Q&A with Jackson Galaxy

When you see Jackson Galaxy's shaved head, tattooed arms, and long black beard fitting of a hard rock band circa the early 2000s, the first thought that might pop into your head is "This guy's a rock star." You'd partially be right; an accomplished guitar player, Jackson was primarily a musician for several years before becoming a bonafide rock star of the Animal Behavior field. With a zen attitude, holistic approach towards cat therapy, and endless patience and empathy for animals, Jackson has become America's "Cat Daddy" through his show, My Cat From Hell. When he kindly took some time to talk to GoGoMix, he gave us some nuggets of feline philosophy, talked about how acting helped inform the work he does today, revealed his favorite My Cat From Hell story, and more!

GGM: Your new book, Catification, just hit the shelves. What was the impetus behind writing this book?

JG: You go back the almost twenty years I’ve been going into people’s homes and working on their cat issues, I get issues where the fix is as simple as me saying “You need to add a litter box here,” and they’d be like “Oh, really?” I tell this story about a time I went to this woman’s house and she had the biggest window you’ve ever seen, like, a ten yard window that spanned the entire side of the house. It had a big drape that went across it, and the whole drape was yellow from pee. I said “Obviously, your cats are responding to something that’s going on outside the house. Let’s put three litter boxes around this ten yards and allow them to make that choice.” And she gives me this look as if to say “Oh, really?” Like, she would rather her whole living room be a litter box than put a litter box down. That’s when it occurred to me that we have to play into the aesthetic demands of the human in order to make life reasonable for the cats. Meeting up with Kate Benjamin, who knows the form as I know the function, it was a no-brainer from there!

GGM: What is the most important thing to consider when making your house cat-friendly?

JG: Well, your cat! You have to know your cat. In the book, I say look at yourself as an interior designer, and your cat as your client. In order to build a world for that client, you have to know the client. You have to know their likes and dislikes. You have to know in what part of the world they feel confident and in what part they feel small and invisible. You have to cater to their potential. The first part of the book is teaching Cat Mojo 101, what it is to be a confident cat, and from there, who your cat is. We even have quizzes in there to see how well you know your cat! From that point, then we show you how it can be a really beautiful compromise.

GGM: Also, congratulations on your recent wedding!

JG: Thank you very much!

GGM: I saw you got married at the Best Friends Animal Society. Are there any other animal shelters that in your estimation do great by animals?

JG: Oh my god, as far as I’m concerned, it’s an endless list, and that in itself is a miracle! We have gotten to the point in my estimation that there are more shelters doing good work than those that are not. You gotta understand, I came through this system for twenty years, and right now, we are in a good place. When I started, it was by and large a conveyor belt. It was an endless influx of animals. For the people who worked there, it was a daily test of your compassion and love. It was really tough. I spend all of my time when I’m not filming going to the shelters. I’m seeing enthusiasm, passion, dedication to the cause. With that, I know we’re heading in the right direction. I’m not being evasive, I swear to god! But I’m proud of our movement, and I’m proud of where we are right now.

GGM: Are there any other animal behaviorists whose work you admire?

JG: Again, our field, cat behavior, is not one that’s highly popular. When I first started, I looked to people who had innovated in any way to guide the way. Anitra Frazier, who I’ve shouted out many times before, is a behaviorist from New York who was holistic minded, and an individual—she still is—she is determined to enlighten us. Her book, The Natural Cat, has always been one of my Bibles. Pam Johnson-Bennett has also been around since the beginning—not to call her old, she’ll kill me!—but her books, like Twisted Whiskers, Think Like a Cat, these are books that existed when not many others like it did. They were very clear how-tos, and I think Pam deserves a huge shout-out. Then there's John Bradshaw, who I find inspiring. One of the things I tell anyone who wants to go in my line of work is, “it’s about passion and curiosity.” He represents that curiosity, that endless well of “If I just sit here and watch him, what comes to me?” He’s put out a lot of great views from that perspective. I also really liked Cat Behavior by Roger Tabor. And there are many others who are indispensable to my knowledge base that I'm sure I'm forgetting. I hope I am forgiven!

GGM: I see you’ve gotten your MFA in acting, and I’m curious to find out your theater history. What was your favorite role you ever played?

JG: There’ve been a few… I never get asked these questions! The first one that comes to my head is Shylock from Merchant of Venice. Shylock is a tough role for a Jew. It highlights that our friend Shakespeare was anti-Semitic, as many were at that time, but he was the ultimate bad guy. I had to find the humanity and the good and the hopes and desires underneath him to make him come to life in a convincing way. That sense of empathy informs everything I do now, right? You can’t approach an animal thinking you know everything that’s going on. That’s the whole irony of my show being called My Cat From Hell. “I have a demon cat.” “My cat’s an asshole.” No. You just don’t get them. Same thing with Shylock. To be honest, I was really blessed, cuz I got my MFA at the University of Iowa and I got to be the guinea pig for some great playwrights. They would form characters around me and my already bigger-than-life stage persona, so I got that pleasure. And by the time I got my MFA, I considered myself more of a performance artist, which paved the way for this.

