"http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-transitional.dtd"> JOEL GAUSTEN
Gets Deep With Tyler Vile
Punk Globe: Hey Joel, thanks for doing this interview. Please tell us a little about yourself.
Joel Gausten: Thanks for deeming me worthy of an interview! I am a musician, author and journalist currently living in New Hampshire. Garage Punk fans might know me from my work with The Undead and Electric Frankenstein, while Industrial Goth types might know me as one of many drummers who’ve had the pleasure of bashing away in Pigface over the years. Fans of bands like The Misfits, Prong, Killing Joke and Black Sabbath might know me through the books I’ve written, while those familiar with “the occult” might know me through my work as a media representative for the Church of Satan. Best of all, my wife knows me as her best friend, while my stepson knows me as the guy who helps him with his homework and puts him to bed at night.
Punk Globe: What came first, your music or your writing?
Joel Gausten: The writing. I had some speech problems as a very young child, so the written word was my preferred method of communication in those days – and still is. By the fifth grade, I was obsessed with music and often wrote my own “news stories” on the hit music artists of the time, just for fun. I actually published a fanzine in the fifth grade called “Joel Gausten’s Rolling Rock,” long before I knew about the beer! I put it together as a benefit for the student council, and sold it for a quarter a copy. It made $13, so I knew I was on my way!
At the same time, I started playing drums. Over the years, I pursued both passions equally until it became clear that writing would be the thing that keeps the lights on and pays my rent, while the music would provide an outlet for additional fun, creativity and catharsis.
Punk Globe: Did your Cerebral Palsy make it difficult to learn to play drums? I know I had a hell of a time trying to even hold a guitar.
Joel Gausten: My Cerebral Palsy affects the mobility in the left arm and left leg, so I developed my drumming style to accommodate that reality. Rather than use my left foot with my hi hats, I just keep the hats clamped – but open just enough to produce a “splashy” sound when hit. You can hear that on all the recordings I’ve done, with the exception of the Electric Frankenstein stuff, which I recorded using an electric kit. This technique allows me to rest my left foot on the ground and prevent it from tightening and becoming uncomfortable. That splashy sound also became my trademark, and many people have remarked over the years that they instantly know when it’s me playing on a particular recording. So I succeeded in turning a liability into an asset.
Actually, drumming proved to be fantastic physical therapy for me growing up. I’ll go as far as to say that I’d probably be in far worse physical shape than I am now had I not picked up a pair of drum sticks 20-plus years ago.
Punk Globe: Was CP your gateway into the counterculture?
Joel Gausten: That depends on what you mean by “counterculture.” If you’re referring specifically to the “Punk scene,” I would say that I was a natural fit for it. As my friend Bobby Steele says, “Punk Rock isn’t for the cool kids; it’s for the uncool kids.” Although this might be hard to believe in the days of Hot Topic and the Warped Tour, there was actually a time when you had to have some genuine balls to be a Punk rocker – especially a Punk rocker with four eyes and a limp. When I was in sixth grade, I wore a studded belt and had a long blonde streak in my hair ala Dave Vanian of The Damned. This was still quite a few years before you could do that sort of thing in a small town without anyone giving a fuck, so I caught a bit of flack for that. Fortunately, I never took anyone’s shit – and I had very understanding and indulgent parents!
As far as Satanism is concerned, Satanists are born and not made. I wasn’t a Punk rocker or Metalhead who happened to become a Satanist; I was born a Satanist whose personal tastes happen to lean towards Punk Rock and Metal.
Punk Globe: Let's shift gears a bit and talk about your new book, From Satan to Sabbath. What were some of the most interesting things you found out about yourself from conducting those interviews with some of metal's greatest?
Joel Gausten: That’s a fantastic question! I’ve never been someone to believe my own hype, but working on this book reminded me of just how important it is to have a level head on your shoulders. For example, I’ve seen book participant Eric Singer play in a cover band for 100 people while on break from KISS, then play in front of 20,000 people six months later. In both instances, he saw himself as just a guy playing the drums, and he remains incredibly approachable and down to earth. He has never surrendered to the ego, abuse and bullshit in the business that kills people. There is a lesson to be learned from that, as I believe Eric’s longevity and success are the direct result of his attitude.
Punk Globe: The market for books seems to be moving in a more digital direction. Why should people buy a print copy of your book if they can read the interviews online?
Joel Gausten: I’ve experimented with selling eBooks in the past, but I only have one of my books (Words From The Third Side: Essays on Sex, Satan & Success) available in that format at this time. In addition to personally hating the idea of reading a book on a computer screen, I intentionally produce my work to appeal to a demographic that appreciates the aesthetic charm of a tangible, printed object. I know that I am serving a very small market, but I’m fine with that because I know that my work means a lot to those who support it. In this world, things that mean more are often understood by less, but I’m perfectly happy with that. If I just wanted to make a fast buck on this, I’d be writing books on crap bands like Nirvana.
