By Adam Lovinus
By Lilledeshan Bose
By Gabriel San Roman
By Rachel Mattice
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Daniel Kohn
By Nate Jackson
By Mike Seeley
"Our friends were just as fucked-up as we were, so we had a whole bunch of crazy fuckers running around, and if you were in the area, and you liked punk rock, well, then you'd better like a band like ours that was surrounded by a bunch of crazy mean motherfuckers," Grisham writes in An American Demon. "Whatever the logic, the Vicious Circle was a maniac attractor."
But you hop onto Google these days, and Wikipedia and a few forums will tell you it was really a punk-rock gang straight outta Huntington Beach and Long Beach.
"Vicious Circle wasn't really a gang; it was a crew. As for the leader, there wasn't really one—though if you looked at it from the outside, you'd blame it on me," Grisham says.
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Referred to by insiders as "the Cult," Vicious Circle had armbands and its own official mode of transportation: Grisham's station wagon, which had been dubbed the "Cult Wagon."
He smiles as he recalls the vehicle: "It was yellow, and it had a giant middle finger on the roof that said, 'FUCK YOU, SKY PIGS,' so if a helicopter went by, they'd see a finger sticking up."
Describing the difference between Los Angeles punks and OC punks back then, he says, "There were a lot of punks in LA, but they were kinda . . . more arty, you know? Vicious Circle was like beach kids—bigger, meaner and in shape. There were a lot of guys running around beating up on punks, and there we were, big and willing to fight. And maybe it got too far with the robberies."
According to many books documenting California punk rock, at an average Vicious Circle show, there'd be 12 ambulances and 24 stretchers outside.
"Sometimes, yeah, it was pretty rough," he says. "They blew up my car, and people were after me all the time. It was just constant fights and craziness."
One night, Grisham tore up a guy's face—and maybe an eyeball or two—during a particularly violent show at the Fleetwood in Redondo Beach. He was wearing his signature cowboy boots with sharpened spurs.
Grisham went on the run—to Alaska—marking the end of Vicious Circle.
When he returned, Barnes, Roche and Emory asked him to join their band, the True Sounds of Liberty, or T.S.O.L. for short, named after a Christian band (the Sound of Liberty Band) the group had seen on some late-night evangelical program.
Grisham writes in An American Demon, "I sounded like I was from Long Beach via England," emulating the sounds and dramatic flourishes he loved from Adam and the Ants, the Damned, and Siouxsie and the Banshees.
"Punk rock," Grisham writes, "was an angry voice for the revolution—but unlike the hippies of the '60s, punks were willing to use muscle to force change. Any change, good or bad."
Everything you've heard about T.S.O.L. is true: vandalism, grave robbing, ripping their equipment off from Long Beach churches (the back of 1981's self-titled EP thanks the church PA).
In "Code Blue," one of T.S.O.L.'s best-known tracks, Grisham's theatrical croon makes necrophilia sound cooler than wanting to be sedated.
Duane Peters, skateboarding's resident punk and front man of U.S. Bombs, says he thinks Grisham is one of the most important guys in the OC punk scene.
"[T.S.O.L.] had a great presence—they blew everyone away. Jack is one of the guys I truly admire. Just a really, really great front man—and there are so many bad ones!" Peters croaks in his signature raspy voice. "He can really captivate an audience and doesn't think twice about lighting a kid on fire and shit. He's great."
The band remain successful to this day—with a brief hiccup that can be called the Great Schism of T.S.O.L., when two different versions of the band were in existence, often playing in the same towns on the same night. After he left T.S.O.L. in 1983, Grisham went on to front other bands: Cathedral of Tears (Grisham's "mass-market, chicks-are-going-to-dig-this pop band"), the Joykiller, Tender Fury. The original T.S.O.L. lineup reunited in 1999, with the exception of the now-deceased Barnes.
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In his book, Grisham writes that his "parents loved me the best they knew how." But the belt and a Hot Wheels track were the preferred modes of corporal punishment in his household growing up in the '60s in the Los Altos neighborhood of Long Beach.
Within the first 10 pages, Grisham lets readers in on how, as a young child, he made his father cry (by attempting to light the family poodle on fire), referring to himself as "a vicious raptor feathered in Snoopy pajamas and wrapped in a blanket." In the decades that followed, Grisham tried to drown a (hog-tied) neighborhood kid, ran away with a carny for a few weeks, and attempted to rob the local Surf and Sport, heading in and out of jail for these and other transgressions.