“Boyd Rice is one of the most influential and controversial figures of modern American counterculture,” begins Brian M. Clark’s Boyd Rice: A Biography. While that grandiose statement may oversell Rice’s cultural importance, it’s certainly true that Boyd Rice is a household name in a lot of weird households.
Rice is a prolific American sound experimentalist, author, artist, actor, archivist, and prankster. He also tends to be a polarizing figure in countercultural circles.
Boyd Rice a.k.a. “NON”—breaking records
I became familiar with Boyd Rice beginning in the late ‘80s and throughout the ‘90s. It seemed for a time that any esoteric interest I began exploring, Boyd Rice’s name would pop up as someone who had been there to document it or be associated with it first. My initial exposure to Rice was his work on the Incredibly Strange Films book released by RE/Search in 1985. In the late ‘80s, this was perhaps the most-thumbed reference book on my shelf. Rice turned up again on my radar in 1988 as a talking head on Geraldo Rivera’s sensationalist Exposing Satan’s Underground TV special. I was deeply interested in Satanism at the time, and here was Rice as one of its chief defenders and spokesmen. As I became interested in the bizarre records I was finding at thrift stores, particularly fake Hawaiian recordings, I began finding articles written by Rice about his love of “exotica” music. When RE/Search’s Pranks book came out, I became obsessed with that volume, particularly Rice’s chapter. I got the accompanying video as soon as it was released and found the interviews with Rice quite charming. Around this same time I was starting to get heavily into noise and industrial music and there was Rice too—at the forefront with his ground-breaking work as NON. And there was Rice on Current 93 records. And there was Rice in Lisa Carver’s fantastic Rollerderby magazine. And then there were the hysterical tapes of his appearances on evangelical minister Bob Larson’s radio call-in show, which were de rigueur tour van tapes while playing in bands in the ‘90s. Rice was seemingly everywhere, all over everything I found fascinating in the ‘90s—and he was always there a few years ahead of me as its champion. Who was this industrial man of mystery?
But for as many things as he said in interviews that I agreed with, or found provocative and revelatory, there seemed to be as many things that didn’t sit well with me. And then there was the whole question that has followed Rice for decades, the good ol’ “is he really a Nazi… or not?” query—a mystery which, no-doubt, Rice himself has at certain points cultivated to the ends of advancing his own notoriety. It’s sticky business that has often overshadowed Rice’s most engaging work and accomplishments.
I’ve found that people who already find Rice a likable and interesting character will bend over backwards to defend Rice’s dalliances with fascistic imagery, while those who have no interest in Rice’s contributions to art, music, and preservation of esoteric subjects, very easily dismiss him as a fascist sympathizer. He was famously photographed with American Front leader Bob Heick for Sassy magazine. He also appeared on White Aryan Resistance leader Tom Metzger’s public access cable show Race and Reason. Unlike his one-time cohort Nikolas Schreck’s appearance on that program, very obviously trolling Metzger, Rice seemed to play his appearance with a straight face, discussing electronic music’s “intrinsic whiteness.” It’s for these reasons that Rice is, for some, quite a “problematic” character, while others dismiss these appearances as provocative “antics.”
Brian M. Clark’s “Boyd Rice: A Biography”
Brian M. Clark’s new book, Boyd Rice: A Biography, is a fairly detailed recounting of the major highlights of Rice’s artistic and musical career, and offers some insights into his controversial personality. This biography was originally the first half of 2008’s out-of-print Standing in Two Circles: The Collected Works of Boyd Rice that now fetches rather insane prices online. A dispute with the book’s original publisher, Creation Books, resulted in that tome being discontinued. Editor Clark decided to re-release the biography portion separate from Rice’s personal writings, which we assume will be released in their own stand-alone form at a later date. Dangerous Minds caught up with the author to discuss Rice’s contentious character in the Internet age and why the biography is now separated from the original collection of writings.
Dangerous Minds: Today, thanks to the Internet, the world is completely interconnected 24/7. One effect of this is that the mystery is stripped away from everything and everyone. How do you think this removal of the element of mystery has affected the public perception of Boyd Rice as a cult figure?
Brian M. Clark: Probably quite a lot. I think that back in the pre-internet days one of the reasons a lot of people were interested in Boyd was the fact that he was kind of inscrutable and contentious. Starting in the late 1970s he had built up a reputation as a prankster, an experimental musician, a weirdo artist, a cataloguer of kitsch culture, and so on; yet by the late ‘80s he was also flirting with “taboo” things like Satanism and fascism. By the mid-’90s, people didn’t know what to make of it. His fans and detractors could debate whether or not he was being sincere about the latter, or whether they thought it was a prank, or he was being “ironic” or whatever. He was eminently debatable and divisive in the heyday of the ‘zine era, along with a couple of other counter-counterculture troublemakers.
