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I met John Stabb online in 1999. At that time I was running this website Daghouse dot com, the website for Dag Nasty. During the winter of 1998, I set up the first BBS page for the band, which was hosted offsite; this was two years before PHP existed. Each week more people started posting on it, which was unexpected. One of the strangest things about the early stages of that bulletin board was that John Stabb from Government Issue showed up. He was one of the first twenty people to arrive during a time when the internet was still basically a black hole. This was pre-Google, pre-blogging, pre-social media and before advertising companies took over the vast amount of content that we now consume. I still have no idea how he heard about the site but John was there every morning and every afternoon. He said to me once that he ate his lunch while reading my board every day. That was kind of flattering.
We became fast friends. We’d email each other occasionally and I always loved reading his posts. On some level, I wondered why there wasn’t some other guy out there starting a Government Issue website. At first, I felt kinda bad because I noticed that John’s presence made people avoid his old band as a topic. Some of those people didn’t want to step on toes or hurl insults, so maybe they held back their opinions. Others decided that name calling and insults were par for the course. But for the record, John didn’t seem interested in mudslinging and he was always a total gentleman whenever his old band got brought up.
John liked to provoke people, but in a gentle, unassuming way. John was also a valuable resource. He would talk to anyone who would talk to him. He was the opposite of a snob, which was arguably his best quality. He was honest and forthright. Even among his peers in the DC scene John was more-than approachable and carried a humility with him that continues to inspire me. John also loved to tape trade, he was still continuing the ancient art of cassette trading well into the 2000s and so several times we sent each other packages. He mailed me both Factory Incident CD EP’s when they were released. He sent me flyers and letters. It was a good bro-mance, one that I valued highly.
John played in more bands than I can name: he would sometimes send me these mix tapes of his other works and they were always excellent. In addition to GI, he sang in like 15 other bands. He sang in Weatherhead, a band called Stomach in 1995 that recorded one demo. He put together a kind of supergroup called Emma Peel, who put out a demo tape and a small run vinyl release in 1993. He played in a band called John Stabb & The Cupids during the summer of 1986, a short-lived side project, the kind that he kept under his belt.
There was always something more to discover about John and his work, I guess that’s what kept things interesting from a distance. Stabb is one of the most prolific artists to emerge from the Dischord and friends DC community, he certainly has more bands and records than most of his peers, which is a testament to both his commitment to the craft and his creative ability. Other guys grew up and got real jobs, finished law school and got married. But not John Stabb. He didn’t seem interested in becoming normal. Somehow he managed to turn his obsession with music into a career than would span more than three decades.
When he wanted to be, John could be sage like. I sought out advice from him several times. In 2002, when a band I was playing in was dealing with business and personnel issues, he was the first person I reached out to. He told me a story about Government Issue touring in Europe in that changed the way I think about the business of music. I’m going to paraphrase that story now in a nicely condensed version, but before I do let me just attach a disclaimer to this story. This little tidbit is in no way a knock at the Descendents or SST Records, it’s simply one man’s opinion on the business of music. I happen to love the Descendents and one of my old bands even opened for them, so please don’t misunderstand the context of this story. Liking a band doesn’t mean I have to agree with all of their personal politics and/or business decisions.
Stabb told me this long story about their 1986 (or 1987) European tour and how the band struggled to pay for food, struggled to pay for gas, had a hard time sleeping and how all of them were afraid that they were going to return to America penniless and exhausted. One night in eastern Europe, they got out of their rented van and were surprised to find that GI was opening for the Descendents. GI was elated; they were excited to share the stage with the Descendents and were eager to have a discussion in their native language.
Stabb said that before the show started, he had napped and then began walking around the small venue, kind of pacing nervously. As people started shuffling into the venue, he noticed these two kids with homemade T-shirts. These Euro-punks had taken a plain white T-shirt, and in black marker, one had written “Government Issue” and the other, “Descendents” on them. Stabb said he went over and talked to the kids and they explained how they traveled all day to get there, how they hadn’t seen too many punk bands (especially American bands) and how psyched they were to see two of their favorite bands in one night. Right as he finished talking with these kids, somebody from the Descendents camp (not sure who it was, and it doesn’t really matter – it may not have even been a band member, perhaps it was their infamous roadie Matt R) walked over and began yelling at the kids in regards to their homemade shirts.
