SPRINGTIME FOR BOYD RICE? A conversation.
Interview by Greg Scorzo
Boyd Rice is a noise musician, sensitive singer song writer, painter, prankster, actor, archivist, author, and all around gadfly. He is notorious for producing music, art, and prose that is both fascinating and outrage inducing. Boyd’s work is both cheeky and scary. It straddles the line between left-wing counter-culture and extreme right forms of social Darwinism. He plays around with Fascist imagery, has had a notorious friendship with church of Satan leader Anton LaVey and been credited as an influence on Marilyn Manson.
Boyd Rice was one of the founding fathers of the industrial rock music scene of the late 70s. Around that time, he presented first lady Betty Ford with a skinned sheep’s head and was arrested. Nearly forty years later, he still doesn’t like world peace or equality. He still doesn’t think you should love everyone and he is still a really sweet guy.
Boyd Rice and I had a pleasant conversation on a lovely warm day. We talked about art, cultural innovation, politics, the 60s, authenticity, and how neither of us get that excited by babies. The sun was shining and one could hear birds chirping in the distance.
Greg Scorzo: I know that you started out in music. That’s the beginning of your career. You later branched off into more multi-media oriented projects. As someone who is still trying to create interesting sounds in 2015, what do you love most about music?
Boyd Rice: I think it’s the most abstract form of art. It’s kind of amazing to be able to create something out of nothing. It doesn’t exist and you record it and then suddenly it’s there. Music is very intangible. It’s not an art form where you can look at it and then walk away. It becomes a part of you when you’re listening to it. You can then remember it and it’s still a part of you even though it’s only in your mind.
I like the fact that no matter how precise my ideas are, my music never comes out exactly how I want it to. There’s an element of randomness there. It always comes out slightly different and slightly better to how I imagined it. It sometimes feels like something I didn’t create; like it created itself. I like that and I feel like I can’t fully take credit for my music. It’s like there’s an intangible elment that I have no control over. That’s always interesting to me.
But I didn’t start out as a musician. I started out doing art. When I dropped out of high school, I wanted to grow up and be a modern artist. They seemed like the only people in the world who could be rewarded for stuff everyone else would be punished for. They were expected to have sex with a lot of women. They were expected to do things that other people didn’t do. That was appealing to me (laughs).
Greg Scorzo: Did you find yourself taking things from the art world and bringing them into your music?
Boyd Rice: To a certain degree because a lot of the art that I was interested in was early 20th century art. That art dealt a lot with chance and randomness and things like that. I was really inspired by people like Marcel Duchamp and Max Ernst. Ernst used methods whereby he would sort of create something out of nothing; there was an element of alchemy to it. But when I say these were influences, I don’t mean I was trying to consciously imitate these artists. When you listen to the first Brian Eno album, it’s as if he just got out of art school and was self-consciously applying all these art school methods to his music. There’s a song where he did the Satie thing of using type writers as percussion and then sang about that in the lyrics. Although I love that album, I wanted it to be less obvious. I wanted to do things in music that when people heard them, they wouldn’t recognise what was going on.
Greg Scorzo: What’s interesting about a lot of early 20th century art is how radical it still seems. It was the first art that was either non-representational or that involved surrealistic juxtapositions of images. It went against the grain of realism, which was the dominant school of thinking in art throughout most of western history. Did you find this turn away from realism something that connected with you?
Boyd Rice: Well, I think the turn away from realism appeals to the imagination. Its art that gets you thinking in ways that you wouldn’t ordinarily think. I like that because I think art should appeal to the imagination instead of just being like a photograph of something.
Greg Scorzo: When you think about great art and music being absorbed by mainstream society, do you think this is a positive thing? Is it positive for our culture to absorb radical art that appeals to the imagination?
Boyd Rice: Not necessarily. I think this kind of art appeals to a small amount of people and it’s going to be lost on a larger number of people. A number of years back I had a one man show of my black and white paintings in New York. I was introduced to all these people that were way up in the art world.
These people still sort of had this naïve idea that art was going to change the world. I’m doubtful to what extent it does. It changes the way some people look at the world but certainly not enough people to significantly change anything big. I watched these 1950s shows on the retro-channel. All of these shows were broadcast originally at a time when modern art was becoming a big huge thing everyone was aware of. Every single one of these shows has a scene where we see a beatnik café that contains some modern artist who is behaving really cooky.