The internet has taken some of that away because now everything is at everyone’s fingertips instantly and people seem more apt to make snap judgments. Mystery has abated generally because nowadays nobody has to simply accept that something is uncertain or unknown anymore. You can just Google whatever it is you’re wondering about and instantly have an answer—even if it’s a faulty answer—rather than having to speculate about anything or formulate your own provisional assessment of things based on limited information. In the case of someone like Boyd, his career has been full of all sorts of weird digressions into different areas of interest, and associations with various outsiders and deviants over the years. In the internet era, it’s much easier to write someone like him off by zeroing in on one or two unsavory things in his past, and then say, “That’s it, I’ve seen enough. Fuck this guy.”
DM: You address this a bit in your 2015 post-script to the new edition, but why was the decision made to republish the biography separate from the remainder of Standing in Two Circles?
BMC: There are two reasons. The first is that I was totally sick of dealing with the project and just wanted to get it done once and for all, and move on with my life. I lost money on Standing in Two Circles due to the Creation Books kerfuffle, but I had invested a bunch of time and work into it. I wanted to recoup some portion of that, which is part of why I decided to republish the biography; however, in doing so I didn’t want to invest even more time and work into it, either. Boyd and I had initially discussed releasing an expanded-and-revised version of the original book, but that would have required me editing a bunch of new texts and corresponding with him on various things back and forth, and it would have taken more time and work, I was just totally fucking sick of all of it and didn’t want to deal with it anymore. I still keep in touch with Boyd from time to time, and I went to his wedding a few years ago, but I haven’t really kept up with his career since the original book came out – and I didn’t want to have to pick that back up again where I left off in 2007. I wasn’t particularly interested in diving back into editing his writing again, either. So reissuing the biography portion as a standalone book was an easier option that allowed me to just publish it on my own terms quickly, and then get on with my life.
The second reason is that my outlook toward a few subjects covered in Two Circles had changed a bit in the intervening decade or so since I’d originally compiled and edited the book. There were certain aspects of the “collected works” portion of the original book, as well as things Boyd wanted added to an expanded version, that I decided I’d rather not be associated with promoting at this point in my life; things I disagreed with on some level. I still liked the biography that I’d written about Boyd, and I still thought he was interesting and significant and so on, but I didn’t want to attach my name as an editor to texts that I personally thought were dubious or unpersuasive in some way. So I asked him, “How about you take all your texts from the original ‘collected works’ portion of Standing in Two Circles and publish them in an expanded edition without me, and I’ll just reissue the little biographical introduction on my own, and we’ll leave it at that?” He agreed, and so that’s what we did. It was an amicable parting of ways on the project.
DM: In what ways do you feel your worldview has diverged from Boyd’s since the original publication of Standing in Two Circles?
BMC: Boyd and I have actually always had pretty divergent worldviews. We share a lot of the same opinions on human nature, art, music, and certain aspects of society, I think, but our worldviews part ways fairly dramatically on a lot of other topics. At the risk of probably misusing philosophical lingo, I’d say that in a generalized sense Boyd is an experientialist and I’m an empiricist. Boyd values “instinct over intellect,” as I believe he has put it, and I tend to be of the opposite view. He places primacy on intuition and going with one’s gut, whereas I defer to logic and reason – or at least I aspire to anyway. He also has a spiritual life and I don’t. Boyd is pretty deeply religious, in his own idiosyncratic way, whereas I’m essentially a secular humanist atheist. I think we probably have pretty different opinions on politics as well; although Boyd’s sociopolitical views are pretty oblique and don’t really map onto contemporary American politics anyway.
What did change about my worldview after doing Two Circles is that I discovered Scientific Skepticism around 2008 or so, and became peripherally involved in that for a while. Skepticism kind of became my main area of interest for a few years. And that did affect how I approach a lot of subjects that had previously never paused to think much about one way or another. When I first moved to Denver to do a biography on Boyd in 2003 I was into art and underground music, and really jazzed about iconoclasm for its own sake; iconoclasm as a kind of virtue in itself, I guess. Boyd was at that time one of a very small number of figures in American counterculture that I felt were truly iconoclastic, which is why I was interested in his creative output and wanted to do a book on him.
Back when I was originally compiling Two Circles, I’d set out to be objective as a biographer when composing the biographical introduction to the book; however, when it came to editing Boyd’s texts in the “collected works” portion of the book I didn’t really concern myself with whether or not the content of any of the essays was “correct,” or “accurate,” or strictly speaking “true” per se. I didn’t fact-check his claims or go do my own research on the subjects he was writing about. I just edited his prose for grammar, syntax, formatting, and the like. So I wasn’t acting as an “editor” in the sense of deciding which of Boyd’s texts to include and which to omit; I pretty much included everything he gave me. Years later, when looking over the new texts he wanted added to an expanded edition of the book, as well as the original texts, there were numerous things that just seemed dubious to me. Things I had never vetted in the original book, or even really given a lot of thought to one way or the other, initially. There was an essay about him seeing a ghost; and an essay about occult rituals; and revisionist history related to the bloodline of Christ, and various other supernatural, apocryphal things. Assertions that were at variance with the scientific consensus on archaeology, for example, that seemed far-fetched to me.
