|Government Issue -- John Stabb in the middle. (Jim Saah photo/Dischord Web site)|
My old buddy Hank gets credit for this one.
While hauling down the freeway to a gig at a former dilapidated bowling alley in the San Fernando Valley — Godzilla's it was now christened — in 1981, Hank popped a tape into the deck of our yellow Gremlin, heroically driven by my brother, Ed.
"Supertramp gives me a cramp, and I don't wanna go to camp," John Stabb from Government Issue sang on "Rock and Roll Bullshit."
It was mine and Ed's first taste of G.I., a band we were itching to hear for a few months after their name was bandied about in our Southern California/South Bay punk circle. That's some good shit, right there, we thought.
We soon snagged the band's "Legless Bull" EP and later continued to dig the band on the stellar "Boycott Stabb" release — one of my all-time faves with its rock-and-roll — no bullshit — edge and hardcore wildness.
When I finally got to see the band live at the Sun Valley Sportsman's Hall in 1983, the wiry Stabb came on stage with duct tape wrapped around parts of his body, lunging at the crowd while spouting his sarcastic lyrics. The band was tight. The mood was frenzied. Just right, my friend John and I said to each other afterward.
This weekend, G.I. will take part in the "Salad Days: The DC Punk Revolution" documentary party in the nation's capitol with Youth Brigade, Black Market Baby, Kingface, Scream and Dag Nasty.
We caught up with Stabb via email and he sent back some words of wisdom that should set the tone for this weekend's festivities.
|A shirtless Stabb backed by solid musicians. (Jim Saah photo/Dischord Web site)|
**Just some personal info to start: age; family info -- married, kids?; still live in DC?; do you play in any bands?
My birth name is not important (and most people only know me by my stage name so ...) John Stabb. 51 years bold. Separated but with my boy, Cat-Astrophe: Gentleman cat about town. In WDC again after many years in MD. History Repeated is my band now and Government Issue is my band then.
**What have things been like in the G.I. camp recently? Preparing for the "Salad Days" gig? Who will grace the stage for GI at that gig and what can attendees expect on the set list?
After recently receiving tentative set lists from the other G.I.s, we've all decided on doing our best to re-create WDC H/C circa '82. So the songs we chose are going to surprise some (they surprised me!) and excite others. This is the "Make an Effort" lineup with: Tom Lyle-bass, Brian Baker-guitar and (generously donating his talents) Colin Sears (Dag Nasty) on drums. Oh, for better or worse, I'm married to the role of frontperson to the group. And we just had our first rehearsal today! It went pretty good, but by the time of the gig: Priceless. And thankfully I don't have to endure any songs that give me a panic attack. I'm serious because there's at least a few that I'd rather have a long pointy stick in the eye than ever do again-ha!
**You guys were all over the map musically (punk, rock, psych)-- what kept G.I. rolling with each album throughout the '80s?
We were too stupid to do anything else-ha! Actually, I was thinking about this the other night after Brian left and Tom took over the mighty axe and I can honestly answer: Tom Lyle. If Tom didn't stick it out with me for the 8 years that he was in G.I., I don't think I would've kept the G-Issue train a-rolling. Sure we fought like Mick and Keef because being in a band for that long together was like a crazy marriage. Sometimes up and other times incredibly down. But our intense angry/happy relationship fueled the fire that made G.I. what it was. It wasn't the easiest thing to replace longtime drummer/friend Marc Alberstadt but we tried with a short-lived but incredibly talented drummer, Sean Saley (who's now in Pentagram) until Peter Moffett entered the picture. And musically we always just wanted to challenge ourselves and not be predictable. In doing this, we won over newer fans and lost some of the Old Schoolers who missed the bang and howl. That's cool with me.
**Solid musicianship was a G.I. hallmark-- what was it like playing with those guys?
G.I. was always fortunate enough to find some amazingly talented players, but for the first years, Marc was the solid backbone that just made the rest of us look good. If the rest of us made a mistake, nobody noticed because Marc was so freaking great! Playing with Sean (like the endless bassists we went through) brought in new blood and that was good for the old cats like Tom and myself. And then James Robbins joined when Marc was still an original G.I. That gave J. a huge advantage in the group. But Peter entered and clicked so well with J. that the ultimate punk-rock rhythm section was born. And Tom and I were finally able to do everything we couldn't do with Marc's college schedule: 2-month European/N.American tours was a huge deal for us. And Tom being forced into the guitarist role early on had him writing 80% of the songs until our new rhythm section offered their wonderful ideas. At that point, I felt G.I. was an unstoppable force. And I know this made Tom happy, too.
**What's your favorite G.I. album, and why?
My personal favorite has always been "You" and a close follow-up would be the "S/T" release. Every G.I. recording has had some of my blood, soul and emotions pouring out of the grooves so I would never say I met a G.I. record I never liked. What feels the most intense for me in the "You" album would be: the writing. It was a very mixed-up time in a relationship I probably never should have been in. But I have no regrets. I've learned that suffering through the worst brings out the best in my lyrics. I also mean the writing musically because I love the sound and the playing on that one. The experimentation we were toying with on the "S/T" (or as some call "5") record before it, just blew up on "You."