All of this culture is largely ignored now. This is because so much of it is still the same as it was then. It hasn’t advanced. People are still trying to recreate Andy Warhol stuff or they’re still doing cubism that looks like the cubism people did much better in the 20s when it actually meant something.
Greg Scorzo: What do you think of the art market today? Works of modern art are being sold for incredibly huge prices to rich people and becoming comfortable adornments which display their “tastefulness” and money.
Boyd Rice: I guess it has to be that way. But the art market is taking a hit like anything else. There was a book that came out called True Colours. It was about all the best people that were supposed to be the next big thing in the art world about 25 years ago. Their works were being sold for a ton of money and now most of them are virtually worthless. That gallery system still goes on today but I don’t think it can sustain itself. I don’t think there are that many people today collecting art compared to previous periods. In the art market you just see the same thing people have been doing for decades. I don’t know how people still get excited about a lot of that stuff. There’s a guy who just did a big gallery show in Australia where his work just consisted of enlargements of photographs of people’s assholes. Somehow shit was involved. A friend of mine posted on Facebook about how this is what the art world today has become: Assholes and Shit.
This is been going on for years. Everybody in the art world sort of accepts this stuff that’s intrinsically uninteresting. It doesn’t appeal to the imagination. It’s not inspirational. You can tell that the artist is just hoping to strike it rich. There are so many artists doing this. When I see any art that stands out for being interesting, I’m shocked. Most of it is just crap. When I had my one man show, somebody told me that my paintings were the first paintings that had engaged him in a long time. You can’t really tell what they are and some people think they’re photographs. He told me most of the people would go this gallery, walk around the room, glance at the paintings and then leave pretty quickly. He said with my show, people would walk in and actually stand in front of each painting and look at them for a long time, trying to figure out what was going on. He said that was really rare. Most of the paintings in that gallery were just weird colours on canvas. That doesn’t really engage a person. There’s nothing to think about. There’s nothing that causes you to pause and think, “What’s going on here? This is fascinating!”
When most people look at the work of any artist, they think, “Why did this person do this?” I think in most cases, the answer is that the person WANTED to be an artist.
Greg Scorzo: Do you think we can ever go back to the spirit of how things were in the 20s? That was a time when visual art culture was almost uniformly radical and engaging and exciting. Do you think something like that could exist in today’s visual art culture?
Boyd Rice: I seriously have my doubts. With a lot of the stuff I do, I can see some of that spirit. When I started out, I consciously wanted to create something that didn’t look like anything else anyone had ever done before. But when you go to art college, you’re schooled about the entire history of 20th century art. When you have that education, you’re more likely to think, “I wanna do something like Marcel Duchamp!”
There’s a ton of people trying to recreate Jackson Pollack. Even more people will take a picture of somebody famous in bright colours and think they are re-inventing Andy Warhol. Of course, they aren’t. When I was a kid growing up, Andy Warhol made a huge impression on the culture. People were just confused by him. They had absolutely no idea what to make of what he was doing. Now when you a see a painting in that style, you know exactly what to make of it: Somebody went to art college. Andy Warhol is a famous artist. This person wants to be the next Andy Warhol and they’re not going to be because they don’t have the imagintinon. There’s really not a situation where they are encouraged to create anything new.
I think this is also true in music. People send me their CDs of their bands and every couple of weeks I get a neo-folk album that sounds like somebody listened to too much Death in June music. There’s the exact same “Death in June” chords and instrumentation, more or less. The creativity isn’t there because they didn’t create the form of that music. Douglas Pierce created that form. You can have a thousand people trying to reproduce that form and some of it’s “very good.” But you hear it and you think, “Here’s somebody who likes Death and June and wanted to re-create it.” Now on the other hand, every once in a while, somebody sends me something which is like nothing I have ever heard before. If they include their contact information, I’ll try and get ahold of them. There was this kid who lived with his parents in Florida. I called him up because I was so impressed with what he sent me. People send me their noise music all the time. I’ve been getting cassettes of noise music since the early 80s. I get stuff now that sounds like cassettes that I got in 1982. When I hear somebody who has taken that format and done something radically different with it, I’m shocked. Noise music is an easy genre to replicate without being innovative or imaginative.