Stabb said he stood there and listened as this guy scold the kids for making their own shirts and demanded that the homemade Descendents kid take his off. He explained to the kid that the Descendents had T-shirts for sale and that he should support the band and buy one. The idea that a blank Fruit Of The Loom T-shirt was taking money away from a band disturbed John to no end, and so he spoke up. Stabb then received a free (albeit unwanted) lecture about making money as a musician and how the only way to survive and profit was to get tough on those kids who were dissenters, bootleggers and hangers-on. Stabb fundamentally disagreed, saying that he would rather not eat dinner on tour than yell at some kid for making his own T-shirt with a marker. Keep in mind he said this while he WAS hungry and broke. The conversation became a point of contention for John personally and creatively. The fact that he recalled it to me years later with such precision proves how much it affected him.
This private argument about DIY business philosophies inspired me and kind of changed my mind about the way my own band was doing business. To a large degree, I felt John was correct and that it wasn’t worth hassling teenagers, especially teenagers who had only arrived to see and hear the music they loved so much. But the Descendents camp has a point too, you can only go on tour and support yourself and your band when you are actively engaged in charging the customer. That is like business 101. I guess the moral of the story is that you have to pick your battles in business and in punk. John’s willingness to discuss this private conversation with me from a teaching point of view was invaluable. That’s the kind of insight he could hit you with – one minute he’d be talking about scuzzy parking lot girls and the next minute he could be laying this heavy-duty ethics discussion on you.
When I started writing for Big Takeover in the summer of 2010, I racked my brain about who I could sit down with for a long form interview. During those first few weekends where I began blogging on this site, the first person I thought of was John Stabb. I shot him off an email and explained that I wanted to interview him. I told him that I wanted a lengthy correspondence or phone call because I wanted to dig deeper into his mind and really publish something special about his old band and his music. I had always assumed he was a whore for media attention, but I was wrong. He wrote back a day or two later and said that he didn’t want to be interviewed. I was semi-devastated. I wasn’t prepared for the rejection of my first pitch (!) and I certainly wasn’t expecting him to decline a chance to talk about himself.
I just searched my archives of emails and couldn’t find his response (of course) but I do remember what he said. He said that he didn’t want to be interviewed because he was working on his own material. He told me that he was writing a book of stories about his life and times with Government Issue, and that the book was to be called “I’m With The Banned In D.C.”. I respected his decline for the interview and his honesty, as usual, and I told him that if he wanted some free press when the book was ready that he and I should talk on the phone and put something together. I also told him that the title of the book was, well, it was questionable. I was very gentle about it because I’ve learned that you have to be gentle about things like that. People get very attached to titles and it insults their ego when you offer any kind of opposition to them.
John mentioned this book in the Government Issue DVD while it was still a work in progress. At the end of the liner notes, he mentions their week in Los Angeles where they had somebody from The Bangles as a temporary roadie, played a matinee with The Dead Milkmen and met future members of Guns N Roses, he said he was going to “save those stories for my memoirs.” I remember reading that line and smiling, knowing that Stabb’s book was going to be worth the wait.
Several years went by, years where we didn’t talk much. That’s how it goes with old friends. When I heard that Stabb was sick, I felt awful. My feelings were multiplicitous. On one hand, I felt bad that he had cancer and that his diagnosis was so dire, especially for such a young man. On the other hand, I was glad that he got to do those last few Government Issue shows and was proud that he had decided to fight cancer with such style and grace. I followed his Go Fund Me page and website, got to email him one more time. On the morning when I found out he died, I felt sick. I thought about all the conversations we had, about how he got beat up by those asshole kids who put him the hospital, about the long road he took. I hoped he had found peace and I hoped that I had treated him fairly.
A few months went by. One Sunday afternoon when I was digging through some old boxes, I came across a box of cassette tapes. One of these tapes had Stabb’s handwriting all over it, his chicken scratch and crossed-out pen marks were all over this dusty Maxell UR tape. On one side it said, “Just a cassette for Anthony”, and on the other side, “How much Stabb can you take?” I wondered about his book and kinda regretted the whole interview situation from 2010. The thought of Stabb having an unfinished book lingered in my mind for days. I have to be honest, it kind of haunted me. The notion that somewhere on Stabb’s computer (I imagined it still running Windows 98) was this unedited piece of work kept me up at night. It upset me that somewhere on his computer was this Microsoft word file that contained everything he wanted to say about his life’s work and we would probably never get to read it. This bummed me out for days. Probably for weeks.
Then I stumbled across this news article about a guy who ran inside his burning house to retrieve a laptop which contained the only copies of several books he had written. This further cemented the loss of Stabb’s book in my mind. That author was willing to get third degree burns or suffer possible smoke inhalation for his work. I thought about all the time that Stabb must have invested in his book and how hard it is to actually commit abstract thoughts and feelings (and memories) to Microsoft Word. I was bummed out to say the least.
