T.S.O.L. were punk rock originals, and the flagship act of the late 1970s/early 1980s Orange County hardcore scene, headlining shows with Bad Religion, Social Distortion and Suicidal Tendencies. Though a hugely influential act, the group never attained the same acclaim beyond California, hampered by their ever-shifting sound, drugs and the adventures of mercurial front man Jack Grisham.
They followed the powerful hardcore anthems, "Abolish Government/Silent Majority" and "Property is Theft," of their 1981 self-titled debut EP, with the goth-punk, "Dance With Me," sounding like the West Coast answer to the Misfits. More melodic than their punk peers, their 1982 album, "Beneath the Shadows," remains a classic, but the band soon splintered and spent the late 1980s turning hair metal behind a different singer. The original lineup reconvened in mid-1990s, wrested back control of the name, and has released several albums since, in-between periodic breakups.
"We've had more reunions than Cher," said a jovial Grisham from his O.C. home. "We're constantly not playing, and playing, broken up, and not broken up. It's high stakes drama constantly."
MANIC FRONT MAN
One reason is the manic front man. The band's endured many a legal difficulty due to Grisham's antics " inviting kids from the audience to demonstrate how to put a condom on or how quickly an underage teen can quaff a beer " but it's a lunacy central to the band's high-energy performance, and he feels it separates them from the Hot Topic punks of today.
"That's what's being punk " that whole craziness, stupidity and wild, reckless abandon. You can't sell that," Grisham said.
He isn't even trying. The band celebrated their 30th anniversary in December with the release of "Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Free Downloads," which is available with the help of sportswear manufacturer, Hurley. Hurley paid for the recording, and hosts the download from their site, which also boasts links to several of Grisham's favorite charities.
"Hurley gets to advertise, our charities get support, the kids get a free record; everybody wins. We just made the stupid of mistake of not putting a button to donate to us," Grisham said with a laugh.
WILD YOUTHFUL ANTICS
But don't worry too much about Grisham, who will hopefully cash in with his nearly finished autobiography, "American Savage." Written with the help of Kent and Keith Zimmerman (who've co-authored books with Sex Pistol John Lydon and Hell's Angel Sonny Barger), the book is more than a compendium of Grisham's wild youthful antics, which included losing a mail truck down a hill during his brief tour with the United States Postal Service.
"It's not just horror stories of me being an animal. It did start off like that. When I first gave it to (the editor), he was like, 'Dude, they don't even make movies like this. You've got to stop. This is 150 pages and no one likes you. If they haven't put the book down already, they're saying, someone please shoot this man,'" Grisham said, joking. "The Zimmermans helped him paint a fuller, more sympathetic picture. "It came out great, so it's not all bad, but actually kind of spiritually positive."
It's appropriate, because beneath its wild, aggressive exterior, punk's always been about forging a better path, something T.S.O.L. have known all along. "Chris Parker