Punk Globe: The companies who make the eReader devices really seem to be hawking their product and they want it to be as big as the iPod. Some of the bigger publishing companies are already struggling. Do you think it'll be tough to stay in business as a smaller publisher as everything goes electronic?
Joel Gausten: Small publishers will soon face the same dilemma that small record labels and music artists already face – having people enjoy their products without paying for them. Books will be stolen the same way songs are being ripped off now, and this will obviously harm the creators of these works. For years, I have been extremely outspoken against illegal music downloading. As a result, people sometimes label me a “sellout” and a “rock star” for wanting to get paid for what I do. These people are fools who are only hurting the people they supposedly support. I’m not publishing books on bands like Prong to get rich, but breaking even or making enough money to help launch the next project is always a nice thing. That’s all anyone who creates on the fringes should ever expect to earn anyway – and now THAT is being taken away. As far as I’m concerned, the person who illegally downloads a book or a piece of music is the true sellout.
Punk Globe: Do you think mainstream print media will adopt a more do it yourself ethic?
Joel Gausten: That will be a necessity. Of course, the trick will be to create print media worth paying for. I don’t see major newspapers lasting much longer, but I see special niche areas like industry trade publishing surviving.
Punk Globe: Aside from the countless punk and metal luminaries you've interviewed, you've had the chance to sit down with the House of Representatives' very own Elmer Fudd (known to his constituents as Barney Frank). What was that like?
Joel Gausten: I like Barney. He strikes me as a regular guy, very unpolished. His constant stammering and stuttering actually puts me at ease. Of course, Barney’s unique speaking style may very well be his strongest political weapon. By coming off as just a regular guy who may trip through a sentence now and then, he instantly puts himself on the same level as the “regular” folks he’s representing. This is another example of turning a liability into an asset. Like Barney, George Bush is also very talented at this. While I wasn’t a Bush fan by any means, I will acknowledge that he was a true master at turning a liability – i.e. the fact that he came off as an illiterate dolt – into an asset – i.e. appealing to the regular Joes in America who were turned off by ultra-polished politicians. Both Barney and Bush exemplify what Satanists call “Lesser Magic” – manipulating a situation to achieve a desired result.
Punk Globe: Your website says that you've also written for automotive and gaming publications, was it odd for you the first time you wrote about something other than music?
Joel Gausten: Absolutely not. I’ve never had any interest in being a “music writer.” I’d much rather be a writer who explores a variety of topics including music. When people ask me for advise on how to become a “music writer,” I tell them to first go out and become an expert on writing about something they know nothing about and/or something that bores them to tears. An employable writer must have the ability to turn anything into an interesting read – even if the subject is as interesting to that writer as watching paint dry.
Punk Globe: Have people you've interviewed later become friends and collaborators?
Joel Gausten: Oh, sure. My stint in Pigface in 2001 was the result of interviewing Martin Atkins about the first Damage Manual album. We ended up working together again in 2007, when I edited parts of Martin’s book, Tour:Smart. Right now, Martin and I are coordinating his participation in my wife Shannon’s music project, Effectionhate (www.myspace.com/effectionhate). All that started with me calling Martin in 2000 for a story for a local music newspaper. That’s just one example. Also, it has worked the other way, where folks who’ve interviewed ME later became my friends. Carl Begai from Brave Words & Bloody Knuckles comes to mind. However, one must always be cautious in this area, as your ultimate obligation is to the story you’re telling, NOT to anything – or anyone -- that might influence your integrity as a writer/interviewer. Friendships should never come before facts.
Punk Globe: You've done a lot of work with both the Misfits and the Undead. Didn't they have a feud going for a little while? Do members of both bands have a good relationship now?
Joel Gausten: A little while? Ha! Those guys have been on each other’s asses for 30 years! I must admit that my relationship with both camps has been strained at times, mainly because I love both bands equally and sometimes feel like I’m stuck in some middle age soap opera. The main problem has always been between Jerry Only and Bobby Steele; most of the other guys don’t seem to have that much of an issue with one another. Michale Graves has sat in with The Undead a few times, while I still run into Chud and have a laugh with him now and then. As far as my personal feelings on the matter, I will say this: 1. I’ve known Bobby Steele half my life, and I was in his band for 10 years. 2. Jerry Only was the guy who gave me my first real introduction to the music industry. Why would I have a problem with either of them?
Punk Globe: Are you working on anything right now in terms of music?
Joel Gausten: I’m contributing some drums to the upcoming Effectionhate album, Music Is Dead. In addition to the aforementioned Martin Atkins, other guests include a brilliant classical guitarist from Canada named Sonny Bellavance, who’s probably too good of a musician to be on an album with bashers like us!
Punk Globe: Did horror punk and metal turn you on to Anton LaVey's Church of Satan?
