Life, Love, &
The True Sounds Of Liberty
Due to popular demand we are repeating The Floydian Device’s one on one with Jack Grisham of TSOL
For much of the last 40 years, T.S.O.L. frontman Jack Grisham has been a fast-moving train barreling through the darkest tunnels of his own creation – with no whistle, no brakes… and not too much concern for what might be on the other side. Speeding up around every corner just to see whether or not he’d stay on the tracks. His chaotic life was an accident not just waiting to happen, but daring it not to happen. Today Grisham is still moving at top speed, but with a renewed focus and sense of purpose. While he seems to be staying out of trouble a little more these days, he still wrestles constantly with the existential dilemma of being Jack Grisham. His daily online video affirmations depict a brilliant artist struggling in real time with good and evil, joy and despair, meaning and emptiness. And while he dives into the darkest parts of himself, Grisham makes you think. And he makes you laugh. And he laughs at himself and the world around him while trying to make sense of the chaos. He is a primal mystery unfolding in plain sight. In an interview with Punk Globe many years ago, Grisham described his early career as: “Sex-booze-destroy property. More sex-more booze-40 minutes of music. More sex-more booze… Jail… Repeat.” Since these early days of forming one of the most seminal and influential bands in punk music, he has made a lot of changes – starting with getting sober in 1989. Since then, his creative output has been astonishing… In about the time it took Axl Rose to make Chinese Democracy, Grisham has put out over 10 albums with T.S.O.L., The Joykiller, The Manic Low, and other side projects. He’s written several books, appeared in eight movies, become a respected artist, a licensed hypnotherapist… Somewhere along the way, he found time to run for Governor of California… Through all the ups and downs and creative chaos that populate Grisham’s world, he is constantly pulling back the curtain and letting us see inside the mind of the wizard. There is no distinction between his private life and his public persona. His online stream of consciousness is a psychoanalyst’s wet dream. The fact that he is here today, alive and more creative and productive than ever, is truly a miracle. Jack Grisham is an American Demon you can root for!
“I woke with a loose hold on reality. I’m not sure who I am. I’ve been “acting as if” for so long that I’m not sure what I’m acting away from. Is anything true? Does any of this matter? Should I start drinking coffee or should I lay back down? I’d go outside but the coyotes are there and they’re attracted to me. Animals like soft confused flesh.” ~ Jack Grisham
Photo by John Gilhooley
Punk Globe: On a scale of 1-10, what would you rate today so far?
Jack: I’d give it a five, neither fair nor foul. If they were judging those who should be kept around, in a sense of worth, today my life holds no weight.
Punk Globe: A story about you in Spin Magazine several years ago started with: “After marrying a 14-year-old girl in Mexico, having people try to murder me by surrounding my house and blowing up my car, I decided it was time to get sober.” I always wondered why someone would blow up Jack Grisham’s car?
Jack: They cut the gas lines. I was driving and the next thing I know I was burning. I didn’t know it was possible. “Tampered with” they said. I wasn’t as bad as some people made me out to be but stories grow and around suburban neighborhoods you make a few bombs and torture a few kids and people assume you’re the devil.
Punk Globe: The online world is such an immediate distraction. Every time you get stuck when you’re working on your art, you can easily escape and get a quick endorphin rush from something online – instead of fighting through the creative process and following through on an idea. In this age of the Internet and constant distraction and immediate gratification, you are writing books, putting out albums, touring, making art… and you seem like someone who could be very easily distracted. How do you keep yourself so focused and productive?
Jack: I’m not focused at all. In between all that writing and releasing I’m jerking off four times a day, reading countless inane articles and entertaining correspondence with a bunch of demented online “fans.” If I wasn’t jerking off all day I could really get something done. It only seems like I’m productive because most people never move beyond wishful inception.
Punk Globe: After putting out four really classic records in a short span of time after T.S.O.L. (True Sounds Of Liberty) formed in 1978 – including the full-length albums “Dance With Me’ and ‘Beneath The Shadows’, you took a break from the band for almost 20 years and moved on to other projects. What was it that caused you to leave the band at a time when you were so creatively productive together?
