apocalyptic death cult circulating around the world in silent murder missions, but they somehow never got caught or fingered for their supposed crimes.
The real story, I discovered, is not as sensational, perhaps, but far more interesting, as far as I'm concerned. The cult dynamics, the secret matriarchal force behind it, and its risky and strange gnostic theology. For years, (musician) Genesis Breyer P-Orridge talked about doing a book of Process magazines and literature, but after he introduced me to one of the main guys in the group, and heard all his stories, I felt that these never-before-heard sagas would be a better and more interesting centerpiece for a book.
Tribune: Timothy Wyllie, the former member who wrote the book on the Process Church, now says it was a cult. Some people regard that as a derogatory term. Based on your research, do you see any difference between unconventional movements and cults?
Parfrey: What is a 'cult'? A spiritual organization not yet big enough to be called a 'religion'? One could certainly argue that this is the case.
The Process Church was certainly a 'cult,' having authoritarian leaders and members who followed an unorthodox theology. The next question one might ask is: 'Are all cults evil?' I don't think so. Ex-Process Church members I've spoken with have mixed feelings about their time with the group, but many feel that it was the best time of their life. Sometimes there are things one can gain from a group that one would not be able to access independently.
Tribune: You've run Feral House out of both Los Angles and Portland. What do you think of Portland?
Parfrey: I love Portland, and spent four years there, and miss it. The reasons I left Portland were more personal than having to do with the city itself.
Tribune: Now you're living in the much smaller town of Port Townsend, Wash. What prompted you to move there and how do you like it?
Parfrey: My wife, Jodi, and I are very interested in becoming more self-reliant, and I do some farming up in our acres in the Port Townsend area. We travel frequently for events such as the one coming to Portland Nov. 1.
Tribune: Are there any other groups or movements you're interested in now?
Parfrey: Jodi and I are publishing a book titled 'The Modern Utopian' by Richard Fairfield, which explores a lot of the '60s and '70s communes and cults, and back to the earth groups that seem to be coming back today big time. It will be brought out by Process Media, a separate publishing company. By the way, the name is coincidental and certainly not affiliated with the Process Church.
Tribune: What can people who attend your Nov. 1 show at Mississippi Studios expect?
Parfrey: An amazing group (of musicians) led by Dave Nuss of the No Neck Blue Band recreates The Process Church ritual and hymns, which are both beautiful and fascinating.
We're also showing an excerpt from (musician) William Morrison's not-yet finished feature documentary about The Process, and author Timothy Wyllie will present a slide show about The Process Church, after which I'll lead a question and answer with him and audience members.
To my mind, this is quite an exciting event.
Editor's note: Feral House published Jim Redden's 2000 book, 'Snitch Culture.'