Then shortly after that, one morning I woke up and I remembered something. Something that changed everything! I already had part of Stabb’s book! At least the opening chapter.
Stabb sent me a copy of the book in 2002. Not the manuscript itself, but he had mailed me several cassette tapes of his spoken word and on one of those tapes, he reads directly from his working copy of the book. I dug through the giant box of tapes again and pulled out all of the Stabb tapes, ripped them onto my computer. I then began the process of reverse engineering Stabb’s book. One of the tapes in particular, (the “How much Stabb” tape I mentioned earlier) contained a spoken word / acoustic set with Charlie Kramer from the Happy Flowers, which I used as my primary source.
Stabb reads from his unfinished book with astounding clarity and he seems to really enjoy the material. Before Charlie and John play each of the GI songs, Stabb talks about the meaning or the thoughts behind writing the song, kind of doing a VH1 Storytellers thing. I included those here as well. As Stabb reads his own words, you can hear him shuffling through the printed out pages as the small audience claps and sneezes and talks. You can hear in his voice as he live edits sentences and moves words around, just like any writer does.
Stabb did this spoken word performance on May 10th, 1999 at The Galaxy Hut in Arlington, Virginia. He mailed it to me in the summer of 2002, I transcribed it in September 2016. I tried not to edit any of his words, although I did make a few grammatical edits. I hope you enjoy reading this and I sincerely hope that one day we’ll get to read the entire book.
(tape begins…Stabb tests the mic, then takes a drink of water while people are talking loudly)
Hi, my name’s John “Stabb” Schroeder, and uh, that doesn’t get much applause. If it was John “Stabb” Robbie Williams, I’d probably get more applause, but. As you can see, I’m filled with nothing but love tonight. I’m actually putting out a book – it’s a collection of journal entries and other observations on things in life. It’s about the time I spent with a band called Government Issue. Some of you might remember us. If you think of Minor Threat, you think of Minor Threat as top dogs, and then think of Government Issue as like, lower puppies. We were always at the bottom of the punk chain.
In between reading some stories about the old days, my assistant acoustic mercenary over here, Charlie Kramer, you might remember him, he was in the well-known, popular cult-following act called the Happy Flowers. I can’t remember if he was Mr. Horribly Charred Infant or Mr. Anus., but for tonight I think he’ll just be Mr. Horribly Charred Anus. So in between the readings, me and Charlie are going to be doing like sort of the…uh…the greatest hits of Government Issue. Just piecing it all together.
(John begins reading from his book)
In 1981, Government Issue was back in action and ready to be the fastest hardcore band in the east. This was my goal. Minor Threat and SOA had released their own debut EP’s on a brand new DIY, independently formed label. Both Ian MacKaye and his longtime friend, drummer Jeff Nelson put together Dischord Records to put out their own favorite bands. Nobody else was doing it in DC, so we were all grateful to the guys. By now I was more than familiar with all the local punk bands. There were the longer established Bad Brains, Slickee Boys and Black Market Baby.
Some of the newer, younger groups making themselves known being Youth Brigade, Minor Threat, SOA, Government Issue, Red C and Void. All of the hardcore bands listed were playing the occasional gig at a church hall called The Wilson Center. Ironically enough, I moved like, just about two blocks away from that place because I wanted to be close to the scene, man. A large, steamy sweatbox in the summertime this place was. It actually got so hot in the place that you could see the walls sweating with perspiration. The shows were hot and noisy stuff to be sure; they were truly awesome events.
When a touring band such as the Dead Kennedys or Black Flag came through the city, they would play a tiny but fun hole in the wall venue called the 9:30 Club. The small but ever-growing punk scene would be there with boots on. While Ian, Henry and other punks were being inspired by bands like Black Flag and the Germs, I was worshipping at the altar of the Dead Kennedys, in particular, their manic and witty front man, Jello Biafra.
We were still playing “Steppin’ Stone” as well as our angry originals, like everybody on the planet played “Steppin’ Stone”. Our version was kind of like, well, since Minor Threat had the best Oi! kind of version where everybody could sing along with it, our was just like one riff of it: “I, I, I, I I ain’t your steppin’ stone, durr durr dhunn”. We had the fastest “Steppin’ Stone” on Earth. So basically, we tried to toss in a bit of humor into the set.
Upset that one of my favorite bands, The Clash, was resorting to old covers like, “Brand New Cadillac” on their latest album, I did my own piss-take of the tune. I had the group play the chords of the song but changed the lyrics to, “My baby woke up with her brand new cataracts, she can’t see anymore! She’s blind!” A tad sick and twisted, but I wasn’t trying to win anyone over. This was hardcore, not arena rock nonsense. We were part of a self-made movement of kids doing something new and exciting. We ALL felt we were beyond what was described as “punk”, hard fucking core.
