INTERVIEW WITH JACK GRISHAM
INTERVIEW BY STEVE OLSON
INTRODUCTION BY STEVE OLSON
The governor as he should be… Let the people speak, and be heard. Hearing the words of the vocalist… Do we hear them, or just the music behind it? It, being the songs, words, meaning, and all the other jive that goes into it. The man here, Jack, says it like he sees it… Now it’s up to you, to make any sense of it…“Take some Adam Ant, Martin Luther King, Dave Vanian, juice all that together, and throw Gandhi in there and you’ve got a little punk rock messiah ordering around little punker chicks to go out and destroy while wearing Chanel dresses and bright pink-colored lipstick.”
[Laughs] I’m walking down the boardwalk with a towel over my head. I’m going to sit down now because I have a feeling that these people don’t like this look right now.
Why not? It’s the mystery towel.
[Laughs] Yeah. I’m just some guy walking down the street with a towel on his head. Nobody gives a shit anymore what people do. You used to be able to do stuff and people would bum out. Now nobody even cares.
If you took all your clothes off and walked around with a towel on your head, they might notice.
[Laughs] They might notice, but I’d be in jail. I really can’t afford that, especially while being separated from my wife right now. All of a sudden, you have to have supervised visits, and she’s pregnant.
Who got her pregnant?
I don’t know. Some guy. Why? Do you think it was you?
No. I thought it was you.
I don’t think it was me.
Well, I don’t think it was me.
No. She was kind of cute, right?
Big tits. That’s cute.
[Laughs] Yeah. I find that attractive.
[Laughs] I should retract that. That’s really cute.
[Laughs] That’s not just cute. That’s pretty. Women really give us a hard time, man. We’re way more likeable than they are. We’re just not as gentle.
[Laughs] No, we’re just dicks.
[Laughs] Yeah. One of my favorite things is what she lacks in looks, she makes up for with willingness.
[Laughs] I invented that. That’s trademark Jack Grisham, Inc. That’s not to be used without permission.
[Laughs] Ok, good. Where do you come from?
Straight out of Long Beach. I grew-up in middle-class Long Beach. There’s shit hole Long Beach, upper-class Long Beach, upper-middle-class Long Beach and middle-class Long Beach. The house I grew-up in was like a house built in the ’50s for the McDonell Douglas workers.
You spent your whole life there?
I was born in Frisco, but we moved here so early it didn’t matter. I was a navy brat. I mean there were five kids and we were all built in different cities. I just happened to be the Frisco one. That might explain my taste in women’s clothes. It just trickles down.
[Laughs] I know, at one point, you played water polo for Millikan.
Yeah! They got me to swim to keep me out of trouble. I was surfing, so they figured swimming was cool. I played and actually got a letter. I never got the letter on a sweater or anything, but I did earn it. After tenth grade, I started getting kicked out of school and off the team. I got kicked out of Millikan to Lakewood. The guys at Lakewood were stoked because I was a good swimmer, but then that didn’t last. I forged some major grades and got out of there. The cool thing was that this was before computers, so I was able to forge the shit. I went there for a quarter and the grades weren’t good, so I just took the report cards and forged my grades and took the forged grades back to the other school. I took them right into the principal and said, ‘Hey, look, I got C’s and B’s. Let me back in!’ By that time, I was behaving enough where she let me stay.
I was able to forge grades. You can’t do that shit now. They just click on the computer and you’re popped. Back then you could do shit like that. I did, graduate from school. I had to take summer school, but I did graduate.
So you’ve got a diploma?
I think my mom’s got it. She went back to the school and got it to prove that I wasn’t a total piece of shit. She could say, ‘At least he did this.’ I’ve never seen my diploma, and no one has ever asked me for it.
When you were going to jobs it wasn’t like, ‘Can we see your high school diploma, please?’
[Laughs] Well, it wasn’t like I had a lot of jobs. I was working on the boats like a boat slave. It’s the fucking harbor. It’s not like they’re asking any questions. When I was selling cars, I had to have a driver’s license. None of them ever asked me for my high school diploma. It wasn’t like I was going to a job that required any academic skill. It was all bullshit or muscle work. You could lie or you could do heavy lifting.
