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Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2011

An 'American Demon' Remembers

TSOL's Jack Grisham digs deep

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Imagine, as literary premise, a demon in young Caucasian male form. So far, so Goth. Make this demon handsome, athletic and intelligent. Put him in Huntington Beach, Calif. Have him surf, hate Reagan and listen to Rodney Bingenheimer—wholesome teenage fun with cuddly Cali-demon. Get creative. Give your demon a double dose of schadenfreude and watch mayhem erupt. Some kicks—Tarantino could option this.

Now give Demon Boy free will. Watch him turn so greedy and rebellious that even his evil overlord forsakes him. Add consequences. Make him a father.

Now you have a marketing problem. Jack Grisham's An American Demon (ECW Press) is an exquisitely detailed piece of antisocial noir, a spiritual parable of unbridled imagination, an utterly compelling avalanche of action with lots of sick laughs. I know about two people with the stomach for it.

“The trouble with the book,” Grisham says, “is the fact that [the publisher] put it [out] as a memoir. It's been compared to all sorts of great books, but it's filed under 'Punk Rock Memoir,' so why pick it up? And a lot of people can't see beyond the violence…”

Hold up. Memoir?

“I'm always being forced to tell these stories,” Grisham continues, “because I'm in these movies and they want to talk punk rock, and right away, 'Hey, tell us about you being an animal'—that kind of crap. The stories in An American Demon are the same stories, but the way they were put together is different.”

Punk rock stories? Oh, snap, you're the Jack Grisham who sang with TSOL, Cathedral of Tears, et al.! Heard you were a bad boy. You must've written a lot to get to this level.

“Never. And I know this is going to sound completely ridiculous, but Facebook really fuckin' helps me. I got 5,000 friends on there. These are people who want to stay in contact with me. So, basically, I was forced to learn how to write ideas in 140 characters—the Twitter limit. 'Hey, you have two sentences here. I need you to be able to stir emotion in two lines.'”

And here I thought you'd read all this Jim Thompson and Dashiell Hammett. “No, not at all,” he says with a laugh. “If you want to talk authors, Henry Kuttner, Harlan Ellison, Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, Mark Twain—that's what I grew up on.”

Did you know you had such a powerful story when you started writing this? “It was completely mercenary at the start. I'm just a working guy with a couple kids. I knew I had a point of view. After I spent half the advance, I thought, 'Really? You're going to sell yourself out for that?' And then I looked at the story completely different. After I was done, I thought, 'I don't even need to give this to them. Give back the money and fuck it.'”

Sounds like punk rock. What inspired your point of view?

“Well, it feels like I owe. I got a large debt to pay. I hurt a lot of people. I wanted to know why they hurt, and I wanted to know how I could hurt, and to watch them as I hurt them. As a kid, that was truth. That was all I had.”

Thus the demon character. How'd you pull it off? “I was illegally living in an office, eating rotten food, not taking care of myself, writing 18 to 20 hours a day… I mean, it was evil. Whatever got onto those pages was in the room with me when it was being written. My kid and a couple of friends tried to commit me during the writing because it had gotten so foul.”

An American Demon
feels like a shotgun blast through the guts of the American suburban dream. Has anything changed?

“In a way, it seems more positive. There's times when I look at it and say, 'Everything's just insanity; this is shit.' And then other times—I have children. And I see in them a mind-set that wasn't there when I was a kid, something more positive. They're more tolerant, they're more understanding, they're more loving as people than I was.”

Grisham, a musician, therapist, prison volunteer, father and terrific writer, is living proof that the worst thing you can give a demon is free will.
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