Maybe it's time a showman ran California again. A talk with the ideal candidate
I have spoken to the next governor of California. For decades he has thrilled audiences across the country and around the world. Through his fertile imagination, he has been a secret agent and fought the supernatural. Maybe you've seen him in a movie. Still, I can't imagine him as a real governor.
Perhaps it's that my imagination is more fertilizer than fertile, but I tell him I can't believe he is really running. I mean---even leaving the nastiness of politics aside---why would a legendary entertainer, who has always been a tireless promoter, abandon supporting his latest effort, a project years in the making, to do this quickie campaign for governor?
According to the newbie candidate, Jack Grisham, the singer of T.S.O.L. (who'd you think I was talking about, Larry Flynt?), the honor of serving the people is worth the sacrifice. Still, it is hard to conceive of a worse time for him to get involved in politics as his seminal punk band is set next month to release its first album in two years.
"If I wind up doing this there won't be anything. I won't even be able to be on tour; I'll be in Sacramento. But I don't want to talk about my band. If you want to do an interview about my band, call back. If you want to do an interview about me running for governor, great."
According to Grisham, it was not the band but the more mundane aspects of life---punk rock star doesn't come with a health plan---that inspired his desire to become governor.
"I got hurt, and I couldn't get any help. I was told by the health-care people that I make too much money to get any help from the state and that I make too little money to be able to afford health insurance. So I was stuck in the middle. There are a ton of people like me in the state of California and that is really sad."
That's great and all, yet, back in the day, T.S.O.L were too extreme for commercial radio and MTV. So, short of the billboard chick and the porn star, it is hard to name a candidate less likely to be embraced by the mainstream.
Me: The last time I saw you, you were wearing a skirt and eyeliner.
The Candidate: Right.
Me: Do you think the people of California are ready for that?
The Candidate: Well, that's what I do. What I do at the job has nothing to do with my stance on politics. If I was a plumber, would I be showing up in overalls with a bag of tools? I don't think so. It's just a job. It's what I do.
And, sure enough, on Grisham's campaign website there is a photo of him looking every bit as squeaky clean as Gary Condit. But it will take more than a shower and a trip to the Sears men's wear department to escape the legacy of T.S.O.L. Starting in 1979, the True Sounds of Liberty merged gothic imagery, hard-core alienation and perverse humor to create one of the most influential bands to emerge from the hard-core punk scene. There isn't a band on the Warped Tour that shouldn't be turning over part of every royalty check to T.S.O.L.
Yet California voters may not perceive influencing Green Day or appearing in the underground movie Suburbia as a positive thing, and, more importantly, the voters may not groove to the things fans love best about T.S.O.L. Take, for example, "Code Blue," an ode to necrophilia: "And I don't even care how she died," Grisham sings, with the kids finishing, "But I like it better if she smells of formaldehyde!"
"I readily admit my past as much as possible," the Candidate says. "If someone starts quoting from 'Code Blue,' are they also going to show footage of all the cops Arnold Schwarzenegger wastes in Terminator?"
Believe it or not, Grisham is not the first punk-rock legend to be a candidate for office in California. Jello Biafra from Dead Kennedys once ran for mayor of San Francisco and generated a surprisingly respectable number of votes.
The Candidate: Biafra's thing was a joke. He treated it as a joke. Biafra's deal was, like, let's make the cops wear clown suits or whatever. I mean, I'm pro-police. This isn't a joke to me. Government is not a joke.
Me: Aren't you the guy who wrote "Abolish Government"?
The Candidate: Yes. A lot of that I still feel the same way. Our government has become a burden on the people. We've always supported people waking up, people getting involved and people doing something about it. The thing about this election is that this is the only chance that we will ever see in our lives that a regular citizen could stand up and get elected governor of California. To me this is serious. I am a punk-rock singer who is completely serious about government.
So, seriously then, the big question: If elected governor how would Grisham resolve the state deficit?
The Candidate: It is not an easy situation. People who tell you that they are just going to walk right out there and straighten out the deficit are lying. It's just not going to happen. The bureaucracy in California is just unbelievable. There is no easy solution for any of this and the Democrats and Republicans are just fighting like children. What I am going to do is go up there and take points from both sides and do whatever we can to work this thing out.
I'm convinced. Too bad I can't vote. But I also hope Jack wins because I'd like to see a certain muscle-bound actor play him in the movie version. I'm sure Arnold will look great wearing a skirt and eyeliner.
Contributing editor Richard Abowitz covers entertainment for the Weekly.
By Richard Abowitz