Jack: We weren’t all that creative together. Look at the direction the band took after Todd, Greg, and I, left. I was tired of the scene and the hassle of getting black-balled in Los Angeles. I wanted us to change our name and keep playing. They wanted to keep the name and make money.
Punk Globe: I thought your second full-length album with T.S.O.L. ‘Beneath The Shadows’ (1982) sounded like a strange fusion of The Damned, Lords Of The New Church, and The Rolling Stones if they had all grown up in California during the ’70s. What kind of stuff were you listening to as a teenager that influenced your eclectic writing style?
Jack: All the aforementioned and Roxy and Bowie and T-Rex and the Beatles and really starting to listen to what music was and could be. I’m not too aware but if someone points me in a direction and pulls back a touch of the curtain then I can jump in and start digging. I’d listened to music before but I didn’t really hear it until I woke up.
Punk Globe: What bands on the punk scene in the late 70s got you excited about the possibilities of what could happen on stage?
Photo by Ed Colver
Jack: No one. I don’t like watching other bands play. I want to be doing it, not spectating. I also thought that the majority of bands lacked the magic of danger—not tough guy posing, but believing that anything could happen when the sound came alive.
Punk Globe: There’s a lot of footage of T.S.O.L. playing live in the early days in clubs full of hard-core, out-of-control punks slamming in the audience, breaking anything in sight, taking over the stage… Were you ever worried about your safety or did you always feel you were in control?
Jack: I was never worried when the storm of chaos was in full effect but I’m a coward and when they stared at me, and didn’t move, I was terrified and dangerous. Control is not something that I’m fond of.
Punk Globe: During the 80s and 90s, after you left T.S.O.L., the band put out albums with another singer and had more of a metal sound. You re-joined the band in 1999 with original members Mike Roche and Ron Emory; and with songs like Sodomy, Anticop, and Terrible People… It was obvious that Jack Grisham was back driving the bus! What led you to rejoin T.S.O.L. after they had gone in such a different direction musically for so many years? And were you confident that you could get the sound you were looking for with the band?
Jack: No and I hate our reappearance. Disappear was a tough record for me. The guys hadn’t recorded for a while and there was still a bit of metal damage clinging to the chords. I consider our first disc back a throw-away.
Punk Globe: I thought ‘Disappear‘ was still a really strong album. There’s this really identifiable sound the band has when you’re with them. How do you write together (especially now that many of you are living in different cities)?
Jack: We base the songs on the melodies where before they would give me a song and ask me to put words to it. It’s not an easy process (hence our last 8 year gap between records) but I’m happier with the outcome. The one problem though is, is it better, is it really any good? Some people would say that TSOL sucks with me back in the band; they prefer the Joe Wood bluesy-rock vibe.
Punk Globe: Is your writing process with the band different now that you’re sober?
Jack: It’s different now that I’m more melody oriented. TSOL has a great live vibe but we haven’t always had a great song-craft thing. Yes, others have covered a few of our songs but it was normally for novelty or a cool guitar riff. Now I’m more concerned with trying to write a great song rather than creating something that was cool backdrop music while you threw bottles at the police.
Photo by Ed Colver
Punk Globe: Guns N’ Roses Steven Adler and Slash have both been seen wearing T.S.O.L. t-shirts on stage. Do you think they were wearing them for the RIGHT reasons, or because, you know, they were big fans of ‘Strange Love’?
Jack: Any reason is the right reason if it puts the name out there. I hate what the band ended up as but…nah, it sucks. I have no idea what they were wearing the shirts for and the “metal years” are still sickening. Even VH1 said that the biggest fan disappointment was the later TSOL thing although some of the guys involved are proud of it.
Punk Globe: Not long after you were back in T.S.O.L., you made a run for Governor of California in 2003.. How would California be different today if it had been Governor Grisham instead of Governor Schwarzenneger?