[Laughs] You’re hired. How did you ever get into the whole music scene?
It was kind of a joke. We used to fuck around with a cello when I was a kid. I used to play piano, but it’s not like I could sing or anything. The only reason that I got into punk rock was because of the stealing. That’s what I liked. I liked causing trouble. The punk rock was just backdrop music. I’m a pop guy. I like pop.
Define what ‘pop’ is to you though.
Well, I’m talking the Damned and Elvis Costello. When I was a kid that’s what I dug. I liked Styx and X, and the more melodic kind of punk stuff. I just got into it because we were fucking around over at Todd’s house, with Todd and Pat. I went to high school with Pat, so I was always fucking off with him at school. At lunch, we’d just be breaking shit. Elvis Costello played Millikan in ’78. A lot of people forget that. He played Hollywood High and Millikan at the same time and that got me more into it. It was Elvis Costello, Mink Deville and Nick Lowe. It was a great show for five bucks at the school. I had already been listening to the Sex Pistols and the Talking Heads. I was listening to Rodney’s show on Sunday nights and just tripping on that. I was going over to Todd’s house and we’d just fuck around. We were stealing stuff. We’d go out on robberies, steal instruments and break into restaurants, and rip off their beer. I’d take off all the guitar strings, except for two because it was too fucking hard to try to tune six strings. We didn’t know what was going on, man, so we just tuned the two strings. We were just yelling shit. I was playing guitar, playing drums, and then I just ended up singing. That’s just what happened.
From my recollection, there was the garage with a couple of things in there, and then you’d come back a day or two later and, all of a sudden, there were a lot more things.
[Laughs] Yeah, but half of that shit we didn’t even know how to turn on. The amp with just a head was worthless. It’s like, ‘Where are the fucking speakers?’ So we just destroyed it. Todd had that ramp out in his backyard, so it was basically skate, fuck off and then play on stolen gear. We just kept collecting more shit. Todd’s grandparents were clueless. His grandmother, Lil, thought the birds were saying shit like, ‘Ronald Reagan for four more years!’ The birds were little Budgies. They were birds that don’t talk. She’s telling us this stuff. Todd’s grandfather, he was a straight dog. He’d come out and there’d be all sorts of amps and motorcycles all over the place. He’d say, ‘Todd, where are you getting this stuff?’ Todd would say, ‘Get inside, old man. It’s none of your fucking business.’ The whole backyard was just full of stolen shit. What’s crazy is that years later they tore down Todd’s house and redid it and I was tripping because we had so much stuff buried in that backyard. There were headstones, and all sorts of shit buried back there. I’m wondering, when they went to lay the new foundation, how much of that shit they found. There must have been 30 or 40 headstones buried in Todd’s backyard. Somebody had to trip on that.
[Laughs] So you guys were just goofing off with the music stuff?
We were just fucking off. The way the band really started was after hooking up with Houston. Steve Houston and those guys were playing in the Klan. The Klan had just broken up and we were friends with Houston, so we said, ‘Hey, let’s make a band.’ The first band we had was called the SS Cult. Then it was Johnny Coat Hanger and the Abortions. It was just craziness. We ended up going down to Huntington and hooking up with Houston and then started Vicious Circle in ’79.
I love the fact that you tell the truth though. A lot of people embellish and say they started in ’77 and ’78. Vicious Circle started in ’79.
When did the Pistols come out? ’76 or ’77? We started listening to that stuff and I lived in the suburbs. We were kids and we could get a ride up to Hollywood, but it was hard trying to find a ride. It wasn’t like you were hanging out every night in clubs. In ’77, I was 16-years-old. I couldn’t have gotten in anywhere anyways. I was a kid! There weren’t any all-ages punk shows back then. It wasn’t like, ‘Hey, it’s a punk show for the kids!’ There were no kids.
It wasn’t a kid-friendly thing at all.