GGM: You’re releasing new music. What musicians or albums influence your sound?

JG: For me, I am driven to sounds like… here’s the thing: I’m not a fan of musical theater, but I’m a fan of theatrical music. I like music to paint. Rock and Roll is about the theatricalization of life experience. I’m a huge Who fan and I’m a huge Pete Townshend fan. What Pete Townshend did with Quadrophenia and Tommy, even as a seven year old kid, it dominated me. The reason I got a CD player (I’m showing my age right now) was to hear Quadrophenia the way it was meant to be heard. And then there’s Prince. I’m a huge Prince fan. Prince uses funk and the beat and the pocket to make theater (plus a lot of other things.) I’m a huge Tom Waits fan. Tom Waits creates movies with his music! Early on, as a songwriter, I was a huge Rickie Lee Jones fan and a Joni Mitchell fan. Joni created amazing soundscapes and for a young adolescent, everything has to translate into a movie. The first time I heard “Bohemian Rhapsody,” I was like “Yeah, this is what I wanna do.”

GGM: I totally see where you’re coming from there! Tommy was my first CD too at around seven years old! My parents used to play it all the time.

JG: Oh so you must be my age! (laughs) That’s so cool, to have that exposure to rock and roll at such an early age. My mother was a doo-wop girl. It’s really cool to have that passion for music and pass it down to your kids.

GGM: What artists or songs are you jamming right now?

JG: Right now, I am absolutely obsessed with U2’s new album. I think Songs of Innocence is brilliant. I think it’s their best album since Achtung Baby. I have a bit of a boy-crush right now on Bono! The arc of his career is something to be admired! To be making music with the same guys he was making it with as kids, to be married to the same woman for 35 years, to help the world in the way he has and still be a bonafide, mother-effin’ rock star… it’s admirable! And the songs are brilliant. And then, if I need to get up, I’m listening to Michael Jackson right now, and Prince. LoveSexy, "Sign 'O'the Times" and I get my swerve on. I get my mojo on!

GGM: What is your favorite movie?

JG: It’s so funny, because when you’re at a certain age, favorite everything happens. But Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire is one of my favorite movies ever. It highlights the ultimate sacrifice you can make to be in love. That said, I’m a massive Scorsese fan. At the same time I found the romance in Wings of Desire, I was also in love with Taxi Driver. That 70s Verité style, like Mean Streets and stuff, I really dug that. And also, not to be completely stereotypical, I love film noir. All my gig posters for sixteen years came from this one film noir picture book! That poor book! I still have it, all the pictures cut out and everything. But yeah, Maltese Falcon, things like that.

GGM: Favorite book?

JG: I hate reading (laughs). My favorite book is Thomas Wolfe’s You Can’t Go Home Again, followed by Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer. It’s only because I think the way they translate passion into fiction is kind of unparalleled. It’s also very masculine energy, and God knows I’ve struggled with masculine energy my whole life, so it would remind me that this is what it is, the mojo, for lack of a better word.

GGM: And how about a TV show?

JG: Right now, I’m groovin’ on The Mindy Project. I’m a big Modern Family fan. For me, the biggest tragedy ever was when Deadwood got cancelled. I was a huge Deadwood fan and the way it just ended, I still have not recovered from that.

GGM: You’ve had to do a lot of traveling and you’re in New York right now. Do you have a favorite restaurant in the city?

JG: I’m glad you asked that. My favorite restaurant in New York is Blossom. My friend Pamela is brilliant and she has created a haven for vegans in New York. I adore her and I adore her food.

GGM: Do you have a favorite episode of My Cat From Hell or a great behind-the-scenes cat story you like to tell?

JG: There’s a few. We’ve done over a hundred cases, so it’s been a real whirlwind. The story of Buddy was something I’m very proud of. He was feral, but not feral. He was born a pure bred who was abandoned by his family and reclaimed by nature. Here’s a person who said “I want him to live the life he was meant to live and I will bring him into my home even though he’s kickin’ my butt on a daily basis and my husband doesn’t want him here. I want him here.” So I come in and we start working and I notice there’s something wrong with him. The power of my network and production company spends the money to get testing done, and we find out he’s got cancer. We get surgery done here, and he comes along in a way that is inspiring to humans. He lives life as a member of a family. He passed earlier this year, but he knew what it was to be wanted, to be loved, to live a pain free, trauma free life. That’s a lesson I want to pass on to everybody. Everyone deserves this shot. I don’t care if you have four legs, three legs, or two. You deserve this shot. Buddy got that, and we got to put it out there, warts and all. That’s what I want people to understand: this is life. Life doesn’t always have a neat bow on it. My clients are all still my clients. If any of those cases from the show or before the show has an issue, they come to me, still. Buddy was a special case where it was messy. It involved making life or death decisions in front of a camera. The risks and the stakes were really high, and he won. Hopefully all the people who’ve seen that story and all the other ones think harder about their role as guardian. That’s one of my ultimate goals.

Check out Jackson Galaxy's new book, Catification, here!

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