I thought it over and decided that I didn’t want to attach my name as an “editor” to any of that material because I didn’t think it was plausible. I’m not convinced by it. It’s interesting and neat—fun to speculate about, perhaps—but not plausible to me. Boyd is a smart and talented guy but my contemporary view is that his writing in certain areas like revisionist history is beyond the scope of what he’s qualified for. That doesn’t mean he’s necessarily incorrect per se, it just means that I’m not sufficiently persuaded that he is correct. The same goes for his interests in the occult, the supernatural, and so on – I don’t find those things credible or persuasive, and he does. Maybe he’s right about those subjects and I’m wrong – ultimately, that’s for his readers to decide. Regardless, promoting that stuff isn’t something I want to be personally involved with at this point in my life. So my worldview has changed to the extent that nowadays I care more about accuracy—or plausibility, at least—than I do about iconoclasm. Concededly, that wasn’t the case a decade ago.
DM: So you’re still fine with the more provocative (some might say “offensive”) material Boyd’s done, you just have issues with the unscientific stuff and the revisionist conspiracy theory stuff?
BMC: Yeah, that’s basically the case. They’re entirely different categories of subject matter. Supernatural and historical claims are falsifiable; they’re either correct or incorrect. Either ghosts exist or they don’t. Whether or not that can be conclusively established with current technology to anyone’s satisfaction, it’s still at base a falsifiable claim. On the other hand, the concept of “offensiveness” is entirely subjective and relative. What one chooses to be “offended” by is a matter of personal opinion. So I regard those two categories of ideas very differently. So no, I don’t have an issue with Boyd’s creative output that some people find offensive. I may not agree with all of it, or find it funny or clever or whatever in any particular case, but I don’t have a problem with any of it simply on the grounds that someone somewhere is offended by it. That’s actually part of what interested me about him in the first place.
There are many different reasons to make art, but one function of art that often gets a lot of flack is the role it can play in inspiring outrage and getting people thinking and talking about things they’d rather avoid dealing with. I’m not as dismissive of the value in that as a lot of ostensibly “serious” people seem to be. I think it’s a perennially fascinating thing, how inanimate objects—artwork, songs, essays, whatever—can send otherwise levelheaded people into a histrionic tizzy because they’re threatened by the expression of abstract ideas. It’s a very weird part of human psychology. It can be fun, and funny; and also pretty scary, when you consider things like last year’s Charlie Hebdo massacre. But to me, events like that really highlight the fundamental importance of making space for the expression of “offensive” ideas in society. Boyd is someone who does that—he has a real knack for ruffling people’s feathers—whether he actively intends to or not. I think that’s a good thing in itself. In the stiflingly P.C. cultural moment we’re currently mired in here in the U.S.—with the sudden arrival of trigger warnings, micro-aggressions, safe spaces, et cetera—I think “offensive” expression is more necessary now than it’s ever been in my lifetime. I’m all for it.
Boyd Rice with Church of Satan founder, Anton Lavey
DM: Rice is undoubtedly a controversial and polarizing figure. Do you feel that your friendship with him made it difficult to report on him in an impartial manner?
BMC: Yes and no. He’s 20 years my senior, and I initially approached him as a “fan,” back in my early 20s – so initially, yes, impartiality could have been an issue. However, frankly by the time I finally got around to writing the biography I was pretty disillusioned with Boyd on a few levels. I had moved to Denver to do the book at the end of 2003, and didn’t get around to actually writing the biography until 2006 or so. By the time I left Denver for Los Angeles at the end of 2007 I was totally sick of working on the book. I was kind of frustrated and burned out on the project, and tired of interacting with him in a working capacity. I was well “over it” and relieved to submit the final manuscript and move on with my life. As a result of that disillusionment I actually think the biography I did on him is reasonably evenhanded. I think it’s fair.
Obviously, I can’t actually be objective on the issue my own impartiality, but as of yet none of the critics who’ve reviewed the book have dissed it as a biased puff piece, for whatever that’s worth. However, I’m sure the argument that it’s not impartial enough could be made if one really wanted to make it and was willing to nitpick through the book looking for things to take umbrage with. Either way, I’m of the view that biographers can’t be completely objective anyway, even if they don’t personally know their subjects. There’s no such thing as a truly impartial biography or documentary film; the process of selecting what to include and what to exclude creates a narrative by necessity, and the partialities of the person making those choices will invariably creep in. Any biographer or documentarian who claims otherwise is kidding themselves.
