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But Grisham doesn't find much solace in the fact he has dedicated the past couple of decades to helping others.
"If you look at something horrible that happened, it stays horrible," he says. "Yeah, you can talk about kindness afterward that was shown. Reconstruction, reconciliation—but the horror is still horror. It just doesn't take away the horror from the past."
He's quick to clarify that the altruism he practices isn't out of guilt.
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"It's more out of duty than it is out of guilt," Grisham explains. "It is more out of payback and duty than it was ever out of guilt. But it's also out of gratitude and realizing that I'm extremely lucky—people say, 'What do you mean? You drive a car with 200,000 miles on it, and you're broke' . . . but that shit doesn't really have anything to do with it.
"There was this guy my friend and I ruthlessly beat the living shit out of for no reason at all. We were just driving around, and we see this guy. I stomped on his head; we threw his stuff all over him. . . . What was funny at the time was actually really vicious. Once you get sober, all of a sudden, you start seeing all the damage you've done. It never leaves. You wake up in the morning, and you still think of this guy—30 years later. There's no way I can find out his name or what happened to him, so all I can do is when someone is trying to ask for help, I can stick out my hand and try to help him instead."
* * *
Grisham does find solace in his two daughters: Georgia, 11, and Anastasia, 23.
Anastasia actually attempted to stage an intervention on Grisham while he was working on his novel.
"She thought I'd lost it. I was eating rotten food because that was what was around, and I'd work 18 to 20 hours a day, just pounding away writing that stuff and really getting sick from it. I'm writing about beating up on people, and I've got to be like that again. I'm writing about drinking, and I haven't had alcohol in my mouth for 22 years, but I have to remember what it tastes like. And dealing with my father and what it felt like when he died and tried to hug me—what it smelled like, what his clothes were like; I could feel the creases in his shirt. And then, at the same time, go back to diving from the stage and kicking that guy's eye out . . . to remember what it felt like to have spurs run up someone's cheek again. Just a straight purge," Grisham says.
"It felt good afterward. It really did. I'd hate to use that cliché, but it was like a weight got lifted," Grisham explains. "It felt like I don't have to be him anymore."
T.S.O.L. bassist Mike Roche, 50, who now splits his time between Los Angeles and working in Las Vegas as a tattoo artist, says that the high caliber of the book isn't all that surprising.
"It would surprise me if Jack wrote a book that wasn't good," he says. "It wouldn't surprise me if he ended up with a movie deal or something. He's just that much better than everyone else."
Paul Roessler, 53, of early LA punk band the Screamers, has called An American Demon the "first true literature to come out of our pathetic little punk lives."
Roessler says he saw Grisham as the embodiment of the anarchist spirit. "I never really enjoyed the destructive nature of it, but I see whenever you're casting off old ways, there's going to be a certain element of it that's going to have to express itself violently and destructively."
He goes on to refer to Grisham as beautiful and fearless—"like a Viking, but much more beautiful.
"He expresses himself so incredibly verbally—I wasn't certain he'd be able to take those verbal skills and turn around and harness that, but it's not completely shocking if you've ever spent any time around him as a raconteur and storyteller. I kind of thought he'd end up with a talk show or something . . . except with no other people talking."
Grisham dedicated An American Demon to his girlfriend, Kate Kieve, a beautiful 25-year-old resident of Fountain Valley who is also in recovery. She worked with Grisham throughout the entire writing process, not just editing line by line, but also helping him with organization, content and transitions, scribbling notes such as "WTF?" in the margins in her favorite kind of red pen, which Grisham purchased for her.
Besides Grisham's occasional stubbornness ("Why can't I use a dash here?"), the ordeal was particularly difficult for her, as these real-life horror stories she was editing were the first she'd heard of most of them. The misogyny, the senseless violence, the pyromania . . . of her boyfriend.
But it all paid off when the manuscript returned from the publisher in nearly untouched form.
Grisham is already in the midst of his second book, a work of fiction with a plot and title so extraordinary he's not willing to share them yet.