No. You had to go to a bar to see a show. I remember I was pissed off because The Germs and Middle Class were playing Club 88, but we called it Club Over 21. We weren’t old enough to get in there, so we had to try to sneak in.
Yeah, but that was achieved sometimes.
We pulled that off a lot of times. I shaved my head in late ’78. In the summer between 11th and 12th grade, which was early ’78, I took my pictures for the high school yearbook and looked like a surfer. I had blond hair with cut bangs. In my drivers license in ’77, I look like a fiend. I looked like some kid from Dazed and Confused with the shaved head.
Tell me that Dazed and Confused was not set in El Dorado Park. When I saw that movie for the first time, I was like, ‘That’s El Dorado Park in ’77.’ I tell people, ‘Yeah. That’s my life.’
[Laughs] It was. I just trip on it. If all of these guys that were supposedly into punk rock and in bands in ’77, how huge would the scene have been? It’s like, ‘What are you talking about?’ It’s crazy.
It’s sad that they have to make it seem cooler than it was.
Well, it is what it is. It’s like, ‘How old were you?’ I’m sorry, but I was 16. It’s nuts.
So you did Vicious Circle…
By the summer of ’79, Vicious Circle was in full swing.
Vicious Circle had a following of dudes.
Yeah. It was huge, for what it was, but it was just idiots. The following was fucking crazy. It was just a bunch of out of control assholes looking to have a good time. There was a lot of violence, a lot of stupidity, and a lot of rat fucking people. There weren’t a lot of one-on-one fights. It was 21 on 1.
[Laughs] Why did you become the singer?
I couldn’t really do anything else. I didn’t like it. It just ended up that way. I’ve never been able to sing. I’m a performer. That’s what I call it. It’s like, ‘Oh, you’re a singer.’ ‘Nah, dude, I’m a performer. There’s a big difference.’
What about your first gig with Vicious Circle, your first gig going out and being the frontman?
My friend Peggy was going out with Jeff Atta from Middle Class, and she got us a gig. It was Vicious Circle, Middle Class and the Germs at the Fleetwood. That was my first real show. People were buying tickets and stuff, you know?
Right. Were you nervous?
I was scared to death. I was wearing cowboy boots with spurs, and black leather pants. We stole a whole bunch of leather pants from this bondage place.
[Laughs] All I can remember is that you guys broke lots of gear and somehow I got a pair of leather pants out of it.
Right. We were giving away leather pants to everybody. We had gone to this fetish shop and we took one of those army metal shovels, busted the window out, jumped through the window and started grabbing shit. We made off with a whole bunch of leather pants, harnesses and dildos. We were throwing dildos at each other and just being fucking idiots. We came out of there with a whole bunch of leather pants. Everybody was getting leather pants. You got a pair. Paul Problem got a pair. At my very first show, I was wearing a nice pair of fucked up cowboy boots, leather pants and a strait jacket. I looked like a mental patient gay cowboy.
And you were scared out of your mind.
Yeah! It wasn’t like I was scared to be at the place. I was scared to be on the stage. That’s what’s funny about it. I’m in a place where people are beating the shit out of each other. I’ve got guys that are pissed off at me and trying to fight me for all sorts of stupidity, and I’m worried about getting onstage and singing a song. I’m not frightened to put a bottle over somebody’s head. I’m frightened to get on stage and sing a song. That’s what’s fucked up.
That’s fucking brilliant. So what happened at the show?
It was just fights, fights, fights… We got out and played and the band was actually pretty tight. We had some cool songs. It wasn’t like I was running around on stage or anything. I was just holding onto the mic and had my eyes closed a lot of time and I was just shouting. There was a review that said that what I was wearing didn’t match my actions. With a strait jacket on, they thought I’d be running around all crazy, but I wasn’t. I was just freaked to be on stage. To play with Middle Class and the Germs, those were my fucking heroes.
That was huge.
That was our first show. Not only was it our first show but it was our first show in front of 500 people. It was a packed Fleetwood. To be on stage in front of that, I was fucking scared.
Yeah, but once you faced up to it, it was alright. It wasn’t as bad as you imagined it would be.
