What do you do when you find yourself in the midst of middle age, you can’t stay in a relationship to save your life, and your friends keep trying to get you to check into a mental hospital? If you’re Jo Carol Pierce, you go instead to a zen monastery in New Mexico and begin writing emotional, hilarious songs about sex, suicide, and the blessed Virgin Mary. From there, you move to Austin and craft the songs into a piece of musical theater called Bad Girls Upset by the Truth, recruiting other misfits to play with you. Then—again, if you’re Jo Carol Pierce—you watch as the play becomes a big hit and you, at age 51, transform into something of a rock star.

Twenty-two years later, Jo Carol Pierce detailed her rise in the July issue of Texas Monthly. In “This Is Jo Carol Pierce,” debuting here, she talks about her singular life, one in which she struggled to overcome her own demons as well as the shadow cast by her peer group in Lubbock, which included musicians like Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely, Butch Hancock, and Terry Allen. The struggle would yield powerful, memorable songs like “Vaginal Angel,” “I Blame God,” and “Does God Have Us By the Twat Or What?”

“I’ve always been a great puzzle to myself,” Pierce says, “and I write songs and wonder, ‘Where did that come from?’ I was always going for disturbed laughter—because I wanted to shake things up but I wanted it to be funny. I always think the most serious stuff is comedy.”