Jack Grisham, singer of beach boys gone berserk TSOL, is a tour de force of American punk history still operating in full-bore form. His new memoir, An American Demon, which surveys his cataclysmic youth and early career, is not for the timid and meek.
Like a meld of Oscar Wilde's Dorian Gray with Fight Club and Clockwork Orange, he offers a savage poetry with an undertow of wit. In his lens, not-so-quiet Los Angeles suburbs become awash with dysfunction, revolt, and violence.
Yet in the end he offers a sense of recovery as well, a way to transcend personal chaos and find solace in the lurking memories.
Rocks Off: Although you are a demon, you are one damn literate demon, dropping references from Salome to Edgar Allen Poe. Is that your way of attacking - using the cloak of literature?
Jack Grisham: I'm not sure if attack is the right word here. I use references that I hope the reader will be familiar with - mining fields of emotion that have been planted for hundreds of years. The use of a known past makes a future horror more believable.
RO: Like Henry Miller and Rabelais, your book invokes poetry and ugliness, brutality and wisdom. Did you ever scare yourself when writing it?
JG: It's terrifying to look at a self that is somewhat on the edge of reality, as if my unwillingness to see the truth somehow negated it. It was hard to sleep or to think of anything else other than the writing.
I was obsessed and started to believe the worst of myself. Had I really created the world around me, and was I ultimately damned for what I'd been, and had done?
RO: Most punks from the early era seem to have more emotional scars than tattoos. How did the memoir free you to be candid in ways that potent lyrics could not?
I wrote from outside myself, a passenger above my body as I tore through the lives of others - I could taste the blood, and yet the emotions were beneath me. My girlfriend, who pre-edited every line before it went to the publisher, would cry and beg me to stop. I attacked her for her unwillingness to discard her humanity.
In the beginning, punk attracted the fringe, the cast-offs, and the supposedly unloved. I was adored by the kids around me, but for whatever reason, I thought their love was a lie.
RO: People have told me you bait people, to reveal their biases and stupidity, and defeat or unsettle them. Your book seems to re-affirm this, even as you were a tiny kid. Do you ever regret it?
JG: I've never regretted bringing down those that feed on the weak because their cowardice makes them easy targets. I'm a lazy attacker.
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Read a cover story on Grisham in our sister paper OC Weekly.
TSOL plays with Funboys and Shot Baker 8 p.m. Saturday, May 7, at Walter's on Washington.