James Greene Jr. Interview

Misfits-Book-This-Leaves-StainsI grew up in the 90s amid boy band fever. Every girl had magazines where they could get posters of their favourite groups and learn all about their favourite singer’s favourite flavour of ice-cream. I never had that luxury because I liked heavy metal and Dolly and TV Hits didn’t cover those bands. Apart from seeing the Misfits wrestle on TV, I knew nothing of them and when I started listening to them around 2002 I picked up that most people hate post-Danzig Misfits and that Jerry Only is to blame for the shitty merchandise.

So when my friend sent me a copy of This Music Leaves Stains I realised I was unaware of the band’s origins and what exactly caused the demise of the Danzig era Misfits. I was so out of the loop I didn’t even know that Doyle and Jerry were brothers.

James Greene Jr’s book is the place to go to if you need a refresher or are wanting to discover all the Misfits information you could dream of in one book. It is short, but it’s a fun and informative read and something that belongs in every Misfits fans collection.

The Naked Kiss: Can you tell our readers a little about your background and what lead you to writing a book about The Misfits?

James Greene Jr: I’ve been a freelance writer for around ten years, and I think the largest recurring theme for me has been music. That’s what I’m most passionate about, so I end up covering it. Mostly outsider stuff, though, like a lot of punk and novelty, anything weird, fringe. The more home recorded it sounds, the better. Over the years I’d tried to get a few books off the ground and they all fizzled out, for a variety of reasons. Probably lack of experience. I spent five years contributing to the version of Crawdaddy! they relaunched online. Toward the end of that, right before Crawdaddy! folded, in my off hours one day it just sort of hit me that no one had written a full book on the Misfits. That seemed a little insane based on their popularity and the popularity of everything Danzig did afterward. I wondered if I could write one. For me, the love and devotion was there, to the band and their music, their legacy, but it wasn’t a venture I took seriously until I was laid off. At that point, nothing else was going on, so I just went full bore. And through some miracle it became a reality.

In the acknowledgments you said some stories had to be excised, was this due to legal matters, potential shit stirring or another reason?

Huge chunks where I analyze lyrics, entire passages of songs, where I tear apart the structure and each word practically, had to go once it was made clear how expensive it is to reprint song lyrics that have been registered with the American Society of Composers, Authors And Publishers. The costs are outrageous, which I get, because artists need to protect their creations and their revenue. My publisher told me they weren’t going to foot the bill if I kept this stuff in, and I didn’t have the money. This was right before Kickstarter took off, I think. Maybe I should have done that. My thought at the time, my thought on it now, still, is that I can do it in the future, the lyrical dissection, on a blog, like what I set up for the pictures I also couldn’t afford for the book. On the other hand, maybe tearing the songs apart to that degree would have been too much of a tangent. Some stuff was cut out because I was very conscious of keeping the narrative moving and not writing too far up my own ass. It’s important for me for the book to appeal to readers who aren’t already deeply invested in the Misfits and their lore. I could have loaded the thing with hundreds of extra weird stories and asides. I feel like writing a book about the Misfits to begin with was enough shit stirring. I knew this book was going to ruffle feathers, and it did. Nothing too bonkers, though. No bonfires on my lawn or anything.

I am assuming Danzig and Jerry Only politely declined to be interviewed for the book, did you even get past management to talk to them?

That depends on how you define “politely.” Jerry never replied to any communication I sent, be it direct, through official channels, or via a person on the inside track. Radio silence with every attempt. And there were several. Glenn, on the other hand, he was considering it. Or so I was told. We spoke through one of his assistants. I mean, there’s a chance this person never mentioned it to him, but I have no reason not to believe I was hearing the truth. Glenn considered it, apparently, but after that, nothing. More silence. The rejections were polite in that nobody called me up and told me to fuck right off with my dipshit book.

Did you get a lot of support and information from Misfits websites/fans/collectors?

Absolutely. The hardcore fans, the one who set up the websites back when barely anyone knew how to define that term, the same people who’ve tracked down all these ultra rare pieces of band memorabilia—these folks were invaluable to my research. They’re historians and I feel so lucky a handful agreed to help me. I feel lucky the basic reaction was, “Thank god someone is finally writing a book about this band.” I mean, some were skeptical it would actually happen, but I was too. I was just as skeptical that this thing would make it to shelves. We’re all crazy for this band, though, and I think maybe we get a charge from talking and sharing and helping each other when we can. I just hope the people who aided me with Stains understand my gratitude. People really went out of their way to get on board with me, some no name writer. That meant everything.

Given that this is your first book did this in anyway put limits on the scope/promotion/budget/pressing of the book? And how did you sell yourself as the person to write this book?