Today, you don’t have to write music. A friend of mine has an App on his phone that actually creates noise music. You just press a couple of buttons and it creates noise music that’s literally as good or as bad as any noise music that fans send me CDs of. When I started out, the noise music genre didn’t really exist. I had to say, “I want to create this kind of music. What steps do I have to take in order to create this kind of music?” I couldn’t just go to the music store and order a sampler over the counter. Synthesizers existed but they were extremely expensive and they all sounded like synthesizers. In the early days, friends of mine in Dusseldorf left me alone in their studio and they said, “Here Boyd. Here are all our synthesizers and here is our recording equipment. You can record here while we are on vacation.” This was my first chance to work with synthesizers. No matter what I did with these synths, the end result always sounded like synthesizers. My goal was to create something that you couldn’t quite place. You’d hear it and go, “What is that sound?” When you do something like that, it’s evocative. But when you do an ordinary recording with guitars that sound like guitars, drums that sound like drums, and synths that sound like synths, it’s way less interesting.
With the early synths, to get a sound, you’d have to move a million different knobs. Finding the sound again was very difficult. I knew people who were great at programming sounds on those early keyboards. They would get the perfect sound that they wanted and if the cat ran over the keyboard, they might never find that sound again even if they spent the rest of their lives working on it.
Greg Scorzo: Yeah, that’s something that a lot of the early synth pioneers like Morton Subotnick and Wendy Carlos have talked about. When you think of technology today (all the user friendly apps and file sharing social media), do you think it actually discourages musicians from being creative in ways that the early synth pioneers were?
Boyd Rice: Absolutely. If you can go in and push a button and get something that satisfactorily re-creates a sound you’ve just heard, why would you be creative? I don’t think most people are terribly creative anyway. I got into art and music because I wanted to exercise that muscle. I wanted to explore my own creativity and push the boundaries of my own creativity. I don’t think most people who do noise music or even abstract music are motivated by that. They hear music within those genres and think, “Oh wow. I could do something like that.” That’s what they set out to do. Something like music they like. They never say to themselves, “I want to create something that nobody’s ever heard before.”
Greg Scorzo: It’s interesting to think about what role conventional education plays in that. There’s loads of courses you can take on art or music or history. You can take courses on how to master various new technologies. Yet none of those courses seem to emphasise the importance of using that knowledge to express something which is original and evocative. You’re never encouraged to take knowledge you get from education and do something which changes the way that knowledge will be taught to kids in the future. You’re always encouraged to carry on some kind of tradition.
Boyd Rice: Of course. But I think even in the best of times, there has never been that much originality in or out of conventional education. There was a thing on the news a few years ago where people were saying, “Let’s celebrate 200 years of the blues!” I saw that and I just laughed. 200 years of the blues? That’s a musical genre where there isn’t a lot of stuff going on. Every song you hear has the exact same chords and nearly the exact same riffs. I was watching some HBO program where at the end they always throw on some blues song because the show is trying to celebrate “authentic music.” But every song always winds up sounding the same. The melody sounds the same. The lyrics are always the same. The lyrics of every song are always something like “I was tryin’ to eat some strychnine. But I heard it works too slow. Whoa mama..I was thinking about eatin’ some strychnine. But I heard it works too slow.” How many times can you hear that formula over and over again?
Greg Scorzo: Well, that HBO show is using a very limited definition of what Blues music is. Somebody could say that your album God and Beast (1997) is just a more contemporary version of Blues music. I know this sounds weird but it’s not that much of a stretch to think of your music as actually representing where the Blues tradition is today. It’s only strange to think that way because very few Blues fans have an idea of the Blues which isn’t extremely narrow or period specific.
Boyd Rice: If there are interesting and radically different new forms of the Blues, I haven’t been exposed to them. Most of the Blues I’ve heard has been the same kind of Blues song that’s been sung for the last two hundred years. That seems to be what satisfies people who admire that kind of music tradition. It’s like the music I hear at the liquor store I go to. The guy who runs it is always listening to Mariachi music on some mexican station. They always play the same music I used to hear as a kid in Mexican restaurants. There’s always a part in the song where the Mariachi singer starts yelping, “Ah-HA HA HA!” like a rooster. Jesus! How many times and how many fucking decades can you listen to this exact same formula in every song? Every song is so similar that they all sound practically interchangeable. Sure, people make this same complaint about rock music. There’s some truth to that. But I think rock music is still far more diverse than traditional Blues or Mariachi music. I think you could complain that a lot of noise music sounds the same and that, to a large extent, would be pretty accurate too.
