I Was Just an Asshole

Remembering the bad old days with Jack Grisham

"I had lost everything. I was living at my mother's house. I pulled my car over to the side of the freeway, got out and started hacking myself up with a razor. I went down a ditch and then crawled into a drainage pipe because I didn't want my family to find me. That's where all that hate and anger took me."

He survived the hacking and came to the sudden realization that "I couldn't live like that anymore." He credits therapy and meditation for helping him, although the first professional he turned to said the punker couldn't be helped because he didn't know right from wrong. Grisham believes what worked best for him was support from people who'd once been just like him.

Now he's returning the favor. He has a couple of lost souls living at the house he shares with his wife, daughter, baby and mother-in-law. He's also trying to track down everyone he's wronged in the past and apologize.

Much of Grisham's growing up and mellowing out can be attributed to parenthood.

"If there hadn't been some spiritual change—and I don't mean ramming religion down people's throats; that's bullshit —then I would be beating and raping my kids today," he says. "That's what happens. You come home all angry, your kids pop up, and you let your kids have it. The cool thing is I used to cower. I still feel like I'm going to get hit if a person raises a hand or tries to hug me. But my little girl, when I reach out, she never cowers to me. I've never hit her.

"My little girl never has to be scared. All she knows is love and respect. When she gets older, if she finds a guy who is abusive, she can say, 'Hey, guys don't treat me like that.' When I was growing up, I was a bully. I teach her to stand up for weaker people. I was teasing one of her friends, and she had to tell me, 'Dad, you're out of line.' So there's me having to apologize to a couple of fucking kids."

He's been able to rein in his anger in the grown-up world as well, recently going before the Huntington Beach City Council to complain about a proposal to move a trailer park onto the beach. "My first reaction was to go down there with paint bombs," he said. "But I went through the right channels."

One thing that hasn't changed with the mellower Jack Grisham—or Gentleman Jack Grisham, as he's known in his solo career—is his wild stage presence. LA Weekly reported that at a T.S.O.L. show at the Troubadour last month, Grisham exhorted the sweaty masses to climb up the towers in front of the stage and dive off them, which they did repeatedly.

"It's my jumping-on-the-bed theory," he explained. "When you were a kid jumping on the bed, your parents would come in and tell you to stop or you'd get hurt. So you'd keep going and going until you got hurt. You'd push the fun as far as you could go until you crossed that line between fun and injury. When I'm onstage, I feel I'm playing with my friends. Sometimes I might tell a few thousand people, 'Hey, let's all jump off the curtains.' And they'll say, 'Sounds good—let's do it!' I love seeing people get hurt at our shows because it means we're having as much fun as we can have."

Grisham is known for an angry stage demeanor, but—now and even during his darker days—he's actually found it's a place where he can exorcise his inner demons. "Onstage, I'm able to be a whole other guy. There may be pissed-off lyrics, but up there I just want to be loved. I might come off as pissed-off and angry, but the worst of it is off me."

But make no mistake: the anger he expresses in T.S.O.L. songs such as "Abolish Government/Silent Majority," "Code Blue" and "Silent Scream" isn't made-up.

"Some guys live normal, peaceful, loving, little-son lives," Grisham says. "Then they get onstage, their voices drop three octaves, and it's, 'Hail, Satan!' I wish I could have done that."

Which brings us to today's music scene, where Grisham does not find misguided anger; he finds ungenuine anger.

"A friend of mine—not me—used to have a joke about Rage Against the Machine. What my friend heard was someone in the band came from a really nice neighborhood. So my friend asked, 'What are they so pissed-off about? Did somebody's gardener fire up the mower at 6 a.m.?' My friend came from a place where there were no lawns, no mom, no dad, no school. We dropped out in elementary school. And I love Rage Against the Machine's music, but some of this stuff today is just fake."

Old-school punks, he says, came from the gutter. Today's punks seem to be playing a part.

"Just because you cut your hair and have a couple of tattoos doesn't mean you're pissed-off," Grisham says. "It's a lie, a lot of it."

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