One of the first shows I ever went to as a kid was T.S.O.L. back in nineteen eighty something. I don’t remember the year but I wasn’t old enough to drive and, despite being yanked away by my older brother after two songs so I could be home before curfew (not cool, I know … but where were you?), the image of Jack Grisham dressed in a black cape as viewed from the back of the roller rink remains an imposing image. Having grown up in that era, I knew the man’s reputation (mostly bad) that rumbled through the L.A. punk rock scene. I remember showing up at a show in Hollywood to see T.S.O.L., only to find a hairband of the same name with some strange dude on vocals. That night, rumor echoing off the grimy walls of Cathay de Grande was that Jack was laying low after killing someone. Apparently not the case (at least he wouldn’t admit it), but that will give you a sense of the legacy that this man commanded in his heyday. I wouldn’t presume to know him, but I have seen him in action both now and then. Most recently was last year at a T.S.O.L. show in Berkeley where I saw him offer a young lady a ride back into San Francisco so she could catch the band’s whole set without worrying about public transportation closing for the night on her. Nice, right? If it had been twenty-five years ago we’d probably be reading about the atrocities inflicted on her in the pages of An American Demon. It just so happens that this girl was never seen again … well, at least not by me.
So as I cracked open An American Demon, not only was I interested in hearing about the legendary depravity first hand, but also understanding how he made the transformation from self-proclaimed “demon” to reformed miscreant. It’s a memoir, not a biography. What’s the difference? Not sure but what you’ll get is a an admittedly fictionalized (possibly in an effort to avoid the criticisms that plagued A Million Little Pieces author, James Frey) account of Mr. Grisham growing up possessed by something he could not, or would not, control. Sex, violence, drugs, arson, cross-dressing, larceny, torture … all within the first 75 pages and before a young Jack was even old enough to have a drivers license. And while some of these antics already have a place within punk rock lore, that didn’t detract from the first-hand perspective of the man who wielded the abuse (whether at someone else or self-directed).
Sure, I already knew how the story ended, but that didn’t stop me from devouring page after page slack-jawed with horror as I waited for the answer to how Jack got from there to here. I’ve been on a bit of a rock star biographical kick lately, and while An American Demon shares a common theme … fame, failure, and redemption … it doesn’t come across as clownish (Ozzy), unintelligible (Richards), or preachy (Mustaine). It’s about a guy that has more perspective on himself after digging himself out of a few decades in a downward spiral than you and I know ourselves. No doubt, Jack Grisham was one fucked up dude. Seriously. Reading this book it’s hard to imagine how this guy could be such an asshole only to read on the next page how he upstages himself yet again. Sex with an elderly lady in a cemetery, throwing people off bridges, stabbing friends, and generally fucking with everyone that he came in contact with, friend or foe … it’s in there in all its blazing glory.
I guess the irony in all this is that, at least from my vantage point, the demon still exists, buried only slightly below the surface. Maybe Grisham doesn’t even know it’s there but I’ve seen it. Watch him on stage and you’ll catch a glimpse of the guy described in this book … the guy that likes to stir shit up and manipulate a crowd. The sharp tongue is still there and he relishes in bringing the crowd to the edge, only now he stops before that one final nudge.
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