But I don’t think you could say that about my music because much of what’s on God and Beast isn’t like my last album. What’s on my last album isn’t like what was on the album before it. That album isn’t like the material on my first album. I always very consciously try and make every album different from the last one. After God and Beast came out in 1997, everybody wanted me to do another God and Beast. They would say, “Oh, I love this album! Do another one!” I could have done another God and Beast blind folded with my hands tied behind my back. But I thought if I’m going to to do another record, it should be a departure from what what I’ve done before.
Greg Scorzo: It sounds like one of the main things that motivates you is the possibility of doing something that defies expectations. Why that’s interesting to me is you grew up in the 60s. That was a time where the desire to defy expectations was suddenly a huge, widespread cultural trend for the first time. How do you see the 60s now, looking back on it? Do you see that culture as a big influence on you or is it something you would rather be more critical of?
Boyd Rice: Well, it’s hard for me to define the 60s like that. For me, it was the best of times and the worst of times. We’re still living with a lot of the fall out from the 60s in terms of mainstreaming concepts that were fundamental to Judeo-Christianity. I’m thinking of concepts like “love” and “equality”, “world peace”, and bullshit like that. At a certain point, all those ideas were the Gospel of Christ. Then everybody who was cool decided to turn their back on organised religion in the 60s. But not the religious ideas. Those ideas have stayed with us. Even today, people are still buying into the same ideas The Beatles were promoting about “love” and “world peace.” The Beatles that are alive are still promoting those ideas. They should know better by now. They should have learned their lesson.
I was just at a gun show and there was a T-shirt that said, “While you’re waiting for world peace, I’ll keep you covered.” That hit the nail on the head. People are still waiting (idiotically) for world peace. When is it going to happen? I was just in a restaurant the other day when they were playing “Imagine” by John Lennon. In that song, he’s singing about peace going, “I hope some day you’ll join us and the world will live as one.” I’m thinking, “Really?” How could people still buy into this crap, forty years later.
Greg Scorzo: When you say you’re sceptical of things like “love” and “equality” and “world peace”, do you mean you’re literally against those things? Do you wish that they didn’t exist?
Boyd Rice: No, I’m just certain that world peace never will exist. It never has existed. I’ve written in my book No (2009; Heartwork Press) that the only time peace has existed in any region of the world is when you have a despot who is fearsome enough to impose it. He has to be fearsome enough that people are afraid of him and they follow all the rules.
Vlad the Impaler is a good example of a despot who was effective at generating peace in his region. There was peace in his kingdom except for the people that he impaled. Trying to get peace in the entire world like that is impossible. Maybe you could in some Islamic country but not in the West. Peace doesn’t just exist by itself. There has to be somebody to impose it. Somebody who says “you’ll be stoned to death” or “your head will be cut off unless you do what we say.” Is that peace? If you like that kind of peace, move to Iran.
Greg Scorzo: That’s interesting. It suggests that if world peace did improbably arise, it would arise only because everyone is being oppressed by someone. It makes “peace” sound like a nice PC word for giving up the fight against that oppression.
Boyd Rice: Yeah, it’s like Oswald Spengler said. Even if all the high minded people in the world would agree that world peace is the optimum condition, there still wouldn’t be peace. There would be somebody, a few rungs below them on the ladder who would think that they weren’t getting their fair share. The people on the bottom would want to take what the people on the top have, forcibly and with violence. Even if you had 90 percent of the people saying “We want world peace,” you’d still have 10 percent of the people left over saying, “We want what we have coming to us. If you don’t give it to us, we’re going to take it from you.” So no, I don’t think world peace will ever exist. It almost seems like the more people want it, the less it exists.
Everybody in the US wants peace. They don’t want the hometown boys to go off and die on foreign soil. Yet even under peacenick presidents, you still have people going off to war and you still have people being blown to bits. You still have bloodshed. This is coming from a country that’s constantly saying, “We want peace! We want peace!”
Greg Scorzo: Maybe we should re-prioritise our goals. Instead of having world peace as a goal, maybe there should be some other goal which is more feasible than world peace but which does many of the same things we want world peace to do. Have you thought about what a more feasible goal than world peace might be?
