Few figures in industrial culture have cast a longer shadow, or provoked more controversy, than Boyd Rice and his musical project NON. His earliest noise recordings were startlingly innovative, playing with the physical possibilities of the vinyl medium. In 1977, he self-released the so-called ‘Black Album’, a vinyl record playable at any speed. 1977 also saw the appearance of the Mode Of Infection / Knife Ladder single-sided 7” record, which featured multiple axis holes for various playback possibilities, and Pagan Muzak, which had 17 locked grooves for unlimited duration. These formalist avant-garde experiments soon led to Boyd Rice being the first artist signed by the seminal English label Mute Records – and Boyd remains a Mute artist to this day. Throughout the 1980s, NON’s work was nearly all instrumental noise, but the late 80s and early 90s saw Boyd Rice becoming a vocal media spokesman for Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan, and NON albums such as 1992’s In The Shadow Of The Sword and 1995’s Might! included disturbing occult fascist symbolism and lyrics espousing Social Darwinist, anti-Christian and anti-democratic ideologies, leading to the vilification of Boyd Rice as an apologist for fascism, if not outright Nazism. The 90s and early 2000s also saw the release of a number of collaborative albums featuring Boyd with various friends, including Albin Julius of Der Blutharsch, Douglas P. of Death In June and Rose McDowall of Strawberry Switchblade. Later NON works have reverted to the pure noise of his earlier output, largely focused on esoteric and occult themes (of which more later).
In addition to his musical output, Boyd Rice has been a prolific writer and journalist, and Standing In Two Circles represents the first systematic effort to present the many different aspects of his work outside music. The book opens with an introduction, preface and 31-page biography of Boyd Rice by editor Brian Clark – the biographical section in particular makes interesting reading, as it goes into the topics mentioned in the brief summary given above in considerably more detail and includes many photographs.
After this preliminary material comes the main part of the book – 33 essays and texts by Boyd Rice, 11 of which have been previously unpublished. There are certain recurrent themes in Boyd’s writing and thought. He has always been an aficionado of kitsch and trashy pop culture, and pieces in this vein include his essay on Mondo films, originally published in the 1986 Re/Search book Incredibly Strange Films, articles for Pop Void magazine on 60s novelty soaps and the Lawrence Welk retirement village, a previously unpublished book proposal about spin-off music LPs from popular TV series, and ‘Paradise Lost’, a nostalgic appreciation of tiki bars and the ‘exotic’ music of Martin Denny, originally published in the 1999 book Taboo: The Art Of Tiki (Boyd was in fact actively involved in the establishment of Tiki Boyd’s, a short-lived revivalist tiki bar in his home town of Denver, Colorado a couple of years ago).
There are op-ed pieces like his feminist-baiting ‘Revolt Against Penis Envy’, first published in1994 in the infamous ‘Rape’ issue of ANSWER Me! Magazine. Boyd has a reputation as a bon viveur, and so there are many alcohol-themed pieces, many of which first appeared in Modern Drunkard magazine, including personal reminiscences about drinking in East Berlin, just down the road from Checkpoint Charlie, a night in the fleshpots of Barcelona with Albin Julius, and an account of the dastardly doings of the original 18th-century Hellfire Club.
The book includes many other personal reminiscences, including reflections on Boyd’s juvenile sexual experimentation, an account of the haunted apartment he once lived in, and a disturbing piece about his youthful predilection for the kind of ‘creepy-crawl’ break-ins once popular with the Manson family. Boyd was at one time a regular visitor of Charles Manson in San Quentin prison, and one of the book’s most interesting essays is a previously unpublished 11-page piece, ‘I'll Call You Abraxas’, recounting some of the conversations they had. An enormous amount has been written about Charles Manson, much of it by sensationalist crime hacks and some of it by rabid admirers, but Boyd’s perspective is distinctive and fresh, in that he openly acknowledges Manson’s charm, intelligence and insight, without being blind to his tendencies towards manipulation and fantasy. Another important piece is Boyd’s memoir of Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey, which was originally published in the official CoS journal The Black Flame. Boyd Rice spent many long evenings in the company of the Black Pope, right up to LaVey’s death in 1997, and his reminiscences provide some insight into the man behind the saturnine publicity photos.
Undoubtedly the most controversial pieces in Standing In Two Circles, though, are the polemical pieces such as ‘The Warrior Ethic’, ‘Nature’s Eternal Fascism’, and pieces taken from an unpublished collection called ‘Physiosophy’. These pieces, mainly dating from the early to mid 1990s, reflect all the themes of the most misanthropic and controversial NON albums, with a heavy nod towards thinkers like Nietzsche, Oswald Spengler and Savitri Devi. Many or even most readers are likely to find the views expressed within these essays profoundly unsettling or distasteful, but it’s worth remembering that this is only one aspect of Boyd’s output – and not one which he seems especially interested in promoting or discussing these days. It would, I suppose, have been possible to have excluded works like this entirely from Standing In Two Circles, but then Boyd’s detractors would have decried the book as a whitewash. Boyd has never been one for explaining or apologising for his past actions, however inflammatory, so for better or worse, you’ll have to form your own opinions about these pieces.