Joel Gausten: The best way for me to answer that question is to quote the following passage from my 2009 book, Words From The Third Side: Essays on Sex, Satan & Success:
I was first introduced to “Satanism” during the infamous “Satanic Panic” of the 1980s. I clearly remember watching those television reports from the ever-despicable Geraldo Rivera and others of his kind, who spared no dramatics in waving the flag of hysteria as tales of animal sacrifice, murder, child abuse and devil worship flashed across the screen. Of course, any sane person would naturally be disgusted by such carnage. Even as a kid, I couldn’t imagine why anyone in their right mind would be involved in such heinous acts. To make matters worse, many of these reports made it clear that these murderous Satanic psychopaths were somehow affiliated with an ever-growing network of thousands of other vicious nutcases looking to snatch up little Susie down the street and bathe her in the unholy blood of the dog they just butchered.
Jesus H. Christ! Forget the Boogeyman – this shit is real! Call the cops! Hide the children! God save us all!
Now, all of that could be going through my mind had I not figured out that this “Satanic Panic” nonsense was a complete lie. That revelation came to me years ago, when I first came across interviews with Satanic musicians like King Diamond, Thomas Thorn and David Vincent in my favorite music magazines. Not only were these gentlemen incredibly intelligent and articulate, but they were also members of the Church of Satan. Hmm… could it be that these bright minds had more to do with real Satanism than the degenerate maniacs who got off on killing innocent animals?
I soon found the answer to that question – and uncovered a very important part of myself in the process.
Like so many others, I knew I was born a Satanist the very first time I read The Satanic Bible. Grinning from ear to ear, I thought, “Wow! This is it – everything I’ve felt about life all along! This is Satanism, and I’m a Satanist!” After a lengthy period of research and contemplation, I officially joined the Church of Satan on July 17, 2002 – my 25th birthday.
Punk Globe: Do you see the Church of Satan as an organized religion or an alternative to it?
Joel Gausten: That’s an intriguing question! Actually, I see the Church of Satan as both. Are we an “organized religion” in terms of having a hierarchal structure and general guidelines for conduct, i.e. not committing crimes or publicly disrespecting other members? Absolutely. Are we an “organized religion” in terms of dictating the sexual, social or political preferences of our members? Absolutely not.
Punk Globe: Does living with CP impact your philosophical and religious views?
Joel Gausten: Regarding my philosophical views, here is another passage from Words From The Third Side:
Anton LaVey said that Satanists were born, not made. Well, this Satanist was born 31 years ago, six weeks early and with a mild form of Cerebral Palsy. The permanent ramifications of my condition include limited mobility in my left hand and leg as well as a lazy eye. When I was a child, nary a night’s sleep went by without waking to discover my left leg muscles tightened to the point of paralysis. I remember mornings when my dear mother would spend hours massaging my twisted leg so I would finally be able to rest it straight on the bed. I also remember having to balance myself while standing until my leg would straighten itself enough to allow my foot to rest on the ground. The first 10 years of my life were spent in intense physical therapy to ensure that I would be able to walk and live life without a wheelchair.
During my regular stops at the clinic, I remember seeing the children forever confined to that horrible fate (some with the added insult of not being able to even speak), desperately clinging to any resemblance of a “normal” life. But I could also see in their eyes that their minds were free – they were simply unable to express their thoughts. Even at that young age, I knew that I was witnessing a crime – potentially brilliant minds trapped in a physical prison. Since I had the use of my mind and limbs, I swore to myself that I would never accept anything less than the very best I could achieve in this life.
As for my religious views, this passage from the same book sums things up nicely:
What’s wrong with a religion that actually encourages its members to think for themselves, eat hearty meals, indulge in creative and mind stimulating endeavors, have mind-blowing consensual sex, sleep in on occasion and accomplish as many goals as their open minds can think of without the slightest sense of guilt?
ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!!!! And this thought process was already well in place when I enjoyed one of the most meaningful experiences of my life – cracking open a copy of The Satanic Bible. When I read LaVey’s tome, I saw a mirror of the very same attitudes that had driven my own life. The Doctor’s words ran through my heart with an intensity I had not felt with anything else I had ever read. I saw myself in those pages, and this glorious discovery led me to fully embrace all that it means to be a true Satanist!
Since my first experience with LaVey’s work, I have enjoyed life as an award-winning journalist, best-selling author and the subject of radio shows and magazine articles. My work has enabled me to travel throughout the country and spend time with world-known politicians, film/TV stars, renowned musicians, infamous gamblers and everyone else imaginable. I have had stimulating conversations with governors and congressmen, dinners with World Poker Tour champions and participated in countless live musical performances in front of thousands. And most recently, I launched an independent book-publishing endeavor that has already yielded considerable international press coverage and fruitful creative and monetary rewards. Best of all? When people from my various social and professional circles are made aware of my disability – one that once threatened my ability to walk – their jaws drop in pure disbelief.
That, my friends, is Satanic Magic.
Punk Globe: Thanks again for your time, Joel. Do you have any words of wisdom for our readers?
Joel Gausten: Thanks again for your interest, Tyler! As far as words of wisdom, all I can say is that there is value in holding your nose and jumping into unexplored territories in life. Never settle for anything but complete fulfillment. Life is for the living – so live!