The day a great Canadian area act such as D.O.A. played at Woodlawn High School in Virginia would go down as my second monumentally influential time in my life. It was a great shock and surprise that my idol, Jello Biafra was traveling with the group. When I heard the news, I quickly jotted down my latest anti-political lyrics for a song called, “Lie, Cheat and Steal”. It should have been a radio hit. I wanted to pass them on to Jello, because they were written in a very “Jello” state of mind, I thought. This was my Jello worship period. Just call me Jello Jr.
D.O.A. blew everyone away with their brand of crude, energetic punk rock. I personally was amazed at how damn good their drummer Chuck Biscuits was. That kid was a monster on a set of drums, a great showy drummer in the vein of a young Keith Moon – chaotic but tight.
Afterwards, I went up to meet my idol, Jello Biafra and was a tad star struck. Ehhh, urrrh, Jello. After telling him how much I love the Dead Kennedys, I offered him my latest songs. Hmmm. A real smart kid. He said, (John imitates Jello’s wobbly voice) “Ohhh no! You keep them and form a band and use them yourself!” I already had one, but he didn’t know. He was very supportive towards any new punk musicians, and that was cool. The guy could have taken full advantage of a naïve kid like me and used my lyrics on an album but he didn’t. That was definitely a great night for me.
We were living in the heyday of hardcore back then, and the thing to do was to try to get banned from all the D.C. clubs. To us it was like having a medal pinned to your chest and everybody thought it was cool. Sure, get yourself and your band kicked out of clubs so you had nowhere to play. Great logic there. We were punk but foolish youngsters. I even wrote a song about it called, “Everybody’s Getting Banned”. Some of the lyrics were:
No more music anymore
All the clubs have shut their doors
New wave’s just a fucking name
We won’t be pieces in your game
Government Issue even managed to get ourselves banned from Saint Anselm’s, an all-boys Catholic high school. This was also where John Barry, our guitarist, went to school, so we wanted to make our mark. John convinced the school to have his band play their Saint Valentine’s dance, and we were in for a real treat that night. I had my Sid Vicious look down pat, complete with chain and lock around my neck and black spiky hair. Being mistaken for a Catholic schoolboy wasn’t very likely. Brian Gay, our bassist, and I were always desperately trying to be the most radical members of the band and this night was perfect for our obnoxiousness.
We both took a few of the huge decoration Valentines hearts that were plastered on the wall and gave them a much-needed punk touch. We wrote in bold magic marker, messages upon them such as, “Be my bondage valentine” and “Be my hostage valentine”, then we safety pinned them to our shirts for all to see.
I had formed this band to make everyone in the world suffer for the hell I’d endured back in high school, so this was the perfect setting to unleash my anger. The test pressing for the Teen Idles “Minor Disturbance” EP had just come out and we were real excited about that. One of us had a copy of it and John Barry got the DJ to play it for us and our friends. We slammed our way through an innocent crowd of Catholic boys and girls. The music just made you want to thrash anyone in your path. Of course, seeing our aggressive reaction to the record it was quickly removed. We weren’t happy about that. By the time this lame attempt at a soul band played, we were ready to cut loose again.
St. Anselm’s Abbey School, where GI played the Valentine’s Day dance in 1981
The nicely dressed kids were dancing to the awful band, just enjoying themselves. A few friends of mine, my girlfriend, Brian and I did the slam dance on the young folks again. By now, these kids and the staff were getting mighty upset with us. After the group finished their pathetic little set, it was time for Government Issue to play. From the very first chord, I was yelling out my angry lyrics through my cheap, Sears microphone with the focus on ripping these kids a new asshole.
Only a few songs into the set, my vocals were cut. This didn’t stop me and I spat out many harsh words to anyone and everyone in the school auditorium and yelled at my band members to “just play on!”. I wanted to punish these people for cutting the power on my vocals. Seconds later, all power was cut on the guitars. We were silent. I yelled at Mark, our drummer, “JUST KEEP PLAYING! Don’t stop! FUCK these people!”. In a much confused state, Mark continued to drum up a storm. That is until these rather large jocular fellows took his drum sticks away from him.
Poor little punk drummer boy. The guy just came to play, not fight, but the jocks had other plans in store for him. The young thugs were pissed off. At this time, in the midst of all the chaos, I had no idea that Mark was in any kind of trouble. Out of all of us, Mark had the most non-violent soul, and I doubt he’s ever been in any fights in his entire life. They, the goons, looked like they wanted to kick his innocent young butt. The DJ on stage made an announcement over the PA system directed at us. He yelled, “Nobody here wants any of your punk rock shit here!”
