Jack Grisham’s reputation has always preceded him. If you were attending punk rock shows in the early-’80s, you knew who he was — even if you never saw him on stage. While violence was an organic element of the early So Cal punk scene, Grisham — the singer for T.S.O.L. and, later, Cathedral of Tears and Tender Fury — was known to take things beyond what he once referred to as “healthy hooliganism.” He was a self-described sadist with sociopathic tendencies. A tall drink of water with a face that could melt the polar caps — without benefit of global warming — his bad deeds were legend. The diabolical, sun-kissed surfer with a taste for pain — mostly yours — also enjoyed wearing women’s clothes on occasion, and once kicked out a fan’s eyeball with the sharpened spurs on his cowboy boots. As with many of his colleagues, the path of his destruction eventually led to sobriety, his lust for power and gratification traded in for the desire to serve others. At 49, he still surfs and periodically performs with T.S.O.L. When he’s not busy with speaking engagements and his hypnotherapy practice, he is writing. His book An American Demon (2011, ECW Press) has received critical praise — rightfully so. As a singer, Grisham is competent, as a writer, he is gifted. An American Demon is a literary achievement that stands apart from the slew of punk-related nonfiction that’s been in demand for the past decade. Grisham will read from his book, tell stories and answer questions when he appears at Zoey’s on Saturday. He spoke with VCReporter as he traveled the greater Los Angeles area highways last week (using a hands-free device, of course).
VCReporter: Who should play you in the movie?
Jack Grisham: Someone said I should get Adam Lambert. I have an 11-year-old daughter and I told her Justin Bieber just signed on to play young Jack in the movie. She got all bummed out. I have thought about it. If they ever end up doing a movie, I want them to do it with someone unknown.
You stress that the book is a memoir, not an autobiography. How much artistic license did you exercise?
Sadly, not much. I wish that was the case, but pretty much all those stories are true. The book is written like circumstantial evidence. I took the stories that were true and instead of lying about the stories, I lied about why the stories happened. I could say, you and I are talking on the phone, and that’s true. But I could say we’re talking on the phone because we’re planning to bomb the Pentagon. That’s the lie. I wrote the lie around the truth. If you look into mythology, demons and angels are not allowed to make any moves unless they’re directed by God or Satan. So they’re without emotions. At the start of the book it says the Hebrews called the angels “those who stand still.” That’s true. They called them that because they couldn’t make a move without God telling them what to do. I used the demon persona because it was like being completely without feeling. My selfishness and self-centeredness was pushed to such an extreme that it became sociopathic and then like a demon. And when I started to care about others, that’s when I turned human and gained the ability to feel.
When these things were happening in your life, you didn’t actually regard yourself as demonic?
Yeah, I did. There were some abuse issues — and big deal, whatever, fuck it. I’m not blaming my parents for anything, it’s not that kind of a book. But in some of those abuse situations, the kid actually thinks they’re being abused because they’re bad and they deserve it. That’s standard for child abuse. They don’t want to be removed from the house even though they’re getting abused because they think they deserve it. So that’s why I ran through the symptoms of child abuse and said, “No, no, no, I’m not being abused, I’m a demon. This is why I can’t sleep, this is why I’m shitting myself, because I’m a demon not because I’m being sexually abused.”
Was it cathartic to write the book?
It was almost the opposite. I basically had to self-destruct to write it. My older daughter, who’s 23, got together with some friends of mine, and they did an intervention on me during the writing of the book because they thought I’d actually lost my mind. It got really dark and I had to separate myself to relive what it was like to be that violent and to be that disconnected from people. And to relive that pain. At the end, did I feel a sense of accomplishment? I remember a small feeling washing over me but it was more a feeling of “It’s done” not “Thank God that’s over.”
Had you already worked through it psychologically via 12-step?
I’ve been sober a little over 22 years, so a lot of the stuff has been worked through, but I always tell people, once you total a car it’s totaled. You can take it to the shop and they can straighten out the frame, but the son of a bitch still goes down the street cockeyed. So, yeah, did I go to a lot of therapy and do grief work and get sober and get cleaned up? Yes I did, but like some people say, that demon never really goes too far from beneath the skin.
At the end of the book, God challenges you to find him. Did you?
The book ends with defiance. The book ends on a beginning, basically. The demon being completely unconnected — and I was kind of diagnosed a bit with detachment syndrome — with no real attachment to family. So in the spirit, the connection was what was important. Like me being connected to my daughter, to let someone in. To allow myself to be hurt and love someone and not worry about the pain. That’s why, at the end of the book, it said I’m going to see my daughter. The demon doesn’t realize that is where God comes from, through the connection. It’s like, “I’m never going to look for you, but I will go see my daughter.” So there is some of the character not really understanding what’s happening. A lot of the Hebrews believe Satan isn’t really a person as much as it is an inclination of man to serve himself. So the God character in the book is the part of me that wants to be connected and serve others. The Satan character is the part of me that only wants to serve myself.
What are your battles today?
If you look at the end of the book in the acknowledgments, I just went through being homeless. I just got an apartment July 4. I’d lived in an office for two years. No shower, no kitchen. I was taking showers at the state beach. I just went through a divorce, my first wife died of a drug overdose — nothing that doesn’t happen to everyone. I mean, I still deal with “Where’s mine, where’s mine, where’s mine?” You know what I mean? Of course, it’s not anything like it used to be, but it’s still there. It’s the same stuff humans have been dealing with for thousands of years: self pity, pride, all that crap. Martin Luther King said, “Today we’ve got guided missiles and misguided men.” Technology may change and grow but we can’t grow out of our emotions.
How did you become interested in hypnosis?
I got hypnotized about 20 years ago. I used to get on stage with a cocktail in my hand. I’d throw a couple of cocktails in me and then I’d get on stage and I’d be all relaxed and calm. And when I stopped getting loaded I realized what a geek I was. And then I tried to get on stage and my ass is all tight. It felt like I was walking out of a store without buying anything. Like I’d just shoplifted. (Laughs.) So I went in and got hypnotized to take that away. It worked great, unbelievably.
Any plans to run for public office again?
I don’t know. I’m getting older, I’m more mellowed out, things are changing. I think this book hasn’t helped me politically either.
You could probably do more good doing what you already do.
I thought of that quite a lot. I don’t care if you start off with passion and fire and bold and idealistic, but once you go through the line of having to kiss all those asses and having to be broken down little by little — what you’re allowed to say, what you’re not allowed to say, where you have to be — basically, by the time you get to the point of doing any good, you’re really no different than anybody else.
What’s the biggest misconception about you?
Some people think that a lot of people just kiss my ass and agree with me. It really fuckin’ hurts. I don’t have many close, close friends because of this. Some people, they may want to be my close friend — they think that by arguing with me about everything I say, in some way they’re doing the job of a good friend to save me from the people who kiss my ass. (Laughs.) You can’t swallow all the praise and you can’t swallow all the criticism.
What’s the biggest myth about punk rock?
That people think that all of those guys were punks. There’s even a part in the book where it talks about real punk rock isn’t pretty. These are people that can’t get along in society, that end up dead, being in jail. They can’t toe the line, hold real jobs. These are people that struggle. Basically, they’re doomed.
Do you still enjoy wearing women’s clothes?
They don’t fit me as well as they used to, but yes, I still favor skirts.
Jack Grisham will read from his book and answer questions on Saturday, Aug. 13, 7 p.m. at Zoey’s Café. For more information about Grisham or his book, visit www.jackgrisham.com.