Jack: I would have quickly moved to secede from the union and I probably would’ve been tried for treason.
Punk Globe: You wrote recently: “What I realized about anarchy is that we are not responsible enough to be anarchist. There’s no way possible. We’re not responsible enough to be that…” Many saw you as the ultimate anarchist in your early days on the hard-core punk scene. Since then, you’ve gotten sober, had kids, and experienced a lot of life and love and loss. What is the biggest thing that has changed your views about anarchy?
Jack: Exactly as I said; I came to the realization that we are not at a level of consciousness to make “anarchy” a viable alternative. The closest I think we can come is a social democracy but we’re not even ready for that. America has what it deserves with the government it got and I’m glad. Trump is the puss running from the penis of a failed attempt at democracy an attempt that was doomed from the beginning.
Punk Globe: A lot of punk bands out there today seem like kids pretending at anarchy. They’ve got the uniform, three chords with the semi-subversive lyrics, and the vocals that are kind of angry, but kind of like, maybe we can get this song into a car commercial. What do you think happened to the true sense of rebellion that was around at the start of the punk movement in the late ’70s and do you think it will ever come back? Do you see it in any of the bands on the scene today?
Jack: Was it really rebellion, or at the time did the music attract those that would never be welcome in the mainstream? Sure, you’ve had a few of the fore-founders become successful, but I wonder what the mortality rate was for those early punks and how many of us have ever been able to walk a straight line. I rebel because I can’t go straight.
Punk Globe: So many people in the music world get stuck in one mode, where the band members become the characters they play in the group, and to try anything different would almost seem to negate their original character… like they were being phony because once they were this, and now they’re something else. It seems like Jack Grisham is bigger than any character you could have conjured up for the stage. Everything you do is constantly changing and evolving. How is it that you seem to slide in and out of so many styles and genres with your music and your live performance, and still always come off as completely authentic? Are you a true rock n roll chameleon, or just a really amazing actor?
Jack: Who isn’t an actor, and the part I play is a man who is almost great but not quite. I have no real natural talent, I think my way through different styles as if I’m cruising a singles bar of art but I never settle on a partner because the relationship would soon prove itself lacking so I move on. I blame my non-success on the fact that I take chances and experiment with different styles when in reality I’m not capable of being brilliant in any one genre. The only thing I’m really good at is leaving.
“Goethe said, “A man sees in the world what he carries in his heart.” The same holds true for demons. If you look for evil, you will find it.” ~ Jack Grisham, An American Demon
Punk Globe: In 2011, you released your first novel “An American Demon: A Memoir”. You got great reviews for this book, but readers experienced the book in very different ways. One review said: “His writing and true life experiences are physically and psychologically more complex, unsettling, and violent than those of Bret Easton Ellis and Chuck Palahniuk… Doused in violence, rebellion, alcoholism, drug abuse, and ending with beautiful lessons of sobriety and absolution — this book is as harrowing and life-affirming as anything you’re ever going to read.” Another read: “Grisham comes off like a psychotic dick with a testosterone problem. Of course, that could be his point, he’s confessing his worst deeds to his audience… looking for an answer within the mire of hell.” Another read: “His life as a teen and young adult reminded me of a modern telling of Clockwork Orange. This certainly isn’t for everyone, but I couldn’t put it down.” Did writing this book about your life help to make peace with a lot of the crazy things you’ve done?
Jack: I’m not sure what writing that book did. I don’t think very many people understood that It was about self-centeredness pushed to the point of sociopathic—a man who was blind to anything that didn’t or couldn’t meet his needs. It was a parable.
Punk Globe: The book revealed a lot of dark and violent truths about your past. Do you have any regrets for putting so much of yourself out there?
Jack: Maybe, I’m a fucking people pleaser that wants to be loved, a baby kissing politician craving the adoration of the world and yet the first thing I do is walk out onstage and say, “Look here. See how ugly this is. Know me and love me anyway.”
