Jack Grisham and the SoCal Goth-Punk Sound

I have long been a fan of TSOL frontman Jack Grisham and his various musical endeavours. However, the impetus for this blog post actually came from a song used in the excellent documentary Stoked: The Rise and Fall of Gator. As far as I know, this is the only music ever released in any form by the tragic skateboard legend Mark “Gator” Rogowski. I was really haunted by the track after viewing the film, and it struck me that it seems to come from a very similar place (musically and emotionally, as well as geographically!) to much of Grisham’s work.

“Dudesblood” by John Hogan and Mark Rogowski

In some ways, Jack Grisham is emblematic of a dark and unpleasant period in West Coast punk. That is to say the point at which the Bohemian Hollywood art-punk scene centred around The Masque nightclub gave way to the brutal Hardcore of Orange County and Huntingdon Beach, a movement led by the legendary Black Flag. Certainly this is the impression one gets from reading Marc Spitz and the late Masque founder Brendan Mullen’s brilliant book We Got The Neutron Bomb. Original LA scene pioneers such as Exene Cervenka and John Doe of X decry the disappearance of the mutually supportive and artistically-inclined downtown scene – peopled by all manner of outcast waifs and strays who had washed up on Hollywood Boulevard. In its place they see the emergence of a scene dominated by over-privileged suburban bully-boys hungry only for violence and confrontation.

Certainly, Jack Grisham’s own personal testimony in the book does little to dispel this view – though one cannot help but feel that he is feeding his own myth to some extent – and the original TSOL were notorious as one of the most violent and uncompromising bands on the scene. Yet despite their image as antisocial surf-punk miscreants, the band produced some of the most interesting and individual music to come out of California in the 1980s. The foremost example of this is their 1982 album Beneath The Shadows, which fused the agression and intensity of SoCal Hardcore and the haunting atmospherics of UK Goth and Post-Punk in a genuinely unprecented and unique way. The album apparently prompted much confusion and derision at the time of its release, and for someone like myself – coming to the music years later and far removed from its background – it is indeed hard to equate the musical depth and experimentation with contemporary accounts of the band’s attitudes and behaviour.

“Forever Old” (from “Beneath The Shadows”) by TSOL

I think what I find most compelling about the music – and what I feel it has in common with Gator’s track – is that, though punk in essence, it is very far removed in its attitude and style from the original punk scenes of New York, London and LA. The sense of alienation conveyed by the SoCal sound is that of an instinctual and often genuinely nihilistic worldview quite opposed to the self-conscious “otherness” and intellectual rebellion of the likes of Patti Smith, The Clash and the aforementioned X. In cinematic terms, this is music made by the kids from Over The Edge and, in fact, what for me represents TSOL’s defining moment comes from Penelope Spheeris’s epochal 1984 film Suburbia.

Unfortunately, the band didn’t actually get round to recording this classic track in a studio until 2005, as by the time of the film’s shooting the original lineup was in disarray, with Grisham leaving soon after. The former frontman pursued his interest in dark, atmospheric music through projects such as Cathedral Of Tears and Tender Fury, and was widely ignored and/or derided for doing so. However, what little I have heard of his immediate post-TSOL work seems infinitely more interesting than his former band’s transformation into second-rate Guns ‘N’ Roses clones, who at their nadir featured no original members.

“A Situation Of” by Cathedral Of Tears

Grisham’s subsequent work with The Joykiller and the reformed TSOL is also well worth a listen, but I feel this blog post has waffled on long enough, so I’ll leave it there for now.


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