Boyd Rice: I wouldn’t want a “goal.” I would just want pragmatism; a recognition of the way the world operates. We should just say, “Ok, this is the situation we have and let’s make the best of it.” The United States has been in a position to do away with a lot of things that lead to strife in the world and we never do it. At the end of World War 2, after defeating Hitler, the military wanted to keep going and defeat the Russians. We could have done that and Russia could have been part of the United States. But the government stepped in and said, “Oh, no. We aren’t going to do that.” We could also do away with the problems in the Middle East. We could use our own natural resources and alternate forms of energy. If we did that, we wouldn’t be dependent on mid-east oil. But the heads of government constantly create a situation where we are dependent on this oil. The people in the Middle East wouldn’t have any power without that oil. We could stop using it this year and those people would be fucked.
We have the capacity to have a pretty huge say in what goes in the world. But we don’t use it because we always have to have a situation where there is an enemy and we’re (eventually) at war with this enemy. There always has to be some new enemy. I don’t know what the enemy is going to be after people get tired of Islam, but it will just be something else.
Greg Scorzo: That’s interesting. You’ve said earlier that you weren’t just skeptical of world peace but you were also skeptical of 60s notions of “love”, and “equality.” Where do you think the 60s went wrong in embracing and promoting its vision of equality?
Boyd Rice: I think equality is not a demonstrable aspect of life. You can’t show me any two dogs that are equal. You can’t show me any two human beings that are equal. It’s just part of the charade of democracy where a populace will be satisfied if you tell them they are all equal and that anyone can grow up to be president of the United States. That’s clearly not true.
What I was told in elementary school was that in the United States, any boy can grow up to be president. Notice they said, “any boy”, not “anybody.” I always thought “Is that really true? Can anybody really be president?” I can’t see it. I interact with people every day who could never be president of the United States. Even if they had help with a campaign that had a huge amount of funding behind it, they would still never be president.
As long as people assume unreflectively that everybody’s equal, they’re going to go through life constantly being disappointed. I think people deep down, know that they are not equal to some CEO who makes billions of dollars every month. They couldn’t compete against that person no matter how equal everybody tried to make social or economic conditions. I also think most people recognise that there are people beneath them who just aren’t capable of the things they are capable of. The people below resent the people above because the people above are better than the people below. It’s easy to say, “there is no such thing as better or worse.” But people are very obviously more clever than other people. When that happens, the clever people are going to be resented. Then the clever people get resentful of the people who have more capabilities than they do. It’s like we’re all locked in a cage together. The people at the bottom look up at the people in the middle with hatred and the people in the middle and the people at the top look down on the people at the bottom.
Greg Scorzo: Do you think there are any ways in which all human beings are equal?
Boyd Rice: Death and taxes (laughs). We all have to eat. We all have to use the toilet. But as I’ve said many times, fifty pounds of lead is not equal to fifty pounds of gold. If you think they are, what do you mean by equal? There you are in territory where you are dealing with some very abstract concept of equality that’s not relevant to anything.
Greg Scorzo: Don’t you think treating people fairly involves assuming that we are all equal to each other in at least some ways? Maybe these ways are not so much about having completely equal capacities as they are about needing equal oppurtunities and rights.
Boyd Rice: I don’t believe in rights. I think you have the right to take and the rights that you make. To imagine people innately have rights is just another false abstraction that it’s efficient for democracies to parade on slogans. In reality, people have “rights” as long as some boss or some government chooses not to take them away. Governments and bosses are good at finding loop holes that stop people below them from being able to act on their “rights.” I don’t see rights as having anything to do with treating people fairly. I treat people fairly. But then there are some people who are just uncivil and disprespectful. With their behaviour, they are literally asking you to treat them like shit. I treat everybody well until they demonstrate to me that they don’t deserve to be treated well. Then I treat them like whatever they are. They get from me what they give to me.
Greg Scorzo: That’s interesting to me because if that’s true, in at least one way, you are treating them all equally.
Boyd Rice: (Laughs) Yeah, that’s true. Maybe equality exists on a sliding scale.
Greg Scorzo: Speaking of sliding scales, let’s talk about “Love.” There’s a song that you’ve done from 1995 called “Love will Change the World.”
I’ve always felt the lyrics in that song were very powerful. They strike a strong chord with me because they make me want to ask the following question: Is it ever possible for a human to love in a way where their critical faculties are never affected in a negative way? Do you think that you can be a human and love and still be as discerning as you would be without that love?
