In the early 1980s, TSOL helped shape Southern California punk with powerful, politically charged tunes. Today, Jack Grisham, the voice and brain behind True Sounds of Liberty, is taking his message a step further: he's one of 135 candidates to become California's next governor.
Because he's joining Larry Flynt, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Gary Coleman, it's easy to see Grisham's move as mere hype, especially with a new TSOL release in the works. But he says he has no ulterior motives. In fact, he refuses to even talk about the album. While he insists he's simply a father and community activist, it's clear he's also the kind of guy who could put the f back into "family man." In one more or less typical moment, he suggested that wealthier candidates bankrolling expensive campaigns should instead "take the money down to the fucking food bank."
And while many pundits see political chaos in the recall election, Grisham sees a once-in-a lifetime chance for the average Californian to make a difference. If you think Grisham's live performances are charged, watch him stage-dive off his political platform.
So, why run? It's not just to sell albums?
Not at all. And here's the thing that makes me mad about that question. I was against the recall. Whether Gray Davis did right or wrong, he wasn't criminally responsible for anything. So that shouldn't even have been done. But I like to look at it as: Are you going to complain? Or are you going to do something about it? And the real beauty of this situation is this is probably the only time in our lives that a regular citizen could stand up and be governor of California without needing all the money or going through the whole process.
So you're not worried about a field of 135 candidates?
Yeah, we got people making jokes about all the cranks jumping in—you know, porn stars and whatever else—but what pisses me off is more people haven't jumped in. I would've liked to see the president of Surfrider run for governor. Artists, activists—this is our chance! And these people let it go by! I mean, we're talking about getting somebody in the governor's office who's spent some time in the tube [laughs]! I mean, somebody who really cares about our beaches, not just somebody who's driving by on his way to a $300 lunch. This was our chance. And it was blown.
Kind of like the bumper sticker from a few years back: "Tom Curren for Prez"?
He should've fuckin' run! That's what I'm talking about.
So what issues do you think will appeal to surfers or coastal residents?
Oh, there's millions. We take our most valuable commodity and we shit on it. I live by a sewage treatment plant. And one of the funniest things—well, it wasn't funny, it was sad—but I'm out after Clean Ocean Day or Earth Day and I'd never seen the ocean so dirty in my life.
Then there's health care. I mean, the whole reason I'm involved in this is I screwed up my back surfing Swami's. Remember last year? January 8? It was so good! And I came off the bottom of this solid double-overhead set and I felt like this little click in my back. It ended being dusted. And I didn't make enough money to be able to afford health insurance. I mean, I'm a dad with two kids. I went to the hospital to get some help and they said I made to much money to qualify for aid, but I still don't make enough money to afford health insurance. So I said, "What you're telling me is, if I quit my job, leave my wife and kids and hit the streets, you'll fix my back." And she goes, "Yeah, basically."
Health reform, the environment and the undocumented-alien issue. That's really what it's about, man.
What would be your first act of office if elected?
To put a cap on the budget. We don't have a cap on the budget. In Georgia, they do a revenue projection for the state and say, "This is what our state's going to bring in." And they give the governor a low, medium and high figure. And what the governor has to do—which is a lot of power for a governor—is he picks one of those figures and says, "You can't spend one dollar more than this." So what happens is they're not overspending. They're not getting a $38 billion deficit because they're not allowed to spend more than that.
Then we go in and start cleaning up some of these programs. We have this good idea for clearing out the welfare program. I want to issue debit cards with the person's picture on it and a fingerprint ID system, like Bank of America. We don't spend money on food stamps and sending any welfare checks through the mail, and the state holds that money in an account, so it collects interest. Not only does it cut out fraud—because it's hard to forge those cards and people trade food stamps on the market—it cuts out multiple checks going to single people using 50 different names. And it also restores dignity to the people that have to use the food stamps.
So, like I said, we cap the bleeding and then we go in and start cleaning it up. And you know what, Californians are going to have to eat shit for a little bit. We've got ourselves in a mess and people think they're not going to be affected, and it's not true. One of the problems with California is we're allowed to put initiatives on the ballot, and most of the initiatives that come from the California voters are "more funding, less taxes." Okay, let's say that passes. All of a sudden, we have to fund more projects, but we have no money to fund them. I remember telling my dad when I was 15 that I wanted "more funding and less taxes. It fucking didn't fly then, and it doesn't fly now, either.
Well, you can't spend what you don't have.
Exactly. And that's common sense. And they say, "You're inexperienced as governor. You've never even held office." Well, you know what? I've never overdrawn my checkbook by 38 billion bucks either, man. I do have a basic knowledge of what's happening politically. On the other hand, I'm not going to walk into office and say I have the answers. I mean, we're supposed to learn from our people, we're supposed to keep an open mind. I want to walk in there and say, "I don't have the answers, let me hear what you have to say." From the Republicans, from the Democrats, from the Green Party, the Libertarians. I think the governor's job is to be a student. It's like the day you stop being a student is the day you've just become a total fucking asshole.
It sounds like while many see your lack of experience as a weakness, you see it as your strength.
Right. Ronald Reagan had no political experience when he was made governor and he became president. And now they're building ships and naming them after him.
Did you ever think in 1982 you'd be comparing yourself to Ronald Reagan?
No [laughs]. And even now, I'm only comparing myself in terms of his lack of experience. But I'll tell you, Reagan was good fodder for songs.
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If all goes well on October 7, there could be some tunes written about you some day.
I've already considered that [laughs].
Speaking of tunes, have you looked at the governer's mansion to see where the jam room will go?
Nah. Actually, I figure I'll live in San Francisco, 'cause it's only an hour drive and I can surf Ocean Beach. But I have already thought about draining the pool [laughs].