One important area of Boyd Rice’s work which is intentionally under-represented here is his esoteric research into the Merovingian dynasty, the Cathar heresy, the Knights Templar and the Grail bloodline. Boyd became increasingly interested in these mysteries toward the end of the 1990s, when personal genealogical research seemed to indicate that his family could claim descent from the Merovingian dynasty. He began to pursue research inspired in large part by the book Holy Blood, Holy Grail – the same book which also largely inspired Dan Brown’s bestseller The Da Vinci Code. One outward manifestation of Boyd’s developing interest in this area was his adoption of the Cross of Lorraine as a replacement for the Wolfsangel runic symbol which had previously been used as a symbol for NON. The 2002 NON album Children Of The Black Sun also contained Grail imagery. Much of Boyd’s writing on these subjects was published in the now-defunct magazine Dagobert’s Revenge, and it has been collected into two books, Arcadian Mystique: The Best Of Dagobert’s Revenge Magazine, edited by Tracy Twyman, and Boyd’s own publication, The Vessel Of God. Many essays are also available online at www.thevesselofgod.com. For these reasons, it was felt unnecessary to republish most of them in Standing In Two Circles, so Boyd’s Grail mysteries research is represented here by only two pieces, ‘And To The Devil They’ll Return’, which concerns his family genealogy, and ‘The Persistence Of Memory’, which is a short previously unpublished text on ancestral recall and blood mysticism.
These collected essays are really the core of the book, but there are two further sections. The first of these is a selection of Boyd’s visual artworks. These range from the self-described ‘Actual Photographs’ created when he was still a teenager, abstract compositions depicting ‘things that don’t exist’ and produced using a secret technique, through more representational but still experimental photographs, to manipulated halftones and erotic fetish imagery. Some of these images have been used on NON and Boyd Rice releases, including the 1999 album Receive The Flame, the 2004 ambient works compilation Terra Incognita, and most recently, his untitled split vinyl release with Z’EV. The visual section concludes with some teenage abstract paintings which seem to have been produced by a combination of crumpling and spray painting. Some of this work is quite interesting, but Boyd’s visual output is by no means as innovative or compelling as his musical work. Notably absent are any of the provocative graphic images Boyd has produced under the banner of the Unpop Art movement – as Brian Clark explains in the book’s preface, these were mostly created specifically for the Unpop website and wouldn’t reproduce well in a book. Interested parties are referred to the website: www.unpopart.org, though I must confess that I find most of the work displayed there, not just Boyd’s, dispiritingly puerile and aimlessly offensive, so you have been warned.
The final section of Standing In Two Circles is a selection of lyrics and texts from Boyd’s recorded works. A lot of NON albums are entirely or almost entirely instrumental, of course, but all the words used on In The Shadow Of The Sword (1992), Might! (1995) and God & Beast (1997) are included – not only lyrics penned by Boyd himself, but also quotations and texts from other writers, including Richard Wagner, Hermann Hesse, Carl Jung, Shakespeare, Goethe and, perhaps most importantly, Ragnar Redbeard, a pseudonymous Social Darwinist writer whose 1890 book Might Is Right was a crucial influence on both Anton LaVey and Boyd Rice, providing all the texts for the Might! album as well as large sections of LaVey’s Satanic Bible. God & Beast is the best NON album, in my opinion, and having the lyrics for these songs (which are not included in the album booklet) is a real boon. And more generally, having the texts by writers other than Boyd himself provides a valuable insight into the foundations of his thinking.
Apart from the NON albums, the lyrics from Boyd’s various collaborative works are included here, including Music, Martinis And Misanthropy (1990), Hatesville! (1995), the 1996 Heaven Sent album by Scorpion Wind, Wolf Pact (2002), and Alarm Agents (2004), the final collaboration with Death In June. There’s also a round-up of Boyd Rice tracks which appeared on albums by other artists, including Current 93, Blood Axis, The Electric Hellfire Club, Der Blutharsch, Death In June and Luftwaffe among others, many of which were re-released on the compilation album The Way I Feel (2000). It would have been good if this lyrics section had concluded with a full discography, but sadly there isn’t one.
Boyd Rice – avant-garde artist, puerile prankster, acolyte of Abraxas, psychopathic stalker, sinister Satanist, Hawaiian-shirted hipster, fascist fanboy, misanthropic musician, schmaltzy sentimentalist, decadent drunk, Grail-hunter, lounge lizard, Templar initiate, bête noire of noise. Whichever image of Boyd Rice you favour, you’ll find something in Standing In Two Circles to support your view – and plenty to contradict it. Just don’t expect Boyd to agree.