Boyd Rice: Yeah, of course. But it’s dependent upon a lot of precondtions. I’ll admit I’m in love right now. At the age of 56 I got married and I’ve been with my wife for four years. I love her, she loves me and that’s worked very well for me. But I don’t think love is the answer to everything. Love is a very rare, precious commodity and if you spread it too thin, it ceases to be love. You can say the same thing about hate. It’s good to be cogniscent of hate but you can’t hate everybody because you’re “into hate.” Similiarly, you can’t just “love everybody” because you’re “into love.” That won’t work. Not everybody merits your love. There are people out there who are pieces of shit who want to lie about you. They want to cause you harm. You really don’t benefit by loving such people, despite the “love thine enemy” slogan.
Greg Scorzo: Do you think loving unloveable people sometimes makes them better people? In other words, could choosing to love someone who isn’t very loveable make them, in the long run, much more lovable than they started out?
Boyd Rice: No, I don’t think that could ever happen. It’s like being generous to people. You should be generous to people who deserve your generosity. If you’re generous to the wrong kind of people they just take it for granted and they take advantage of you. They use your good impulses to screw you over essentially.
Greg Scorzo: How would you apply that view to babies, for instance? Do you think it’s wrong to love babies and small children because they can’t deserve love in the way that adults do?
Boyd Rice: That’s a whole different thing because it’s part of our evolutionary adaptation to love and protect our children when they are babies. That’s how we survive. It has nothing to do with what babies or small children deserve. Personally, I can momentarily enjoy someone else’s baby. I can hold them and they can be cute for a few minutes. But when they shit their pants, I can hand them back to the parents. The parents have to deal with that stuff and I don’t have to deal with it. I can just appreciate the cuteness. Having said that, a lot of babies I don’t even find very cute. Maybe that’s true of most babies, come to think of it. I probably shouldn’t go into my feelings about babies (laughs).
Greg Scorzo: (Laughs) It’s ok. I don’t get excited by babies either.
Boyd Rice: Yeah. I just don’t find babies as cute as other people do. I can’t understand the irresistable charm people see in babies. I can in a few cases, but not that many. Every human being who has a baby is in love with their baby. But having a baby doesn’t take that much talent. You don’t have to get a license to do it. You don’t have to pass an intelligence test. Anybody can have a baby but everybody thinks their baby is the cutest baby in the world. When I see a hidiously ugly baby and I see the two parents who think it’s the most beautiful baby that’s ever lived on earth, that’s when I know their feelings are just hard wired to be that way.
Greg Scorzo: Speaking of babies, let’s go back to the youth of the baby boomers: the 60s. So far, you’ve been quite critical of many things that are still fashionable that came out of the 60s. Is there anything positive about the 60s that you think we can learn from today?
Boyd Rice: I think design was good (laughs). Architecture was good. The cars were better. Some television was better. I think the thing that I liked about the 60s was the idea in the air about progress. Things were getting better. We were going into outer space. The most modern buildings that still exist are those buildings that were built during the 60s when “progress” was still very important to the people making the buildings. People had the notion that everything you made could reflect progress. When I was a kid and I went into a laundromat, the chairs in the laundromat looked futuristic. They were made out of fiber glass and they looked like something from the Jetson’s house. A lot of things were like that. Every year you would go to see models of cars and they looked completely different than the year before because they were improving every year. They were looking more modern, more futuristic.
At a certain point, there was a disappointing change. It was a phenomena that reminded me of a bunch of stray dogs living in a pack on an airport runway. At first, they all look like a bunch of different dogs but after a number of different years, they all start interbreeding. After a few generations, the dogs wind up looking like the same kind of ugly mongrel dog. I think that’s a pretty good metaphor for what’s happened to a lot of stuff in our culture since the 60s. At a certain point, cars started to look more and more similar. Now, I can’t tell a really expensive car from a really cheap piece of shit car.
They all look the same. There’s no design there. There’s nothing in their form that differentiates them from any other car. Having lived as long as I have, I’ve seen this process start. Now it’s completely dominant. I can watch an old TV show like The Highway Patrol that’s from the 50s. They’re driving down these streets in Los Angeles and every car looks different. You can watch and go, “Oh, that’s a Dodge! That’s a Chevrolet! That’s a Buick!” If they filmed that same program now with today’s cars, you wouldn’t be able to tell what car was what. I think a lot of popular culture have just gone that way. There’s a sameness that’s depressing.
