“Strange Tales From The Doc” #13 Here’s a “special” one for Monday’s story. This is an interview I did with John Stabb, singer of Government Issue shortly after he was beat up and robbed on the way home from work while walking the streets of Washington, DC. Hope you enjoy!
“On the Couch with John Stabb”
> There are quite a lot of bands that I consider to be great but only a few that are “special” to me. Government Issue is one of those bands. I remember being 17 years old, living on my own, going to school (well sometimes) and starting out my day playing G.I.’s “Boycott Stabb” 12”. It was bands like Government Issue that kept me going when I could have very easily been depressed, unmotivated or bummed out. So it’s a great pleasure to not only be able to re-release some of my favorite songs from them but also be able to call John Stabb and Tom Lyle “friend”. When I heard that John was mugged and beat up pretty badly a few months ago I thought I’d ask him to do an interview. It took a while but here it is. Enjoy!
Doc: Wow, so many things to talk to you about John. Let’s start off with the
“bad” stuff first. It’s been all over the internet about your “mugging” last
month. Please, in detail, let us know exactly what happened that night. And what did they actually end up taking from you?
Stabb: Man, it’s like something out of a scary film! Let’s see … I was just walking home from work about 10:30 pm minding my own beeswax and out of the blue came 6 clean cut young black teens. They were laughing & seemed innocent enough but I soon discovered something much different. It was because none of them had hoods or masks on that I felt at ease until one of them got in my face. With the other 5 standing on a hill about 20 feet from me & this other guy trying to get my attention by bobbing and weaving like a boxer asking “Hey, what’s up? What’s up?”, I knew there was going to be trouble. I looked around trying to keep an eye on all these dudes and wondering who was going to try to jump me or if all of them would take turns. Then I got sucker punched by some person or persons. (It ended up to be just one dude but it sure felt like more than one guy) The fists felt like bricks against my face. But that’s not the first time I’d experienced something like this:
Years ago walking home late from club in WDC on a sidewalk, I got sucker punched for no particular reason by a young black dude & I was able to pick up my glasses & walk away with my bloody face swelling up so I felt like
“Shit, this is happening to me again & it’s going to get worse”. So, as my
face was swelling up the size of a f’n honeydew melon & blood was pouring down my face, I swayed back (luckily not hitting the ground). I thought that I’d just been clocked by a few people but discovered it to be one guy. That was a rough night but nothing could compare to the one I was having on the night of 7/17/07.
My right eye was starting to seal up from this kid’s fists & my glasses were somewhere on the ground & this f’n bastard wasn’t leaving me alone. I knew my life was seriously in danger and had an idea: I put on my best psycho-face, pulled out my exact-o-knife from my back pocket and spoke a line I’d always wanted to use in case of something like this. “Have you ever had to beat the shit out of a bunch of dudes in lock-up so you wouldn’t be raped?!!”, I smiled through my gushing bloody mouth. One of the guys on the hill watching said “Hey, he’s got a knife”. Unfortunately this didn’t sway my attacker & the fucker proceeded to pick up some huge blocks of cement (our Condo-community’s pool had recently been rebuilt & cement wasn’t cleaned up) to throw with both of his hands at me. “Put down the knife, bitch!” the mother fucker yelled out at me several times. Seeing all these other guys (and I was pretty blind without my glasses!) around, I thought the best move would be to put the lame weapon away & maybe they would leave knowing my face was rearranged. But the attack dog on 2 legs rushed towards me & I ran to the middle of the street hoping the upcoming car would see me in it’s headlights & stop. I got punched one more time before I hit the pavement. The car stopped & the gang of thugs ran off laughing. The kind citizen called the police for me & another nice person lent me his cell phone to call my wife Mika at her work to tell her I’d just been attacked by a bunch of kids. And lucky for me, someone found my glasses on the ground fairly unscathed. I wasn’t really thinking too clearly because I’d just had the shit beaten out of me. I was definitely shaken up to say the least. The police officer showed up within minutes & took my report. I wasn’t robbed just used as a f’n human punching bag. I gave the cop a description of the young animals and he says “Oh, that sounds like the same description of the ones that just assaulted another man and robbed him 5 minutes ago just up the street from here”. That’s totally f’ed up! These kids were on an adrenaline rush or something. And I’m starting to think it was a gang initiation & I was the unlucky victim. I’m actually lucky the guy didn’t shoot me because I can live with a broken face. If this happened in a bad part of L.A., you’d probably be reading some kind of obituary for me.
I was on my way to be carted off in an ambulance to a local emergency hospital but there was a sudden stop up the road. My EMT groaned, “I really hate when they do this”. And I was more than curious. The EMT tells me they’ve been stopped by my cop on the side of the road & the officer wants me to identify a few guys in cuffs outside to see if they’re guys I recognize from my attack. What the fuck is that about? Like I want these guys to see me identifying them?!! I poked my head halfway through the window and told the cop “I honestly cannot tell you if these guys were the ones because they were clean cut young black teens. These guys don’t look like them to me”. And then I was off to the emergency center.
