By Carl Begai
Music journalists / writers are often pegged within the industry as frustrated musicians that didn’t have the chops or couldn’t take the heat. Not entirely accurate, but you need only to glance through a malicious self-serving review or half-hearted article to find the guilty-as-charged. Author / journalist Joel Gausten is far from being one of the disenchanted, boasting instead a successful catalogue of books and a long and colourful music career that shows signs of picking up even more steam. To date he has written books on Black Sabbath, Prong, Killing Joke, The Undead and The Misfits, and a tome on Satanism. His punk / metal credits include an extended stint with The Undead, The Misfits, Pigface, Electric Frankenstein, and a work-in-progress under the name Effectionhate. In all, an impressive little empire that shows every sign of continued growth, largely because the brain behind it is bolted in place and his vision is crystal clear.
“I’ve always been very, very interested in writing,” Gausten says, beginning a two part interview on his escapades. “It’s something I’ve always loved and it really started for me in grade school. As a young kid I has some speech problems, so I always found it more effective to write in terms of plain old communication. I guess it was about Grade 5 where I really started to discover music, and I was into what I guess you could call the popular hard rock music of the day. Gun N’ Roses was just starting to get noticed, stuff like that, so I actually published my own ‘zine (laughs). It didn’t really have anything in it; it was just regurgitating stuff from real magazines, and I sold it in my school through the student council and raised 13 bucks at a quarter each (laughs). That’s when I realized ‘Hmm, there might be something to this.’ That was my first big success.”
“Around the same time I also started playing drums, so I got into playing music and writing at the same time. I went to college, got a degree in journalism, played in various garage bands, and when I got out of college my first real job that paid the bills and kept the lights on was working as an editor for a music magazine. That was at 23 years old, right out of the gate. Fast forwarding things a bit, the music magazine job didn’t last for very long because I came in towards the end of its lifespan. This was when Napster started, and this magazine was produced for a compact disc store chain, so you put two and two together… In ’05 I devised the idea for a book, Albums That Should Have Changed The World – this was before I was on MySpace and before I was aware of Wikipedia – so it was all very organically built. Everything that’s come since that time has in one way or another been the result of this main book idea I had. I think that book will be out within the next year-and-a-half or two years.”
What makes Gausten’s success as a writer noteworthy is the fact all his works are independent releases. No big name publishing house doing the legwork, no promo department to make him look and sound good.
“It was just a very gradual process because I started out with the books thinking I was going to get a publishing deal,” he says of going the indie route. “That was my goal, and after about a year into all of this I ended up negotiating with a very, very large publisher; probably one of the biggest in the world as far as music books go. They wanted to pursue this interview book of mine, and at the point I probably had about 100 interviews done, but once they said ‘This is great…’ they immediately wanted to change everything.”
Big business at its best. Gausten elaborates:
“The original book concept was based in eclecticism, because I don’t see anything wrong with putting Aerosmith next to Throbbing Gristle in a music book. They had an issue with that, they wanted to cut some of the more obscure bands. They were worried because they were a very large company, and large companies are in business to make a profit. I do understand that and I harbour no ill will towards any of the people at this company. So, we went back and forth for months and we just couldn’t make it work because realistically, unless you’re publishing a book on The Beatles or Johnny Cash or somebody else that’s died you’re not really going to sell more than 3,000 to 5,000 copies. I knew all of this going in, and eventually I thought that if I had to cut all this stuff out and I’d be hitting those sales figures, there’s no reason why I can’t do it on my own. I might even exceed those numbers. So, I shook hands with the publisher and we went our separate ways.”
Gausten credits the internet, MySpace in particular, for getting the ball rolling in earnest. This interview is in fact a result of the buzz he created pushing his wares online.
“I started my MySpace page after I cut talks with the publisher, but at that time (2006) I was all very new to this. Now I’ve fully embraced the internet even though I’ve always been kind of old school in my thinking, and I really caught up quick when I realized that despite my initial misgivings about technology it had created something almost like a new Wild West.”
Asked if he’s at all surprised by being able to make a living off his writing, Gausten admits he’s “blown away by it” without missing a beat.
“What really kickstarted the whole series of books to begin with was Halloween ’06, because for no other reason than it was Halloween, I put up some excerpts of the Misfits chapter from the overall book project. That post alone got 3,000 hits a day and it just kind of exploded. It was really around that time I began to think back over the course of my career and realized ‘Holy shit, all these things that I’ve done, if you combine them it doesn’t look so bad.’ Getting this far has been a very, very interesting series of happy accidents.”
Far from being an accident was Gausten’s entry into the Church of Satan in 2002 on his 25th birthday, a revelation that no doubt causes some people to flag him according to Hollywood doctrine as an outcast of society. Those with intelligence beyond media rag programming will follow his line of thinking as presented in an interview with Sinfully Delicious Magazine. When asked about joining his Church, Gausten responded: “I first became aware of Satanism through the infamous ‘Satanic Panic’ of the 1980s. I remember watching those television programs hosted by Geraldo Rivera and his ilk and thinking, ‘There is no way this stuff is real.’ After all, if thousands of bloodthirsty nutcases were roaming the streets killing cows and abducting children, wouldn’t someone other than a second-rate ‘journalist’ / talk-show host notice?”
Gausten makes his point crystal clear in his most successful book to date, Words From The Third Side: Essays On Sex, Satan & Success. And although there were a few bodies put off by the venture, the expected nuclear fallout upon its release never materialized.
“You know what the response was? Respectful curiosity. What I received from the people already following me was the thinking that ‘If Joel’s into it perhaps there’s some merit to it.’ And that was my goal. I’ve been a member of the Church of Satan since 2002, so it’s been part of my life for quite a few years, but I never came out and said ‘I am a Satanist and I have books out.’ I felt it would be far more effective if I achieved things by working in more mainstream circles and then come up and say ‘Oh, by the way…’
Gausten’s take on Satanism echoes that of Mercyful Fate frontman King Diamond, a member of the Church of Satan who turned its splattershock hatedeathkill image on its ear in an interview with me several years ago with his soft-spoken intelligence and down-to-earth views.
“King Diamond is a wonderful performer, he’s a very creative man, and he’s done very good things for our organization,” says Gausten. “I credit King Diamond as being one of the first people I ever read who absolutely dispelled all those common misconceptions surrounding Satanism. People like him, David Vincent from Morbid Angel, these were the people who came before, and I’d like to think that I’m carrying on a tradition of intelligent people in the music industry who are unafraid to say exactly what they think and what they feel.”
As for those that may see Gausten’s views and faith as nothing more than lucrative shock value, Words From The Third Side is recommended reading.
“I think the shock value aspect is taken away pretty quickly once you read it. I’m sure when you spoke to King Diamond it was the same thing. Obviously I’m very fortunate to have many dear friends in the organization who are very supportive, but there is a whole different side of people who like the other stuff I’ve done that have said ‘We know Joel’s not a freak, we know he’s not a nutcase, we know he’s a productive member of society, so there has to be something to this.’ They may not necessarily agree with what I have to say, but at least they know it’s coming from a somewhat healthy place (laughs).”