Greg Scorzo: It suggests that the 60s hope in the future played a major role in generating the creativity and individuality that we associate with the 60s. It seems like when that hope in the future died, a lot of the originality and creativity of that era died as well. How do you think we can get hopeful and excited again about the future today?
Boyd Rice: I don’t know if that’s possible. “Hope” is such a meaningless word. It can be thrown around so much. We’ve seen with our current President how much hope is good for. He had all the people hoping but hope means nothing.
Greg Scorzo: Right.
Boyd Rice: In a way, we have more “futuristic stuff” than anybody would have imagined in the 60s, but the world still doesn’t look futuristic. Everybody has a cell phone. I could look on my phone now and see your image. That’s like Dick Tracy.
Greg Scorzo: Or Star Trek!
Boyd Rice: Right. We can talk on these phones without phone lines and that’s futuristic. There are so many things that are like the future but the world doesn’t interpret them as being futuristic. The world isn’t interested in the future today. It seems like the idea of “the future” died, decades and decades ago. It’s like we’re just stuck with what we have.
Greg Scorzo: One of the things I’ve noticed about your work that seems very much in the spirit of the 60s (and Frank Zappa, in particular) is it’s disdain for mainstream norms and culture. But it’s disdainful in a way that seems very foreign and alienating to people today. Why do you think people today have such a hard time criticising other people for being ordinary and mainstream? That critique of “squares” was still pretty predominant during the late 70s when you first started releasing records. It was a big part of punk and post-punk culture. Now, critiquing squares is seen as arrogant and narcissistic.
Boyd Rice: I think there’s an irony there. The youth culture of the 60s and 70s was very pompous and self-righteous and elitist. During that time, you had a whole generation of kids thinking that they were right and the adults were wrong. It was like a kind of religious fanaticism. That counter-culture really thought they had all the answers. But the irony is the kids who came up with all of that stuff are in their 60s now. Those freedoms that they thought to be in opposition to “squares” are now part of popular culture. The hated “normal people” have absorbed most of that counter-culture. This fact makes the baby boomer generation now look silly. But I can see where they were coming from. There’s always a need to point at somebody else and go, “This person is the ordinary, boring asshole. I am the cool and interesting vanguard!” That’s just part of human nature.
Nowadays you have people who want to ostracise anyone who might conceivably be a racist. Doing that makes those people feel good about themselves. But I think it’s built into our culture that unless someone is doing something out of the norm like being a racist, you’re not supposed to talk shit about other people. If you do, you’re thought of as a bad person. You can only be a good person if you talk shit about people when they do horrible things everybody can easily agree are horrible. The people you talk shit about have to demonstrably be, “the bad guy.” The truth is, I don’t think there are any “bad guys.” I also don’t think there are any “good guys.” The people I personally know who are the most against “the bad guys” certainly aren’t good people. They’re pieces of shit.
I know somebody whose whole family is involved in humanitarian work. They go to save the children in fucking Africa and they do all this other human rights shit. They think they’re saving the world. The members of their own family they treat like shit, they lie to, and they trash talk behind their backs. They have this vision of themselves as being good people. They aren’t good people. They’re fucking pieces of shit. They’re examples of the worst kind of human beings. But they can pat themselves on the back because they think they are out in the world doing good. They think that treating somebody in Africa nice is better than treating someone in their own family nice. They’re nicer to poor people they see on the street than they are to each other.
Greg Scorzo: Would you say these people are exhibiting a kind of inauthenticity?
Boyd Rice: Yeah, I see most people as inauthentic. But what is authentic? That’s a hard question to answer. You had people during punk rock who would go, “I’m a real punk rocker. Everybody else is a faker. Everybody else is a poser. I’m for real.” In a lot of cultures, there is high value given to someone who is “for real.” I’m still not sure what that means. The authentic people I’ve met are people like Tiny Tim or Anton LaVey. But when people come up to me on the street and tell me they are “for real,” I doubt it. I haven’t met too many people who strike me as being terribly authentic in any way.
Greg Scorzo: How do you think one goes about being authentic?
Boyd Rice: I guess just being absolutely true to your own nature, whatever that is.
You can be an asshole and be authentic. You can be a sweet person and be authentic. When you’re too much aware of your authenticity you can be annoyingly self-conscious. When you get like that, you’ll never be authentic (laughs).
Greg Scorzo: Maybe it’s a bit like dancing. The more you think about your foot movements, the more clunky they get.
Boyd Rice: Yes, it’s like dancing or bowling.