Well, certainly…even though I’d been freelancing for years and had experience, per se, I’d never written for any household names. I still haven’t, really. I’ve had one thing in SPIN. Being a first timer with no audience—-even now I only have 300 Twitter followers. When Stains was coming out, maybe it was half that. The publisher was taking a chance releasing a book about the Misfits, a punk band with a strong foothold in our culture, but again, not a household name, certainly not to the extent of the Ramones or the Clash. Later I was told the cabal in charge at the publisher, the people who make all the final decisions, they weren’t convinced it was worth doing until someone showed them a Misfits Facebook that has a million followers. Or several hundred thousand. So, yeah, I had no delusions about them booking me on “Fresh Air” or getting reviewed in Pitchfork.

The only angle I could take in selling myself as the correct author for Stains was to try and wear my passion for the band on my sleeve, to try and articulate what they meant to me, along side whatever writing clips I was using at the time to display my talents. You know, I’m not Franché Coma’s son, I’m not Dr. Chud’s mechanic, I’m just a zealous member of this cult, some stan on the sidelines who has seen the different sides of the saga unfold and can look at it with what I think is a decent amount of objectivity. And maybe I can make a sentence sound interesting.

Your book reminded me a lot of Alex Ogg’s recent Dead Kennedy’s book (so much similar legal bullshit and band drama). It too was short but visually rich – I assume there were reasons due to rights or budget as to why there were only a few photos?

Yeah, I alluded to this earlier—-pictures are just as expensive as lyrics to reprint in a book, sometimes more. My original vision for Stains was something that looked similar to Monte Melnick’s book about the Ramones. The graphic design of that book is awesome, where it feels like you’re flipping through somebody’s scrapbook. It’s so inviting, so rich. Eerie Von’s book is like that, too. Again, photo licensing was something I’d have to pay for out of pocket, that’s just the way it was. There wasn’t any way I could put together what I imagined at first, so I defaulted to the few-pictures-in-the-middle thing every book in the universe does. Even that didn’t go the way I wanted—-an individual who had promised me a bunch of rare-ish shots covering various incarnations of the band evaporated, just ghosted me. It was a bummer. The pictures Kevin Salk gave me are fantastic, though, and capture much of the group’s essence. Eventually I set up the tumblr with all the photos, because my thought was, People will have their phones right next to the book while they’re reading, they’ll get online maybe to look me up and complain about the lack of photos but then they’ll find the tumblr. And that’s basically what’s always happened.

After writing the above question I came across the tumblr. Is there any development regarding a special edition of the book with more visual content?

At some point an updated edition will be released…it’s in my contract, I’m obligated to do it, which is a fine obligation to have, and I definitely foresee an increase in photographic material. Somehow, you know. We’ll figure something out, otherwise what’s the point? Currently there are no firm plans are on the table concerning any of that. No timetable, not even in the contract, I think. Just thoughts, fragments.

Was it easy to track down all of those old band members and get interviews out of them?

It was relatively easy tracking everyone down, but getting interviews…well, obviously several members refused to participate. I’m sure some saw me as dubious, just another dirt clod who says he’s gonna do a book. You know, these people can’t walk out of the house without getting fifty questions about the Misfits before the mailbox. A lot of them want to leave it in the past. Googy, Diane DiPiazza, Manny—-none of them have said word one to anybody. I get it. I respect that. I’m fortunate for the people who did agree to speak with me.

What is your favourite story, anecdote, or fact you uncovered while writing the book?

It was really cool to hear directly from Ian MacKaye about his fandom for the Misfits. I had no idea that he was a fan—-I just thought he’d be good to speak to as a contemporary, someone who was following the same path the Misfits were in the early ‘80s, but he’s really into the band and Glenn’s songwriting and it was just so much fun to hear his perspective on that stuff. Constantly his quote about “Horror Business” goes through my head. “‘My windows are black for you’—- what the fuck does that mean?” If Ian MacKaye doesn’t know I sure as hell don’t. The mystery of Danzig confounds us all.

How many hours of research did you spend on this thing?

Good question. That’s what interviewees say when they have no fucking clue for an answer. I started work on the book in August 2010 and turned in the finished manuscript October 2012. Every spare moment I had between freelance jobs and regular life demands I was researching. Even up to October 2012, as I was preparing to turn the manuscript in, there was still fact checking. I guess hundreds of hours. I don’t know, I’m atrocious with math. I’ll say enough hours that once I was done I didn’t want to think about looking anything up ever again. My intellectual curiosity and amateur detective skills were maxed out.

Have any of the band members reacted to the book?

Bobby Steele either posted on Facebook or messaged me on there to say he felt vindicated by what I’d written about him and his role in the band. We communicated for a while after that. He’s the only Misfit I’ve heard from directly. People tell me Michale Graves liked it. People tell me Jerry Only didn’t. That’s it. I’d love to know what they all think but it’s gauche for me to reach out and ask and perhaps just as gauche to assume everyone in the band’s read it.

Do you think a reunion will ever happen, and if it did that it would even satisfy fans? I want to see the Misfits as they were in 1978 and I can’t. If fans complained that another singer couldn’t live up to Danzig, wouldn’t people complain that Danzig can’t live up to his act from 37 years ago?

