JACK GRISHAM’S “AMERICAN DEMON:” FROM A NOT-QUITE GOD’S LIPS, TO OUR EARSBy Elizabeth Glazner
The nearly empty parking lot offered a better spot than I’ll get for months, now that fall classes have started. Of course, this being Cal State Long Beach, there was still a long walk, and crossing an almost-deserted campus made it seem even longer.
But when I arrived at the Student Union last Thursday morning, it was churning with people—most notably a contingent of officials wearing dark blue polo shirts with the words CRIME SCENE across the back, hung from approximately one trapezius muscle to the other.
Turns out, an episode of Dexter was being filmed here, just down the bottom-floor corridor from the studio where I was about to interview Jack Grisham for an episode of Greater Long Beach Radio. What a crazy coincidence—two blood-spatter experts with unrelated business in the same place at the same time.
For anyone who knows shit about Jack, that line is funny. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, he was front man for two bands—Vicious Circle and T.S.O.L. (True Sounds of Liberty)—that emerged from the first wave of Orange County punk to become famous around the world … mostly because of Grisham’s riveting and revolting behavior on and off stage, an increasingly out-of-control rampage of sex and violence that almost did him in.
But Grisham has survived, and remained punk for more than 30 years, while reinventing himself as not only a rock star of various genres, but also as a personal life coach, a hypnotherapist, a stop-smoking guru, a guy who paints houses and installs roofing, does mortgages, takes people whale watching—whatever he has needed to do to pay a bill. Now, when people ask, he tells them he’s an author.
That’s pretty sexy, I tell him on the eve of the radio show while riding in his dark and staid sedan, at just about the moment he stomps the brake at an intersection where he has almost run a light. “Shit! That’s red.” I’ve just finished his book, An American Demon: A Memoir, and I want to know how much of the book is true. And I kind of can’t believe, after ingesting the mayhem and larceny of the read, that he gives a shit about a red light.
An American Demon would make a terrific graphic novel. It chronicles Grisham’s journey from abused kid to criminal, arsonist, surfing teen to punk demigod to deadbeat, drunken dad living at his mom’s house, and it’s glued together with drugs, alcohol, sex and violence. “Ninety-nine point nine percent of it is true,” I’m told. That means he really did set fire to the school, try to bury a neighbor kid alive, steal band equipment from a church, stab one guy and stomp another’s head with spurs, wear dresses on and off stage, have sex with an 80-year-old woman, marry a 15-year-old girl in Mexico, and drink fifths of booze in one gulp while holding the bottle between his teeth.
To understand the denouement of the book, you need to know a little more about that last part. Grisham admits he is a recovering alcoholic, a recovering drug addict and a guy who champions 12-step meetings, and that these facts underlie the central theme of his life now, which is service to others. But the book, being more or less true, doesn’t end in cliché, really. Sure he gets clean and sober, but that is a beginning, not an end, and we don’t really get to know what happens next—unless you actually meet Grisham and drive with him to a 12-step meeting and hear his pitch.
“I wasn’t really talking to God,” Grisham says of the book. But it’s a convincing literary device, that he paints himself as a demon and takes his cues from the “Not-Quite”—a god of his own understanding, a lesser God, a loser—“an inch shorter, a pound heavier, two degrees less intelligent and nowhere near as loving and kind.”
We talk more about alcoholism, and Jack says: “We are so self-absorbed that everything else ceases to exist. Alcoholics are underdeveloped emotionally, and are really close to being sociopathic, where people exist only to serve us. That’s why, in the book, I picked the demon character because, you know, demons or angels can only be moved by God.”
Grisham was initially paid by his Canadian publisher to write a tell-all book on T.S.O.L., but the “I drank a beer here; I threw a punch there” format inspired a “who gives a fuck” attitude in him. So one day, while walking in the wetlands near his Huntington Beach home, he got the idea of telling the story from the point of view of a demon—a metaphor for selfishness and sociopathic behavior.
“The demon had no feelings whatsoever towards anything. I used that and tied in the stories of the child abuse,” he reveals. “If you look at kids who are abused—first of all, they think that it’s their fault, so in the story the demon says ‘this is happening to me because I attract this, because I’m evil,’ and also the demon says ‘and I don’t want to be pulled away from these people because, if they pull me away and put me with normal people, they will find out that I’m bad.’”
And if you have ever had a premonition that something bad is about to happen, then yes—you might be psychic. But you might also be showing what happens to be another trait of alcoholism. Call it a “predisposition to negative outcomes,” if you will, but the character Jack and the real Jack always think the plane is going to go down. In the book, he sees the old lady’s death—that would be the 80-year-old lady he’s had sex with—just hours away, and she’s wearing his sweater.
“They’re not really premonitions; they are just negative thinking out of control,” Grisham says. “The whole thing with the book is, using all of that, then working it into the story and then blowing it out.”
Though he asserts he’s not a writer, Grisham is writing another book—a work of fiction about a middle-aged guy at the end of another bad relationship who is looking back at his life and realizing all his relationships have been bad, and trying to figure out why. It sounds like it will be Bukowski-esque, not only in subject matter, but also in deployment of an alter-ego (Henry Chinaski was really Charles Bukowski; Grisham’s new character will also have a pseudonym). Presently Jack’s guy has a rope around his neck—has been that way for several days—while Grisham stares at the page and tries to figure out what happens next.
He can kill the guy off if he chooses, or he can help this character, and from the ex-drunk-talk I just witnessed, I’m pretty certain Grisham has more to say about redemption through giving a shit about others. He drops me at my car in a Long Beach shopping center parking lot, and just before he drives away, I hear him ask with concern, “You got your keys?”
++++++ ++++++ ++++++ ++++++ ++++++
AND NOW … LISTEN TO JACK GRISHAM ON GREATER LONG BEACH RADIO WITH DAVE WIELENGA … AND ELIZABETH GLAZNER
EDITOR’S DISCLAIMER: Iconic punk-provocateur and thug Jack Grisham spent more than four months making the promotional rounds for his semi-fictional and totally fantastical memoir, An American Demon, before he finally got around to visiting Greater Long Beach Radio with Dave Wielenga … and Elizabeth Glazner on August 25. The timing turned out to be bloody perfect.
Grisham arrived to find the cast and crew of the TV series, Dexter—about a police bloodstain-pattern analyst who moonlights as a serial killer—camped outside the KBEACH.org studio While Grisham talked about An American Demon, which revisits violent and depraved scenes from his life as an angry young man freed from social constraints by his musical fame, Dexter’s crew leaders repeatedly attempted to get into the studio to shut down our show because the feed was leaking into their set.
Meanwhile, because Grisham has left his car at a short-term parking meter far away from the studio, he has set the alarm on his telephone to go off just before the meter expires—but long before the show ends—so he can bolt from the studio and get across campus before he gets a ticket. That gives us 33 minutes. We take ‘em—and use ‘em all.