Running Amok
Underground publishing eats its own
Published October 15, 1999 in Scope

Where would publishing be without the great literary feuds? Martin Amis fights with Julian Barnes, Buckley fights with Chomsky, and Gore Vidal fights with everybody else. In the moist and dark margins of the industry, feuds are routine, but in one particular squabble, the participants are well-versed in the lore of weird shit and it doesn't take much to stir up the hornet's nest.

See also...
... by Patrick Hughes
... in the Scope section
... from October 15, 1999

Long before you could seek out the fate of the foreskin or search through an Internet database on crime, Stuart Swezey's Amok Books was the source of anomalous data in America. The first Amok Dispatch, a newsprint catalog listing 300 titles on everything from conspiracy theory to Dada classics, was a loud and obnoxious monster truck on the information frontage road of 1986.

Thirteen years later, the release of the massive Fifth Dispatch reasserts Amok as the main portal to the world of arcane information. But Swezey now has some noisy competition. Other esoterrorists like Adam Parfrey and his Feral House press, Jim Goad's legendary magazine Answer ME!, and Richard Metzger's Disinformation site have all come up with variations on the subject of the disturbing and the profane.

Like the rest of the publishing industry, transgressive imprints are losing out to the Internet, as fans of the macabre turn to the Web for information once found in underground publications. Is this the last Dispatch? Is Metzger on to something big? That all remains to be seen, but Swezey's competitors are elbowing each other aside to toss the first shovel onto Amok's grave -- and throw Swezey in with the coffin.

For his part, Swezey is not afraid to defend his imprint and state his case in the seemingly endless feuds that crop up in crackpot culture. "I mean, I had a real thing with Adam Parfrey, and I wrote a letter to the LA Weekly where I called him Chicken Little, then he started wearing a Chicken Little suit to his speaking engagements."

Parfrey chuckles at the memory and offers his own reasons, "Well, I did wear a chicken suit -- not Chicken Little -- but the San Diego Chicken mascot suit. I was doing a reading in Austin, Texas, and a friend had one, so I wore it. I didn't do it because Stuart Swezey said something in a letter," he says, before tossing in a tougher criticism:

"The whole entire Amok deal is a realm I don't necessarily want to trespass into at any point. I began Feral House ten years ago and I am out of the Amok game. The real story is that Stuart had nothing to do with the first Dispatch. He was off travelling. He was not the inventor of Amok. It was his brother, Ken Swezey, in collaboration with other folk who started it."

"Am I saying I am the inventor?" Swezey complains exasperatedly. "No, Parfrey is saying I am the inventor. It was a collective of people who started the business. I'm just the one who went the distance."

Among those who were involved in the beginning was Maria Montgomery, who backs up Stuart's version of events. "I was there in 1985. We were interested in all types of information, and we thought that it would be great if there was this one source where you could find out about all this interesting stuff. Stuart came up with the idea of Amok, and worked with Ken. It was a total group thing with the rest of us."

After years of battling with the book business, you think Swezey would stay away from trouble, but he claims that trouble found him in the form of Richard Metzger. Swezey views Metzger's disinfo.com as intellectual theft, and wants to set the record straight:

"Metzger used to live in L.A., and was working for a big multimedia company called And Interactive. He'd come to the store all the time with all these ideas like starting a record label, or putting together an Amok CD-ROM. Then one day, he came back to me and says, 'Well, you know what, CD-ROMs are out, but let's do a Web site with my company. They can get you a lot of money to do it.' So I created a whole big proposal, and had meetings with various people at his company. I never really got any money out of any of it, and the next thing I know he's telling me, 'Hey, good news. We're gonna do the site, but it's gonna be my site, and it's called disinfo.com.'"

Metzger disagrees: "Stuart's a cunt! I can't believe he would say that to a reporter. He cannot be trusted just one bit. He's a gross individual. I could have hooked him up with something that would have made him so much money. Now he says that Disinformation was something that pulled the wool out from under him? I'm probably going to sue Stuart over this."

Swezey is nonplussed. "I have plenty of documents from Metzger to me about a record label that we were going to do together and it was going to be called Amok. Metzger wanted to parlay the fact that I was in RE/Search Publications' Incredibly Strange Music book into a record deal, and he wasn't able to raise the money. Then Metzger got that job at And Interactive and wanted to do a CD-ROM with me, and then a Web site with me. He ended up doing disinformation.com, using my business plan without me."

"[It] just goes to show how twisted he is," froths Metzger, "I said, 'Stuart, I'm doing this thing called Disinformation, based on my 1992 television idea.' I'm sitting here talking with big people in Hollywood like Oliver Stone, so I want to bring Stuart into this. Everybody who's ever gone into business with him hates him. There's a reason for that. He has the business instincts of a guy selling T-shirts at a Dead show, and he begrudges me because I don't. He hates me, Adam, everybody else who he thinks stole his idea. Stuart thinks because he sells William Burroughs' books that he is somehow, like, the Grand Poobah of the Underground. What a fucking asshole."

Meanwhile, Swezey has produced a documentary about rave culture called Better Living Through Circuitry, saying "I was really excited about the whole thing, because boys like psychedelic drugs, and boys like electronics -- it's a new thing." But after all the pressure, he remains committed to publishing:

"I think the book business is fucked up, but I do think that there's no better way to influence opinion or to shape the flow of cultural discourse, than publishing books."

Patrick Hughes worked in the underground publishing business for many years. He can be trusted as much as the rest of them.