I think the main reason fans want a reunion is because they want to believe the music has the power to snuff out all the personal issues between the members. They want to believe Glenn and Jerry will put aside their differences because they cannot deny the impact and importance of their creations. I suppose stranger things have happened, but I’d be surprised if this became reality, if the separate parties decided to eat it cost-wise and do something special for their audience. From what I understand, that’s the issue, dividing up the percentages. Each guy thinks they deserve an amount the other guy isn’t on board with. Jerry and Glenn have had enough success without each other at this point…and I don’t think their personal bond was ever super strong. Otherwise the band would have stayed together. Or they would have reunited already. What you mention about expectations, that always plagues these kinds of things. Every reunion falls short to some degree.

Your book made me revist post-Danzig Misfits and I really liked some of the Graves’ era stuff. I think he got such a shit deal as he mentions the violence and hostility he had directed at him, the fact that he wrote most of the music and was not treated with respect.  They tried to fine him $5,000 for breach of contact. Did he have any fond memories of his time in the band?

I talked to Michale for three hours for Stains. He couldn’t have been more generous or more personable toward me, which was very unexpected. Very appreciative of that. Seems to me like he has many fond memories, particularly that he was allowed to step into this coveted position, and that people like Doyle gave him so much validation and support. There was a span, he told me, where it felt like the Misfits were conquering the world. And they kinda were, circa Famous Monsters. Michale took oceans of abuse from all sorts of people, but he doesn’t seem bitter about it, and he cops to his own mistakes. He admits, or he admitted to me, that he could have handled certain situations better, that youth or inexperience was clouding his judgment. I walked away from that conversation with a newfound respect for the guy. I was a fan before but like anyone else I went in with my preconceived notions. He’s not deluded about any of the Misfits stuff.

Even though I think he milks it a bit too much I kind of have to admire Jerry’s tenacity for persisting with the band, he’s 56, surely he could retire and hang out in his sweat pants all day. They’re playing  here in NZ in December, have you seen them lately?

You can’t accuse Jerry of sloth, that’s for sure. His Misfits have turned into road warriors. The Devil’s Rain left me a little cold so I haven’t caught them at any recent gigs. I think I’d be more interested to see what Jerry might do outside of the Misfits. I know the band probably won’t end until he dies, but I’m curious what he might embark upon without the fiend skull. Clearly I’m pining for a Kryst the Conqueror reunion. I don’t know, variety is the spice of life. At the same time, a sick part of me wants to see how far the Misfits can go. Will it eventually be Jerry Jr and Jerry III? Will the grandsons walk among us?

Doing your research did you come across any insane Misfits merchandise? I always ask Misfits fans what the most ridiculous Misfits item they’ve ever seen is. For me it was a duvet cover and shoelaces. Someone told me g-strings and ugg boots but I can’t believe that, surely that can not be true.

I have definitely seen the Misfits logo on women’s undergarments and lingerie. Not in person, just online, for sale, probably by bootleggers. The shoelaces are my go-to example for asinine merchandise. Who’s even going to notice that? Well, sneakerheads, I guess. But if you’re trying to display your fandom there are easier, more visible ways. Oh, I think I saw the Crimson Ghost on a Zippo lighter once. That’s a little…I don’t know. Vegas? It feels flashy.

Do you have plans for other books or are there any other bands that you would like to see have a book published about them?

I’m in the beginning stages of a book that will explore the development of punk rock in foreign countries. There were so many scenes around the world more or less concurrent to the British and U.S. explosions of the late ‘70s, I think it will be cool to write something that digs into all of them to some degree, so people can understand what life and art is like in other places, and how many amazing groups there are all over the place. It seems like a broad thing to do, a daunting proposition, maybe, covering all these places and cultures, but I find it as engaging an idea as the Misfits book, and I’m in the mood to do something general. Or more generalized. I’m not even sure, if you put a gun to my head and asked me to pick one band to write a book about right now, who I’d pick. I hope someone writes a book about the Gits some day. A super comprehensive book about Run-D.M.C. would be a godsend. Someone has to do the end-all GG Allin book. That’s one I feel qualified to write, reveling in all the trash culture I do.

Thanks for writing such a great book that educated me on The Misfits. I was stunned at how little of their story I knew and found your book both informative and entertaining. You also prompted me to revist post-Danzig Misfits and I’m really enjoying the two Graves records.

Hey, thanks for reading my book. It makes me really happy to hear feedback like this. These were my objectives, an entertaining and informative book that prompts people to the records.

If you’d like to say a few words or pimp anything here’s the space to do it:

In December I’m going to be releasing a PDF of essays about Star Wars and the culture that surrounds it. The title of the collection is Star Wars Ruined My Life and it’ll be a pay-what-you-want thing. To keep up with that and whatever else goes on in my world, dial me up on Twitter via @HoneyIShrunkJG2.

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