Enraged with a fury unknown to most 19 year-old punks I proceeded to rush the stage. Now, it was my intention to punch this butthead DJ in the stomach but being as near-sighted as I was, my fist landed much lower. Being that the DJ was standing near the edge of the stage with us directly below, I ended up bashing the dude in his groin area. He wasn’t seriously harmed, just a tad surprised and sore. We thought it best to pack up and leave. I was still mighty angry and threw an empty cassette case in the DJ’s general direction. This, in turn, hit the guy in the head, causing him to bump his turntable, which led to an intensely loud, nasty electronic screech over the PA. The crowd looked a little frightened of us, rightfully so. I’d created some havoc with that cassette toss. A few of my friends were ready to fight now.
Out of the blue, a priest comes up to me and calmly says, “I think you should leave now.” You bet we’ll fuckin’ leave, religious man. We really wanted to blow that Catholic pop stand but we had a bit of a problem in the parking lot area. One of the soon-to-be girlfriends of mine…her rather large convertible was stuck in between two other vehicles, and another one was parked directly behind us. It was sort of like we were in prison in a Catholic School parking lot. We thought about just ramming the car behind her car in reverse, but some other kids came up with another idea. It was the same goons who had taken away Mark’s drum sticks and wanted to open up a six-pack of whoop ass on the boy earlier. We assumed these big, burly bouncers were the school’s wrestling team and we wanted no part of their fight.
The goon squad casually lifted the vehicle that was blocking in my girlfriends car by the back end and moved it out of the way for us to split. Man, you really know that you’re wanted when someone lifts up a car so that you can leave. The school tried to make up some story that John Barry was peddling drugs and wanted to keep his diploma from him. Also the school’s newspaper printed some silly story about a punk band creating anarchy. Cool. Just like them Sex Pistol boys.
We couldn’t have been any prouder of ourselves. The end result was John fought the schools Nazi tactics, graduated and received his vaunted diploma. Wish I had the opportunity to do that kind of damage to my own high schools dance, but all I had was like a Phillips head screwdriver and I took apart anything I could get my hands on, like desks, chairs, doorknobs, it was kind of fun. All the same, I did enough I guessed.
A lot of us used to hang out in a place called Georgetown. If you’ve ever been there, I think it’s the kind of place where people overdo everything. So I kinda lovingly refer to the place as Gorgetown. I spent about fifteen minutes there, putting up flyers for shows or doing something, looking around, it’s like the kind of place I can only be around for about fifteen minutes before the atmosphere starts crawling up my leg.
There was a lot of people back then who just…they had these things known as designer jeans. They wore em’ really tight. It was men and women. But mostly women. And uh, basically I wrote this song about people just into their cool fashions. And lines that you probably won’t recognize because we’re going to be playing them so fast…so hardcore that people will be in a fit of punk rock…you might just kill someone while I’m doing this, so, I’d better just mellow out. The song is called “Fashionite”. The first lines are:
Always wears her tight ass jeans
If I was you, I wouldn’t been seen
You say that my clothes are strange
But don’t your jeans give your ass a pain?
This next one is about that great time I spent in my educational years in high school, which I refer to as the educational prison. The song is about graduating with straight D’s and getting really wasted during your last high school year, I wanted to kind of pull a trench coat out and go wild on all the jocular fellows. Hey, If I had access to firearms, I’d be in jail myself for doing that kind of nasty. This song is called “Bored To Death”. It’s not very positive.
This happy, positive, uplifting sentimental type song was written about people in the early 80s that used to come to our punk rock hardcore shows at the old 9:30 club. For some reason, they just didn’t like us. They wanted to hit us. They wanted to mess with us. They wanted to like, just ruin our punk rock time. They were usually people from the Virginia area, kinda redneck kinda folks. This song was written in the vein of an asshole, it’s called “Asshole”!
These next few songs were written in the mid-80s. This first song was written by a guy named Mike Fellows, who was actually a really good bassist. We put him in the band for like the sole purpose that he just looked cool in a leather jacket. That was Tom Lyle’s thing, he goes, “Man, but he looks cool in the leather jacket”. So Mike joined the band. But he actually brought in some sense of harmony and melody to the band, which was a really cool thing. Oddly enough, the two bands that influenced him the most at the time, in about 1983, were The Faith and U2, an odd combination, but hell it gave us a really good song. So he was listening to a lot of that stuff and I wrote this song, one among many about sort of the Johnstown lonely hearts club band kinda thing. It’s written about someone who kind of wanted me to be a cardboard cut out. When she’d see me at shows she’d be like, “Oh man! He’s so wild and he’s crazy up there! I wonder if he’s like that in bed!”