Punk Globe: I think most people have done things in their lives that they wonder if they’ll ever be forgiven for… Your youth was filled with all kinds of craziness – much of it thrown into overdrive with drinking and drugs and being an iconic figure in a violent subculture. It has probably affected who you are as well as a lot of the people who were drawn into your crazy orbit. Most people look for forgiveness or try to find peace through prayer or maybe confessing to their Priest or something like that; or just trying to live a better life when there brain and spirit get to the point that they’re fully cognizant of how their actions might affect others. You’ve gone a couple steps beyond the confession booth; putting your darkest days out there for the whole world to examine and scrutinize. And since those days, for a lot of years now, you’ve also been giving a lot back – sacrificing your time and energy to help others. I really believe the people that have been to the dark side and make it back can bring a lot of strength and light to the world and the people around them; sometimes more than regular, good people who have never been down in the pit. Do you feel like you’ve made it back to the good side of the spirit world?
Jack: I don’t believe that the world is either good or bad. I believe that I take actions that either put me in a place of strife or one of peace. I owe nothing and those I interact with owe nothing to me. I’m still as detached from this life as I was before but now I’m aware of my place, or the space that I occupy. I see my relation to those around me and I’ve made a conscious decision to be helpful to those that want what I can offer them. The goal is to be helpful to some and harmful to none.
Punk Globe: In Terry Zwigoff’s documentary about artist Robert Crumb, there’s a scene where a woman is chastising Crumb for the misogynistic and graphic sexual nature of his work – saying that she had been traumatized by seeing his art as a child, and looking for some kind of apology or explanation from Crumb for his depravity and the lack of humanity in his work. His response was: ‘It’s probably not for kids, but I hope that revealing the truth about myself is somehow helpful. Maybe I should be locked up, but I have to do it.’ I think about that scene when looking at your creative output. Everything from your music to your art, your writing, and your online videos. You put everything out there, good and bad, and let the audience decide for themselves what they want to take from it. What is your motivation today for putting yourself out there like that? And do you ever think to yourself: “OK, this time I’ve gone too far?”
Jack: I’m a whore; a prostitute turning online tricks for a few book or record sales. If I had “fuck you” money you’d never see me again. I would still create, but not a song, word, or photo would be released until after I checked out. It freaks me out when people have cash and they still hook.
Punk Globe: In your online videos, you seem to look at yourself like an objective observer – as if you’re trying to figure out the inner workings and chemical reactions of some strange kind of science experiment. You can talk about the darkest things that you’re going through in life, but then laugh at what this crazy character named Grisham is having to deal with… Have you always been able to separate emotionally from the craziness and chaos that is often your life? And do you think that making art from a bit of a removed distance actually helps fuel your creative process?
Jack: The ability to distance yourself from the vanity of self is a defense mechanism that I excel in—I’m a mutant in that regard, or I’m a sociopath who can look at his actions with a heart so cold or so non-existent that he comes off as a detached observer. Am I even capable of feeling?
“My life had become a self absorbed joke. Get a good look at yourself when you live like that, and the reflection is enough to sicken anyone to change. After waking up, the rest is just filling in the blanks.” ~ Jack Grisham (on getting sober in 1989)
Punk Globe: You’ve recently had some of your photographic works shown at places like the Hive Gallery and the Dove Biscuit Studio in L.A. What kind of art are you making and what’s the inspiration for it?
Jack: I’m incapable of forming true connections with others. My relationships are shams and any woman that has ever loved me realizes that she loves a promise not a reality. My photographs are attempts to connect with the world. I make my subjects look at me and the lens is the bridge between us. I can look in their eyes if the glass is there. They might see me, but from my vantage point it’s a one-way glance into their hearts.
Punk Globe: The shots you get of people seem very personal, like you’re really drawing out something from inside them that shows in their eyes and their expressions. What do you think it is about the way you work that brings this out in your subjects?
Photo by Jack Grisham
Jack: I think that people feel safe with me which, after reading this interview seems terrifying. Its almost as if they’re in a cage with a monster and the only way they won’t be harmed is to be genuine and uncloaked. I devour those who feign and so they come proper and escape unharmed.
