Boyd Rice is a counterculture figure whose reputation often overshadows his creative output. I speak from experience; in fact, I spent most of my life avoiding his work due to his association with Social Darwinism and LaVeyan Satanism, things with which this left-leaning product of a Northeastern art school education simply had no truck. Recurring encounters with Rice’s name as I explored topics that resonated with me—cult films, industrial music, tiki exotica, the Holy Grail—left me incredibly puzzled. Who was this artist, musician, and author who had such a vast number of seemingly disparate interests and yet who was not so much ignored as actively reviled by so many people in the underground?
Depending on who is describing him, Boyd Rice is a button-pushing prankster, a dangerous neo-Nazi, or an underappreciated countercultural tastemaker. Rice is the rare figure whose name is always followed by an opinion, a defense, or a condemnation of the man that does more to reflect the speaker’s worldview than it does to describe Rice’s work. The fact that Boyd Rice needs to be summed up at all says a lot about his place in underground culture: he manages to be both obscure and divisive.
What many discussions of Boyd Rice seem to miss is that he is intentionally all of the things he presents himself to be. He’s not just playing a long-con joke of the Andy Kaufman school nor is he solely a venomous misanthrope. To take any single aspect of his work and separate it from the other elements is to miss the essence of what makes Rice tick. Detractors will focus on Rice’s association with American white supremacist Bob Heick and the infamous, theatrically menacing Sassy magazine photo of the two, or they will relate details of his troubled relationship with writer and provocateur Lisa Crystal Carver as described in her autobiography, Drugs Are Nice. Conversely, there are those who gloss over—or even attempt to explain away—the darker elements of Rice’s work and personal life. This is one of the criticisms that can be levied against Iconoclast—the compelling but flawed four-hour documentary on Rice’s life released in 2010. Around two hours of screen time elapse before the accusations of fascism against the artist are even mentioned.
In crafting his biography of Boyd Rice, Brian M. Clark seems fully aware of the potential pitfalls in discussing such a contentious figure. The 2015 book published as Boyd Rice: A Biography by Discriminate Press is a reworking of the contextualizing essay that accompanies Clark’s 2008 compilation of Rice’s writings, Standing in Two Circles. Thorough and factual, Clark’s seventy-three-page essay (presented here in English and French) steps back from knee-jerk emotional reactions and presents the full spectrum of his subject’s activities. He sketches Rice’s involvement in the nascent industrial genre of the 1970s, outlines his contributions to the early days of RE/Search Publications’ Incredibly Strange Films and Pranks! books (detailing that Rice’s role in the creation of these books was diminished when he fell out of favor), and addresses his interactions with hot-button figures like Charles Manson and the aforementioned Heick.
Accompanying Clark’s text are dozens of images spanning Rice’s career and activities, as well as a full discography and bibliography. The sheer range of material displayed on these pages supports Clark’s portrait of an artist obsessed with dualities and extremes. Dressed in a natty sportcoat, a shorn-headed Rice stands at Rennes-le-Château during filming for the Holy Grail episode of the relaunched In Search Of… An earlier photo shows him kneeling with a sledgehammer in front of a pile of broken records, a physical manifestation of his harsh noise work. Elsewhere he is photographed lecturing in a university class, posing with Anton LaVey, and hosting tiki parties. At turns kitschy, esoteric, and sinister, it’s clear that this is an individual who is guided by his passions and likely delights in the confusion and hostility he leaves in his wake.
Boyd Rice’s refusal to apologize or clarify the positions and postures he assumes maddens those inclined to dislike him. Critics may complain that Clark never indicts Rice for the antisocial and unpalatable aspects of his career, but it can be argued that certain elements of the media are all too thirsty for hit pieces and social signaling at the expense of acknowledging an artist’s complexity. In the end, this duality is what makes Boyd Rice who he is. His embrace of Gnosticism runs deep—he is a living embodiment of inseparable light and dark. For Rice, fun and horror go hand-in-hand and to attempt to atone on his behalf for the perceived negative aspects of his worldview is to discard half of what he sets out to create.
Clark provides an explanation for why this overview of Rice’s career is being published now and in this format in a brief afterword. The author opted not to edit a revisited version of Standing in Two Circles because of his changing relationship to the material it would contain, though perhaps not for the reasons that might be suspected. In the years following the original book’s release via Creation Press (which is a story unto itself of mismanagement and fraud on the part of that publisher), Clark became increasingly interested in empiricism and felt he could no longer endorse the contents of many of Rice’s esoteric writings. However, Clark points out that with increased calls for restrictions on speech in academia and the media by proponents of so-called political correctness, it’s important to talk about provocative voices like Rice’s in a rational fashion. To relegate Boyd Rice to the trash bin of the underground is to ignore the influence he had on so many enduring veins of interest—a fact that Clark rightly identifies as revisionist, short-sighted, and ultimately petty.
Written by: Tenebrous Kate
Book Author: Brian M. Clark
Publisher: Discriminate Media (United States)
Publication Date: October 2015
File Under: Music/Biography
ISBN: 978-1496085924 / 1496085922