Well, it was a little different when you’re like moody and you’re not just a cardboard cutout on stage. So, to make a long story short, I was dumped by a teenage debutante. This song is about that time period, and it’s about sort of a cry for help so to speak. Actually, when someone heard this song on a radio show that Tom Lyle was on, it was a news type show, they said to him, “Man! What’s up with your singer? How many times has he tried to commit suicide?” and Tom was like, “What? What the hell are you talking about?” and the guy said there was lyrics in the song that are straight out of kids suicide notes. He said he could quote them line for line. And Tom said, “No, no, you don’t understand. He like gets it all out, you know, puts it down on paper, does it on stage and that’s like his therapy. He doesn’t have to kill himself. That’s his thing. So that kind of blew my mind. I guess I wrote suicidal notes long before kids in Oklahoma did. This song is called “Understand”.
Emma Peel circa 1993
Sheer Terror, that band from New York, they got their name from us. They won’t admit it but. They say they got it from a medical term. They said they never heard our song. Yeah, right. BULLSHIT. If Glenn Danzig was here, he’d probably say something like (imitates Glenn’s voice but with a southern accent)….’And if’n you play that Sheer Terror song one more time, ona’ pound you, hoe.’ See Danzig came from the southern part of Lodi, New Jersey. The back swamps of Passaic, New Jersey.
This guy who roadied for us, Mike LaVella, he was the roadie for Samhain. And he would always go, like, “Man, Samhain rules. Glenn’s really cool.” And I’m like, puh-lease man, they’re all on steroids and he’s got this big belt. He should be wearing a big WWF belt, having the Iron Sheik introduce them…like…“Uh, hey kids, USA, HA! Danzig is Number one!” See Glenn was friends with the Iron Sheik, who was also from Lodi. Yeah, Lodi, Iran. Actually he was very good friends with him. I think they used to hang out with George “The Animal” Steele too.
And so Mike would go back to New Jersey and say things like…(imitating Mike LaVella’s voice)…“Uh, Glenn, John Stabb’s been making fun of you and he says your on steroids and you should be wearing a wrestling belt and wrestling people and you’re never from the south”. So this stuff got back to him and all the sudden, like, you know, he’d tell me, “I told Glenn what you said and now he wants to kill you.” Oh bummer. I was pretty scared at the time and my guitarist had a sort of witty, thoughtful thing to do. He said, ‘Look, just write the guy a fucking letter. Just say, look, you don’t even know me, why do you want to kill me?’
So I finally did write a letter to Glenn Danzig. I said, look, I’ve always liked your singing, I just never liked the bands you were in. The only thing we have in common is we’re both vocalists in bands and you don’t even know me, now you want to kill me? What the hell is your problem?
I got better things to do in my life than be bothered by Count Chocula. So I went up to Mike and asked him if Glenn got my letter. And Mike says, “Oh yeah, Glenn said the other day…(imitating Glenn’s voice with the southern accent)….‘man, I don’t care about this shit anymore. I don’t even care. John Stabb, whatever, but now the boy is writing me letters. Tell him to stop writing me letters’. He had to go play with his sci-fi dolls or whatever, to go write a comic book. (mocking Glenn’s voice) I gotta reinvent myself to look like Trent Reznor now!
Probably the most embarrassing thing we saw at a gig happened at our Azusa, California show. This new band called The Dead Milkmen opened the show and nobody knew nor cared who they were. I thought they were really lame, but years later they ended up being quite the ultra-hip college favorite. Who can predict these things? Not me obviously.
Next up was the highlight of the evening, a Minor Threat wannabe band called Uniform Choice. Apparently they were a local favorite and their fans ate them up. We were bewildered that a group of punk kids would literally clone themselves after another popular group. Sure, this kind of nonsense happened all the time in the arena rock world, but seemed unfathomable in the punk genre. Of course, in the 1990s it’s almost a requisite, mandatory kind of thing to steal another known punk rockers clothes or music. Just turn on the MTV, VH1 or so-called alternative radio rock radio stations. There should be a special county lock up for such blatant musical thievery.
