By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By RFT Music
By Christian Schaeffer
By Gabriel San Roman
The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently. -- Nietszche, The Dawn, 1881
The Japanese have a saying along the lines of "the nail that stands out the highest will be hammered down the hardest." Musician/writer Boyd Rice has experienced more than his share of hammering over the course of his career, but he refuses to bend to the pressure. He has been vilified by the Religious Right for his position as a magister in Anton LaVey's Church of Satan, pilloried by the liberal left for his support of "aesthetic" (nonpolitical) fascism, criticized by the music press for a perceived lack of musical talent and his interest in unhip artists like Tiny Tim and the Partridge Family, and labeled a "bad influence" in general by the German magazine Der Spiegel.
These attacks on his character and philosophy overshadow the fact that as an artist, Rice has created a body of work that is as iconoclastic and intellectually broad as anything written by the Beats, free-jazz impresarios, Oscar Wilde, the Marquis de Sade or the authors of the Declaration of Independence. His artistic output exemplifies the American ideal of rugged individualism while proving that nonconformity inspires the same amount of suspicion and ignorant violence in the Land of the Free as it does in the Land of the Rising Sun. Of course, if you write a song titled "Let's Hear It for Violence Towards Women," as Rice did on his Hatesville album, well, folks are bound to react with a little hostility. But that particular number is just one moment from a career that has simultaneously plumbed the depths of lovely hate songs and expanded the horizon of hateful love songs.
Since the late 1970s, Rice's albums --many released under the name Non -- have explored wildly diverse avenues of personal expression. From the austere, martial power-drones of Blood and Flame (1986) through Music, Martinis and Misanthropy's unlikely marriage of lounge music and social-Darwinist lyrics (1989) to his collaboration with Rose McDowall on an album of emotionally charged cover songs of '60s-era pop (Season in the Sun), Boyd Rice has seemingly defied both convention and common sense. How can a musician attract an audience if he leaps from genre to genre? The truth is, Rice has maintained a thematic focus in his music that both carefully cultivates and remains true to his original audience -- himself.
"When I started NON," he says during an early-morning phone conversation from his home in Denver, "I wanted to create music for myself and for other outsiders. There was no one making music I was interested in, so I made my own." This drive to satisfy an audience of one is the spark for his latest album, Receive the Flame (Mute). "I took a long time recording it. I wanted it originally to be sound portraits of famous people, but it mutated into this other thing. The themes on the album represent my concerns of the past few years -- for example, "Solitude." I was too involved in other people's lives, and I just wanted to lock myself in my room and experience solitude, pure bliss.... I have this album, Blood and Flame. People always ask me, 'When are you going to do another album like Blood and Flame?' I think this one is a lot like that one. It has the same minimalist ideas, but this is the first time I used only real instruments."
Those real instruments include electric guitar, brass, organ and electric violin, but combined with Rice's minimalist ideas, they blend into sounds both familiar and strange. "Alpha," the album's opening track, bursts into life with a portentous swell of multilevel drone fields, as if a half-dozen symphony orchestras were tuning concurrently. The hammered, staccato chord loops of "Spectre" are reminiscent of the straight-line rhythms that made up Phil Spector's monomaniacal "wall of sound" arrangements for the Ronettes, welded to the rising shriek of a turbine engine. The aforementioned "Solitude" is a slowly revolving carousel of organ, strings and percussion (castanets, maybe?) that somehow sounds more like bells than the sum of its parts should allow. By the time you reach "Omega," the final track, the drones and howls and rushes at beauty that stream through Receive the Flame have grown to monolithic proportions, then descend in pitch until they flicker from existence. The journey is wordless, uncluttered by lyrics or even voices, a panorama of intuitive data that conveys as much about Rice's beliefs as any manifesto or essay he has written.
At the core of those beliefs is a personal pursuit of balance. To achieve that balance, Rice has willfully explored the darkest parts of himself and recorded them for posterity. He has spoken publicly about his "harsh, Satanic philosophy." He has praised Hitler's attempts at a pagan revival. Yet he has also recorded early love songs by Nancy Sinatra and Dolly Parton and extolled the virtues of Martin Denny's exotic lounge compositions. In a 1999 interview with journalist Gavin Baddeley, he stated, "I believe God is a balance of good and evil, a creative and destructive force that underlies everything in the universe." Asked to elaborate on that idea of intertwined good and evil, Rice says, "You can't go all the way to one extreme or the other. You end up becoming what Jung called a one-sided person. You need to find a balance between the two ends."