Punk Globe: Getting back to music… After you reformed T.S.O.L. with original members for ‘Disappear’ in 2001, you recorded ‘Divided We Stand’ in 2003 and then ‘Life, Liberty, and The Pursuit Of Free Downloads’ in 2009. With each album, the band sounded stronger, more creative, and like it was just having a lot of fun. I think ‘Life, Liberty, & The Pursuit Of Free Downloads’ was a bridge between all of your past releases and the new album. It was a band saying it would never again be painted into any corner or meet anyone’s expectations except their own. There were so many songs that were just perfect pop masterpieces. Great energy and beautiful melodic structures and harmonies. Great piano work from Greg Kuehn… The new album that’s just been released is called ‘The Trigger Complex’; and it seems like the natural progression from your last album. The first single from the new album is ‘I Wanted To See You’. This sounds like an homage to someone close to you in your life that might not be here anymore. What was the motivation for this one?
Jack: I was thinking of the first woman I married—now dead. I missed her and thought how I’d like to see her again and how her words that influenced me are still my songs and that I have no trouble taking myself out so I can walk with those that are gone again…
Punk Globe: ‘I Wanted To See You’, like many songs on ‘The Trigger Complex’, has a some very dark lyrical content, but the melodies are really beautiful and uplifting. In the first verse of another song – ‘Strange World’ – you sing: “It’s a strange world, But nothing to be alarmed of, Yeah, it’s a dark place, But only if you’re a dreamer. Then in the chorus: “You’ve gotta get up, get up, get up, get up. It’s only life.” There is a lot of this theme musically and lyrically on the album, that even when you’re surrounded by darkness in an insane world, you’ve got to rise above it and keep moving forward, trying to find the joy where you can. Is this something you’re able to do in your own life these days?
Jack: I have no choice until I learn to quit creating the struggle. And who knows, and not to get too spacey on you, maybe I keep creating the struggle because I like the pain and the work and the defiance and the proof that nothing in this world owns me.
Punk Globe: While the lyrics on your early albums were much more concerned with politics and anarchy, much of ‘The Trigger Complex’ deals with love and lust and relationships… Many lyrics start out with a romantic, almost 1950s look at relationships; but by the end of the song, things usually take a dark turn. In ‘Why Can’t We Do It Again?’ – the lyrics begin: “I remember the first time that I saw your face, I remember the front seat, your hair out of place…” By the last verse, we’re at: “I remember the police, Cuffed in the back of the car, I remember you dancing, Pants down on the bar…” Another song starts: “Life, there’s nothing here to get us down, No bills to pay, no kids to scream, no knock-arounds.” By the last verse of that one, you’ve taken us to: “Mind, you wanna stick your fingers in? Because I’ll do it once, do it twice, and then once again…” In your songs about life knocking you down and dragging you through the depths of hell, the message is often – get up, survive, and try to squeeze as much fun out of this thing that you can. In your songs about love, things often start off great, but pretty quickly turn into a disaster. Why is it that your songs about overcoming the obstacles of life are a lot more optimistic than your songs about the possibilities of love?
Jack: Jesus, I just read your take on the lyrics and now I want to do myself in. Life sucks. Nothing ever goes my way. I’m fooling myself when I think anything could ever be everything.
Punk Globe: On the second single ‘Satellites’, the chorus goes: “It’s not enough she wants to be by my side, It’s not enough she says that she’s satisfied, Because she can’t feel me enough, We’re satellites…” Do you think love ever really works out, or are we all just satellites that are destined to eventually drift back into our own orbits and start all over again?
“I would rather be attacked for creating something that people didn’t like than loved for creating something that didn’t challenge me.” ~ Jack Grisham
Jack: It’s another take on my inability to connect and that even though I intellectually know that she could love me, I can’t feel it, and I can only prove it with her actions that are never always benevolent.