The awful vocalist for Uniform Choice (or UC as they used to go by) had these T-shirts, they made the U kinda look a lot like a D, but the C stayed the same. The singer of Uniform Choice was desperately trying to look and sound like Ian MacKaye. If that wasn’t enough, their guitarist modeled his style and looks after Brian Baker. The topper was them covering the song, “Minor Threat”. We were speechless. And noticing their bass player and drummer didn’t look a thing like their counterpart Minor Threat members, Mark made a great joke. He said, “If they get a couple of other guys who look like Steve Hansgen and Jeff Nelson, they could clean up touring as Minor Mania.” As ridiculous as this may have sounded, this band could have made their fortunes doing just that. I mean, there’s so many of these punk rock, i-must-pay-my-rent reunion tours coming out of the ears these days, it’s like ehhhhh.
This kid saw me recently, actually just this evening in Tower Records. He said to me, “Oh man, John Stabb from Government Issue. When is the Government Issue reunion? I’ve been waiting for that.” And I’m like, ehhhhhh, yeah, it ain’t gonna happen. It’s not going to happen. There’s a whole scroll of reasons why it ain’t gonna happen, but it ain’t gonna happen.
This song was written by my guitarist, a man named Tom Lyle. The funny thing is, every time we used to play it, people would say things like, “Hey man! Government Issue have gone metal!” or “I can’t believe it man, they used to be hardcore punk and now they’re turning metal!” Each time we’d play it onstage, Tom would get really upset because people would give him the horns. They’d give him the Ozzy horns. He’d be kicking at their feet, like, “Stop it! It’s not a metal song! Fuck you!” I was busy tying him up with mic cords because he’d get so upset.
So this song we wrote about a friend of mine that we used to hang out with in the punk rock days. She referred to herself as Monique Unique. Pretty punk rock. John Stabb and Monique Unique. Basically I used to hang out with this person and she just caked on so much makeup on her face. She’d spend about two hours in front of a mirror, doing herself up. Then she’d come out and she’d be all scary. She was really scary, kids, I tell you. I just was like, wow, you spent two hours and voila – punk rock. Yay. This song is called “Vanity Fare”. If anybody wants to give us devil horns, I’m gonna go call up Tom Lyle and have him kick your ass. Or kick your hands at least.
John Stabb & The Cupids, Rites of Spring and Outrage flyer, 1986
These last few songs are from an album called “You”. This song is called “Man In A Trap”. Someone close to Charlie’s sister used to know this person I used to know. I kind of lovingly refer to as the teen psycho-booty who went out with me in about 1986 / 1987. It was one of those times where you look back and wonder, like, what the hell were you thinking?
I wrote a lot of songs about this particular girl and I put them on an album called, “You”. And at the time I was actually thinking I was so in love with this person. Love. Yeah. I was in love with someone who was like, in high school. Pretty brilliant, I admit it. I did it, but I’m not proud of my debauchery in the 80s. Not exactly. Anyways, the funny thing was, that even a roadie for GI once said, “Uh, man, like, what could you two possibly have in common? Like, she only knows the new Scooby Doo episodes, not the old ones.” That pretty much said it right there.
This song was actually written about her, she was a spoiled brat and somewhere out there I think she’s sleeping in crack houses, pregnant or all of the above. But I’m filled with nothing but love tonight, so anyways, this song is called “Melancholy Miss”.
This song is one of many that I wrote about relationships. And in case I cry, you won’t see my coked-out laden eyes. Gonna do a little booty number for ya. The song is called “World Caved In”. It’s the story of my life.
(John puts down the pages and stops reading…tape ends)
So that’s what I recovered from John’s book.
Towards the end of the tape, he mentions meeting a kid in Tower Records who asks him when Government Issue is going to do a reunion show and he is quick to deny that it will ever happen, which is kind of funny in retrospect. Aging musicians are the first people to talk shit about reunion shows and are also the first to agree to reunite their old bands when begged to do so by the right person with the right amount of money. In these older musicians, we see this kind of denial of their own past, this refusal to believe that they could be wanted or desired by modern audiences. Which of course is the inversion of reality.
I think what young audiences secretly want more than anything is a firm connection to the past which they never experienced. Society and the media (ahem, guilty as charged) are always reminding young people that they missed out on the golden age of music and on some level they must be processing this subconsciously. This would explain why the Misfits just played a reunion show with Glenn Danzig singing and why the (mostly) original lineup of Guns N Roses just completed a stadium tour. If Minor Threat ever decides to did a reunion show, they’ll have to book the Verizon Center or RFK Stadium.
Somebody should come up with a mathematical formula that shows how audiences grow larger as time goes on, complete with letters to represent bands who won’t reunite (say, z) as multipliers of interest. It seems like obscurity piques the interest of young music fans, it certainly makes sense to me. As a teenager, I dreamed about seeing Die Kreuzen or Black Flag or Infest live, well, because I never got to see them when they were around because I was too young. As years went by and the bands remained clouded in mystery, it just compounded the issue. The same thing goes for Minor Threat et al.
