The other day, I got a text message saying, "Jack Grisham (TSOL) reads from his insane autobiography @ 6 at the Comet. Check it out... or miss out." Because I don't know a thing about punk, I had to look up TSOL on the internet: A bunch of violent Southern California delinquents got together in 1979 to make hardcore, death rock, art punk, and horror punk, and to fuck with people. (A couple of the original members are dead, but the band is still a band.) Because the best readings always happen in places they aren't supposed to, and because the gorgeous trash heap that is the Comet has hosted some of the best nights of my life, I dropped everything and went. There were chairs in rows, there was a table with bottles of water on it, and there was a six-foot-four guy in an Air Jordan zip-up jacket and white sneakers saying to a man adjusting the microphone: "I'm loud, fuck. Yeah, I'm really loud. Obnoxiously loud. I don't need it." And then he turned to the room and said, "I'm Jack Grisham. Normally I follow that up with 'I'm an alcoholic,' but not tonight."
The book is called An American Demon, and he sold it to the crowd by saying things like "See, the thing is, I don't know about writing. I write 50-word songs about 'fuck the government.' How hard is that?" He's a man of his word: The writing sounded like someone who doesn't know anything about writing wrote it. But the stories are alluringly violent—hog-tying a friend and dropping him in a swimming pool, locking guys in the trunk of his car, kicking out a biker gang guy's eye with a pair of spurs. Grisham's first "fancy" literary agent dumped him because he couldn't stand the book ("I'm used to that, I'm in a punk band"), so then he got it published by ECW Press in Canada, but Grisham isn't allowed in Canada because of his FBI file. "So the book got put out by a Canadian company, but I can't actually go to their office. And the Canadian government ended up paying for the book because of the subsidies they have for the arts."
Every author has a story about walling himself off to write, but only an LA delinquent like Grisham spends those years living in a 2005 Toyota Corolla and then on the floor of an office building, taking showers on a state beach. "My family ended up doing an intervention on me," he said, remembering the writing process. "I've been clean for 22 years, but they wanted to put me in a mental hospital. Because I was eating rotten fruit and working on the book."
Still Haven't Heard Back from You, Dennis Johnson
Something tells me Tao Lin's publisher will never e-mail me back about last week's column. But hope springs eternal.