**Who influenced you as a singer and energetic frontman? What about the clothes-- where did your fashion sense come from? What were some of your more memorable outfits?
Well, it would all depend upon what time frame or recording for me. "Legless Bull" was me being Jello Jr. because I worshipped at the altar of Dead Kennedys.
"Boycott Stabb" was my infatuation with all thing Jack Grisham (TSOL) and that went for my thrift-shop chic. I'm proud to be the only "Clown Prince of WDC Punk" in the early '80s when most of my punk-band friends were just sporting your basic T-shirt and jeans. I also dug Nick Cave's hairstyle so that's when the "Cave-wave" kicked in. I loved The Birthday Party like nobody's business!
I was still confusing the punk-rock troops by "Give Us Stabb or Give Us Death" being a Mock-star with my cheesy '80s metal outfits. I thought I was looking like Stephen Pearcy (RATT) with all my make-up, bad perm and fringy wardrobe but ended up resembling some silly "Rocky Horror" (ugh!) fan. Or for any of you readers from the mid-'70s ... Mac Davis-ha!
And I think everyone who listened to "You" could tell I was heavily influenced by Dave Vanian. I even wanted G.I. to start sounding like The Damned. I certainly can hear it vocally and musically on that record, as well as the "S/T" one.
Too many memorable outfits to name but the gem I wore opening up for The Misfits was an electric neon-green (in the spotlight it could sear the human eye!) tuxedo with tails over a large white with red polka-dotted dress shirt. I think that one left a great impression upon Danzig and his Groovie Ghoulies thinking I looked like a fucking clown. I succeeded in irritating a few folks and entertaining the rest that evening. I was very proud of myself that night!
**Your lyrics dripped with sarcasm, but were also serious and profound -- Did writing lyrics help you deal with life experiences, good or bad?
Yeah, I can really be one hell of a sarcastic mofo, but I did pour my heart out on a page/studio/stage by the time "Joyride" was written. I've even heard that some of my lyrics for songs like "Understand" were straight out of the letters of a suicide note. I was dealing with some hardcore depression/fatigue during the writing for that one.
Music has always been an emotional outlet and therapy session for me. If I didn't have that kind of primal scream back then, I'd be in jail or a mental facility somewhere. People have told me that G.I. helped them get through some difficult times back in school and all but punk rock kept me alive and kicking. Not that I'm completely on top of everything now, but I was a real mixed-up piece of work in the '80s. These days I find I need a little medication to curb some of the depression, anger and focus on things. I do the best I can in this life. And on that positive, uplifting note ... next question?
**You played a ton of shows in the U.S. and Europe --- where were some of the memorable ones?
The time I spent with G.I. in Europe was a very special time for me. Definitely an eye-opening experience! The first time in the winter of '86.
A couple particular gigs were as follows: Scherpueheuvel, Belgium, G.I. played this big hall where the punk kids dressed up in swimming gear (swimming caps, speedos, googles) to dive off the huge PA stacks into the crowd! It was some kind of wacky but I've never seen anything like it ... ever! Nobody got hurt and it was all so silly but I doubt this would go over at a Fugazi gig.
Another was in Leutkirch, Germany. It was Halloween so we decided to get into the spirit and dress up as something completely different. Unbeknownst to us foolish Americans, folks in Germany didn't celebrate our little tradition. J. dressed up as Mike Muir (in full Cholo-gang look), Tom borrowed my groovy Nehru jacket to be Syd Barret, I went for the Nick Cave-pale junkie (with magic marker heroin holes on my arms!) thing and Pete was a Grape. A grape you ask? Pete told us how (as a wee lad) he told his parents he wanted to be a Grape for Halloween so they dressed him up in his bathing suit and his Mom's headband. Then they told me he was a Grape so when Pete went to people's doors trick or treating (with parents behind him!) the confused homeowner would ask, "And what are you for Halloween?" Pete answered enthusiastically "I'm a Grape!" Apparently everyone got a good laugh and our future little drummer boy knew nothing of looking like a surfer. Anyhoo, we had a blast doing our thing but didn't find out till afterwards from our guide from Amsterdam about the "not celebrating Halloween" deal. Apparently the crowd thought we were rockstars and always dressed like this.
**What would you most like G.I. to be remembered for?
Hopefully we'll never become as famous and worshipped like some of my peers bands: Minor Threat, Black Flag, etc. I'm happy just having a cult following. And never tossing my cookies all over a stage like my friends, Lady Justin and Ga-Ga Beaver.
**Does Supertramp still give you a cramp? Do you appreciate a little "Breakfast in America" in your older years?
You bet your bippy! And I still don't wanna go to camp-ha!