Speaking of which, this summer I went to see Cynthia Connolly (co-author of the book,
“Banned In DC”) do a spoken word / presentation thing at Mutiny Information Cafe here in Denver. It was a great night, her photography is incredible, she was wonderful and the audience was super appreciative to hear what she had to say. She even showed us the original artwork and sketches she did of the Minor Threat sheep and talked about it in great detail. After she fielded some questions, somebody in the audience started talking about CBGB’s back in the early 1980s and mentioned that he saw Minor Threat. People actually turned around in their seats to look at this gentleman. I’m not even kidding. The younger kids were in a state of disbelief. That’s how revered some of these bands are. You can’t deny the mythology surrounding punk and hardcore anymore. I’m not saying that I want to go see sixty year old men relive their misspent youth on stage, I’m saying that those people are now in a position of power and they ought to wield that power for the greater good.
As upset a John was about being asked about Government Issue playing shows again, he had no problem singing the old songs with his bands long after GI had dissolved. Which kinda proves that it wasn’t the songs that bothered him per se, rather it was the interpersonal relationships of former band members that concerned him.
Serious fans of GI might recognize the St. Anselm’s Valentine’s Day dance story from Now What Fanzine #0, which came out in 1981. During a band interview, they tell a similar story about that show, but with more details. During that 1981 interview, Stabb mentions that as he was leaving the stage, he said to the monk, “Get out of my way, rubberneck”. Mark Alberstat mentions that the DJ also said, “Why don’t you guys just leave, everybody hates you anyway!” Ouch. Stabb says that the DJ played the Teen Idles EP at 45 RPM, which might explain the crowds reaction. I’m almost positive that it says 33 1/3 right on the vinyl. Mark also mentions that in the school newspaper article which followed the incident, that they printed an infographic showing how punks dance.
John’s spoken word tape (and his unfinished book) made me think about how different punk and DIY musicians are from normal people. He talks about how meeting Jello Biafra and talking with him backstage at Wilson High School as one of the best nights of his life. Just think about how fucking weird that is in the pantheon of the American experience.
When asked about their most treasured memories, most people would probably give you a kind of stock response. They might tell you about the day they got married, the day their first child was born, the day they finished grad school, or the day they had tickets to the Superbowl. Yet, one of John’s favorite memories was the day he met Jello Biafra, a singer from Boulder, Colorado who wrote songs with names like, “I Kill Children” and “Religious Vomit”. John’s hero was an anti-hero that represented and cultivated other anti-heroes.
These are the kind of things that separate musicians from normal people. Musicians aren’t casual fans of music, they are practically ravenous for their favorite artists. They create a personal life that can sometimes revolve around other musicians and the very act of creating is what drives them. Musicians (especially those who come from the school of punk and DIY) are excited by the act of participating. Sitting in the audience, standing in the crowd, watching on YouTube: those are things they do to pass the time in-between their act of creating.
If you ask me, the real revolution of DC hardcore wasn’t their moral high ground or their hand-painted leather jackets, but their insistence on participation. These bands demanded, both through their attitude and their lyrics, that you, the listener, take part in the activity. They insisted that you stand up and be counted, that you voice your opinion. This is in stark contrast to the arena rock acts that were popular during the summer of 81, bands like Journey and Pink Floyd had a mantra that was more along the lines of, “here, sit back and consume what we have to offer”.
For John and his hardcore pals, sitting back and watching wasn’t enough. He had to get involved in creating music and he had a level of perseverance that most of us will never even approach. John had the balls to show up time and time again. In some ways, he never left. He didn’t give up and he didn’t let people get in the way of his craft. His stubborn refusal to surrender to our preconceived notions of aging is something we should learn from.
Like Tom Lyle said on that radio show which he paraphrased on this tape: Music was therapy for John. He openly admitted that he was a flawed being each time he got on stage. Yet he didn’t need medication or expensive therapists. Instead, he got rid of his internal pain by getting it out on paper and screaming it out on stage and leaving it there at the end of the night. Maybe along the way, he helped us make sense of our own pain or he offered us some psychological insight which we hadn’t thought about previously. Perhaps this is the best thing Stabb did for hardcore and for his fans. Like a fucked up Willy Wonka, he allowed all of us into his demented world.
AJ Morocco lives in Denver Colorado and is not voting for Donald Trump. His first book, Sleeping Village Appears Empty, is available on Amazon.
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