It was bad, but it wasn’t that bad. I was a little pumped up and everyone went nuts. Everybody was so busy watching everyone kick the fuck out of each other. All the people who came to see us were going crazy, so it wasn’t so much the band or the music that was popular. It was the insanity that went down at the shows that got us popular. The songs weren’t great, although there were a couple of cool songs.
A couple of songs were really fucking cool, like the one with the James Bond lead in it.
That was ‘I’m Jim’. That was a great song. A lot of it was the people going nuts that made the band. We knew it was going to be crazy. We knew there were going to be a bunch of idiots there, and you didn’t want to be left out. You want to be an idiot too, so you’re down there with them. It’s a lot better to be a part of something like that than to be against it. If you were to walk in there and be against it, there was a roomful of idiots waiting to stomp your teeth out.
When you were first becoming a punker, there was that whole thing of the jocks wanting to kill you and calling you Devo and then, all of a sudden, there were these weird Brian Wassman type punks running around.
That was the difference. There were lot of those guys like Wassman, Dan Kennedy and the Rhino 39 guys. The Rhino 39 guys were the first punks at our high school. They were a bit effeminate. We were sportsmen. We all skated and surfed. We were big guys. When we started coming around, they were a little more frightened because we were willing to be tough and fight back.
That’s where I was going with this. It goes from, ‘Hey, Devo! Fuck you.’ All of a sudden, the Devo cats wanted to kill everyone.
That was the thing, too. I was never a fighter, man. When I was starting high school, I was mellow. I got into a couple of fights when I was a kid, but you get into one or two fights as a kid and everyone leaves you alone. I never had that kind of trouble. Later on, the more I got involved with punk rock, the more I started getting in fights. I remember Verna showed up at my house one day just out of the fucking blue. I used to hang with Verna when we were surfer kids. He showed up to my house one day and he had gotten this haircut and my hair was cut, I said, ‘What are you doing?’ He said, ‘I’m into punk.’ I said, ‘Me too. Let’s go kick somebody’s ass!’ I had just gotten this little Volkswagen van, so we just drove out, and he basically ended up stomping the fuck out of some random victim, just for the fuck of it. When I was in high school, I wasn’t one of those guys that ran around fighting guys, but after I started getting into fights, I got a real taste for it. I liked it. It was exciting. I didn’t like getting an ass beating, but I sure liked giving one. You just start feeding on that shit a little bit.
The adrenaline probably starts getting you going.
Right. One or two, you’re doing pretty well. And then you want to get in another one, and another one. And then you get your ass beaten or you get a bottle broken over your head. You mellow out for a day or two and then you get sucked back in again.
I just remember the fight at the machine shop.
Yeah. That was pretty bad. I didn’t have much to do with that. I was actually trying to stop it, because I liked those Long Beach guys. That whole fight at the Machine Shop was like the Huntington guys versus the North Town Long Beach guys, and some of us. I liked those guys, and I wasn’t a big fan of punk-on-punk violence. I didn’t really like that. I really thought we were supposed to stick together. That shit bummed me out. I don’t have a problem getting into a fight with idiots that are trying to pick on punks. I’m all for that, but punk-on-punk was bad and I tried to stop that. I remember, we were talking, trying to straighten it out and one of the guys took a swing at me, and then it just got fucking ugly. It turned into stupidity and they took it really bad. They really got the living fuck beaten out of them. I mean, Schmitty was stabbed seven times. It got ugly, man. I was fighting this one guy and when I hit him, he went into the street. I didn’t even want to hit him! I liked him! I was bummed that he was coming at me, but I wasn’t going to let him fucking hit me, so I punched him and knocked him into the street. When he went down into the street, Dave White took his truck and drove over his legs. It broke his legs. He drove over the fucking guy’s legs with a truck. It was ugly, man. That wasn’t good, but then a lot of those guys deserved it. I’m not saying them, in particular, but you get what you deserve. I got what I deserved, but not as much as I should have. If I got my ass kicked, I sucked it up, because I was being a prick and I got what I deserved. I remember my dad was so stoked one time because my record was pretty solid. I did all right, but one night I got the living fuck kicked out of me. I went down in the street and was seeing black flashes and stars like in a cartoon. They were literally kicking the fuck out of my head, my ribs, my balls, and everything. I finally got out of it. We did okay with me and one other guy, but there were all of these fucking hippies just jumping on. I had two black eyes and both of my lips were fat. I had lumps all over my head and my ribs were kicked in. The next morning, I was at my mom and dad’s, because I always lived at mom and dad’s, and I’m wearing this dress. I had this real cool Japanese dress. So I’m sitting there in my Japanese dress and my dad’s just bumming because he’s this old Navy guy. I’m downstairs laying in this dress, watching cartoons, and eating some Fruit Loops. My dad looked at me and said, ‘All right! You finally got your fuckin’ ass kicked!’ I just went nuts. I said, ‘It took two to do it, old man!’