DM: Is there anything you would have been “harder” on him about, as a biographer, had you not been friends? For example his relationship with Lisa Carver and their son, or his highly publicized flirtations with white supremacists such as Tom Metzger and Bob Heick?
BMC: No, not really. As a biographer I’m not sure that it was my job to be “hard” on Boyd about the relationships he’s had with certain people over the years. They needed to be mentioned and discussed, sure, but I didn’t think I needed to interject my personal sense of reprobation or lack thereof about his choice of company in the world. Readers can draw their own conclusions about such things, right? If you were writing a biography of Barack Obama, a mention of his friendship with Jeremiah Wright and a brief explanation of why that was controversial would probably be appropriate; but going into great detail on it or analyzing it, or being “hard” on Obama for that isn’t really called for. Likewise, a biography of Jane Fonda should probably devote at least some space to briefly discuss her photo-op trip to North Vietnam in support of The Viet Cong; but I’d hope that most of the book would be about her career and the rest of her life, not an in-depth analysis of the one dodgy thing she did that some people find objectionable.
Boyd is a willfully controversial guy. He hung out with lots of sketchy characters in the ‘80s, and I mentioned the noteworthy ones in the book. To a Christian reader, maybe Anton LaVey is the most controversial. To a Baby Boomer reader, maybe Charles Manson is the most controversial. To an AntiFa reader, maybe Bob Heick is the most controversial. They’re all potentially controversial though. That’s part of why he’s an interesting subject. It’s part of why he was worth doing a book on. For me to belabor particular aspects of his life with overlong discussions about why it is or isn’t problematic for him to have associated on some level with such-and-such “bad” person decades ago would be pandering to his insatiable critics, and would be a disservice to readers, I think. People can make up their own minds as to whether Boyd is a rotten bastard for posing for a menacing photograph with Bob Heick; or appearing on an episode of Tom Metzger’s public access show; or whether Lisa Carver’s allegations about him pass muster.
DM: What’s the best and worst thing about Boyd Rice? They can be two separate things or one-in-the-same.
BMC: I guess from the perspective of being his former biographer, they are one-in-the-same thing: the fact that he’s a public figure, yet he pretty much doesn’t give a shit what anybody thinks about him. On the one hand, that’s great, because he doesn’t censor himself, and his creative output is provocative and uncompromised. On the other hand, it’s a headache because he’s mostly untroubled at the idea of being hated and misunderstood. So he’s publicly perceived as being this villainous satanic “Nazi” character, and his attitude seems to be: “Meh, I’m not going to explain myself to those people. I don’t care what they think. Fuck them.” He lets the waters stay muddied and allows people who don’t know him to hate his guts and protest his concerts mostly uncontested. He once described this to me as the mantra, “Never complain and never explain.” That’s his public persona, and he doesn’t seem to waiver much from it, even when he’s accused of being a “Nazi.”
What’s ironic to me about this is that, for a supposed “Nazi,” Boyd sure has spent his life surrounded by Jews: his wife, Anton LaVey, Daniel Miller, Adam Parfrey, Tiny Tim, Z’ev, Little Fyodor, and probably a few others I’m forgetting – all Jews. So if Boyd’s a “Nazi” then he sure is a pretty goddamn crappy, half-assed Nazi. But he doesn’t call attention to things like that. He doesn’t seem to go out of his way to disabuse critics of whatever misguided notions they have about him. I suppose if he did, it would smack of “But all my best pals are Jewish!” which proves nothing, I guess, and wouldn’t mollify his detractors anyway. Regardless, I think Boyd’s haters ought to at least get their nomenclature straight and find some other scapegoating term with which to tar him besides “Nazi,” because it just doesn’t fit. Anyway, I guess that, from the perspective of being his biographer, that’s the simultaneous worst-and-best thing about Boyd: he doesn’t seem to give a shit what most people think. It’s cool and frustrating at the same time.
Boyd Rice: A Biography is available at Amazon.com. Brian M. Clark can be contacted through his website.
A surprisingly highly-watchable and entertaining FOUR HOUR LONG documentary on Boyd Rice titled Iconoclast was released in 2010 and almost immediately disappeared after a falling out between Rice and the film’s director, Larry Wessel. In an interview about the film, Wessel ultimately described Rice as “a lonely, cold-hearted, pretentious, hypocritical sociopath,” which is a somewhat different picture than is painted by the documentary itself. For the moment, this recommended documentary is currently viewable HERE.
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
‘80s ‘sicko, freako’ goth band hilariously hardtrolls this kooky conservative TV host
When Goths thought it was OK to go on Neo-Nazi talkshows
Iconoclast: Larry Wessel’s new Boyd Rice documentary