Punk Globe: Every few years, a big band like Radiohead will come out with a new album; and they’ll have a couple songs on the record that I think are the best things that have come out all year. Then the other 10 or 12 songs I’ll listen to once and then never again. It’s really great to hear ‘The Trigger Complex’ for the first time, and love almost every song from start to finish. My favorite right now is ‘Don’t You Want Me’. It could be Iggy Pop playing with The Cure; with guitar riffs in the middle that have a real early Roxy Music feel; and Greg Kuehn’s beautiful piano that takes you back to ‘See You Tomorrow’ on your ‘Divided We Stand’ album. I guess that’s a long way of saying thanks for a fantastic record. What song is the most personal and has the most meaning for you on this album?
Jack: I’m fairly happy with all of them but I want more. I’m never satisfied. One day I want to sit back and say that I can’t top that. That song is the best I’ve ever written, it says everything I could ever want to say and now I’m done.
Punk Globe: What kind of creative projects are you working on right now and what do you have coming up in the next couple years?
Jack: I have a few books in the works, another record in a genre I’ve never experimented in, more photographs—hopefully moving into a studio, a lot of jerking off and, I’m going to direct a short film based on a story I wrote.
“New stuff couldn’t polish the platform shoes on Sly Stone!” ~ Jack Grisham
A few random questions to end off…
Punk Globe: Do you ever think that you might be the only real person here; and that after you die the rest of us will just disappear?
Jack: Ha! You fucker. I know you don’t exist and neither do I. There are many nights where I wake after traveling naked through the stars begging to come home.
Punk Globe: I’ve got a theory that you can gauge the health of your relationship by how many seconds after sex you start thinking about checking your Facebook. If you can go four of five minutes, you’re probably doing ok. If you start thinking about it ten seconds after an orgasm, you might be in trouble. How do you gauge the true success of your life in this modern age of social media and instant access to everything?
Jack: As my friend Hunt used to say, “success is playing on a Saturday night.” Everything else is bullshit.
Punk Globe: You recently wrote about the motivations for people’s intent and actions. You asked: “Are some hearts just bad? Is it good and evil, or just mental illness?” What do you think about Trump? Is he evil? Is he insane? Or is he just an entertainer taking advantage of a culture that loves their reality t.v.?
Jack: I think we’re all insane and he is nothing more than a reflection of the worst of us—a blatant example of the need to serve the self.
Punk Globe: If you had to spend the rest of your life on a desert island, would you rather live with a woman who drove you crazy and argued with you all the time but you had great sex; or somebody you got along with great but had no sexual attraction to?
Jack: There hasn’t been a woman that I’ve ever slept with that didn’t end up with the same mixture of disgust, contempt, and complete incredulity wiped across her face. I think I’d roll with a hermaphrodite where the sex was only sometimes good and the crazy was only moderately expressed.
Punk Globe: I don’t know if there’s reincarnation or not. I do think there’s something else out there. I wonder sometimes what I’ll be thinking about right before I die. I have pretty bad tinnitus from a lot of years on the road with loud bands. I think one of my last thoughts might be: “Well, I guess this is over, but I get to start again in a new body that doesn’t have a siren going off in it’s head all the time. So that’s one good thing!” What do you think your last thoughts on this earth will be?
Jack: I’ve been promised clarity of vision until the day I die, don’t ask me by whom, and my last words will be “Thank You. Good night.”
Punk Globe: Whoever is the closest person to you right now, can you ask them to describe you in one word?
Punk Globe: Thanks so much for doing this interview and for all the great music and art over the years. Your band The Joykiller just put out a fantastic album called ‘Music For Break-Ups’ in 2015; and now T.S.O.L. has put out probably their strongest album in four decades with ‘The Trigger Complex’. You’re really riding a wave of amazing creativity right now. I hope it keeps rolling for a long time. Thanks from everybody at Punk Globe. Any last words of advice from An American Demon to the young punks of the world?
Jack: If you see me please don’t hesitate to say, “Hello.”
~ ~ ~
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Contact Marc Floyd at: email@example.com