[Laughs] What happened with Vicious Circle? I thought that was a cool band.
It was a cool band, but the violence just escalated. I had guys driving by my mom and dad’s house and shooting at the house. Somebody put a pickaxe through the front window of my station wagon. I came out one morning and there’s a pickaxe through the window. They put fucking sugar in the gas tank, and then that car was gone. Then they cut the lines on my Roadster, so my Roadster blew up. I was filling my gas tank up and the next thing I know, I looked at the gas tank and it was going empty. I was like, ‘What the fuck? I just filled it!’ The next thing I know, I was sitting in a fucking ball of fire. Luckily, I had the top off the car, and when the car blew up, I was stopped. I had pulled up at Garfield and West. All of a sudden, I go, ‘What the fuck?’ I could see the gas tank falling. It was full and I could see it was falling and I’m thinking, ‘What the fuck?’ The next thing I know, I’m sitting in a flame ball. When they got the car into the shop, they go, ‘Somebody cut your gas lines. This has been tampered with.’ So that freaked me out. Then we were playing a show at the Fleetwood and I kicked some fucker’s eye out. Some fucking hippie-biker-whatever-the-fuck-kind-of-guy was choking a friend of mine out. I’m on stage playing and I see him choking my buddy. I can see that my buddy is going limp. So I jump off stage with my cowboy boots and spurs and catch him right in the face with the spurs. I’m weighing 180 pounds flying side kick to the face with a pair of spurs on. So the side of his face blew up like a grapefruit and then he went out to get a gun. Mike Terrell got me out of it. One of the dudes that was in that BYO movie, warned me. He said, ‘Hey, that guy’s got a fucking gun man and he’s coming in.’ I beat the fuck out of his head, and so Mike Terrell got me home, and that was it, man. I woke-up my mom and dad and said, ‘I’m done. I’ve got to split.’ I took off to Alaska, and that was the end of Vicious Circle.
Vicious Circle was done.
Yeah. I tried to go straight and that was in ’80. It was whenever Mt. Saint Helen blew up.
What did you do in Alaska?
[Laughs] I was there for two weeks. I went there thinking that I was going to do something. I don’t know what the fuck I thought I was going to do. Work on the pipeline? I ended up in Fairbanks. I was there and then one day I just told the people that I was staying with that I was going to the market and I never came back. I ended up getting on a plane and flying back here. I was laying low, surfing, working on the boats, and staying away from punk rock. I thought if I stayed away, I’d stay out of trouble. So I was home for maybe a couple of weeks and then I heard there was a party somewhere and I ended up showing up at the party and it was right back on. I was driving the car backwards. It’s two o’clock in the afternoon, and I’m hammered, doing 180s in my car in the middle of the street. It was just standard stupidity. Shortly after that, Todd who was in Vicious Circle, started playing with Mike Roche and Ron from T.S.O.L. When Todd heard I was home, he said, ‘Let’s get Jack to sing.’ So I ended up singing in that band.
What does T.S.O.L. stand for?
True Sounds of Liberty. It came from a church show. There actually still is The Sound of Liberty band. It’s like a Jimmy Swaggart church band. It was on some show they were watching and they said, ‘Fuck that. We’re the True Sounds of Liberty.’