Doc: How has this changed you? Something similar happened to one of my friends many years ago (robbed and beat) and for months after that he was prejudice against blacks. And he was NOTHING like that to begin with. I guess that reaction would be normal. Has this changed your opinion of people based on their race?
Stabb:I guess I’d be lying if I said I haven’t suffered from a bit of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome but it’s probably not that surprising after being attacked. I’m a hell of a lot more cautious around folks now & I carry a much bigger knife (which I use as a box cutter at my job) in case anyone confronts me. I’m not about to have some mother fucker rearrange my mug again! It hasn’t changed my opinions against anyone for the color of their skin because I will never end up a racist. To me, you can be white, black, yellow, red, polka dot, whatever. That’s no reason to judge anyone. I just hope that all young folks stop thinking this shit is fun and the ones doing the damage are caught and locked up.
Doc: I guess one of the good things about this incident is the huge outpouring of support and concern from the punk community. I myself (as a record store) have had people mail me money from England and come into the store to donate to you for your hospital bills. That has to make you feel good.
Stabb: It has made my wife Mika and myself feel incredibly great deep inside every time we get another donation or caring word from someone. We had no idea how many people out there cared about the geezer from G.I.-ha! It’s the outpouring of love from some mighty caring individuals that we shall never forget. It really blows my mind how much everyone within the punk community or not has lent a helping hand to this injured man. We are truly grateful for your love.
Doc: And speaking of Hospital bills how is that going? Did you have any
insurance at all to help you out?
Stabb: The bills are almost finally paid after a handful of benefits, pay pal
donations and e bay auctions. I do have Blue Cross/Blue Shield from my workplace but it’s only covering half the debt. And we just couldn’t do it without the help of everyone out there. My face looks normal thanks to the talents of my oral surgeon and I’m happy to have the damned braces off my teeth! The running joke around my work was “Finally, we have a way to shut Stabb up”. Ha! But I came back from the surgery with braces and was talking up a storm … you can’t keep a good Stabb quiet-ha!
Doc: Have any of these people been caught?
Stabb: No, and even the police think the likelihood that this group of thugs will
ever be caught isn’t very likely. It would be great to have them locked up so they cannot do this shit again but it’s not going to keep me up at night thinking about it. I won’t be making their capture my life-long goal or anything. Life goes on, you know?
Doc: Okay, onto some other stuff! I do have one of the founding fathers of the early D.C. scene at my disposal after all. On that “note” do you think of yourself like that? A “founding father” of the D.C. Scene? I know there were many before you of course but in the history of Punk/Hardcore and the D.C. scene, what will the Books say about John Stabb? What should they say?
Stabb: I don’t feel like I helped impregnate the DC music scene so “founding
father” is a weird term. I’m happy to be one of the folks who helped get the WDC punk scene’s name out there to the world. But I’m certainly not going to go around informing people “Hey, don’t you know who I am?! I created the DC punk scene, man!”
And as far as what the books say about me or Government Issue, it’s up to them. But. that said, I actually feel a bit left out of the punk loop when I read a book on the Underground Music Scene and don’t even get a passing mention because they will always talk about another DC band … Minor Threat. Now I happen to love what Minor Threat did but G.I. did our time in the WDC punk scene and sometimes are overlooked. I still think so many of the 80’s punk bands are great so it’s a little disappointing to be dismissed like you never counted among them.
I don’t really care what they say as long as there’s some truth to their
research so a book like “American Hardcore” means nothing to me. And unlike Ian or Henry, I am very happy not to have the “figurehead” tag placed upon my name. I consider them both as friends but man do they get so much shit from folks. Some people have such high expectations about celebrities, musicians, actors, sports stars that nobody can live up to. I like having a “cult following” and not world stardom. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: “I’m just another bozo in a band”. And that’s good enough for me.
Doc: What got you, not only into Punk, but just music in general? Who was the first band (punk or otherwise) you saw?
Stabb: What originally got me into music was “The Monkees” because I was so into the old 60’s TV show when I was a wee lad. And of course, I had to own their “I’m not (Your Stepping Stone” single! My older sister was all about The Beatles, Beach Boys, Herman’s Hermits, and others and I went through her record collection at times. But “The Monkees” were my first real introduction to music. From there it delved into the silly teen pop of “The Partridge Family” (everyone knows I was a TV baby, right?) to the pretentious Dino-rock of “Led Zeppelin”. But I’d have to say that the Monkee’s “Stepping Stone” was my first into to Punk because (despite all the early WDC punk bands covering it years later) it’s a pretty big “Screw you for trying to string me around, girl!” song. And what got me into punk was the typical stuff that most 19 year old suburban males had to rebel against: snobby girls in designer jeans, mechanical bulls, preppies, and high school to name but a few. But remember this was the 80’s for me.
The first rock concert I went to was: Linda Ronstadt on her “Mad Love” album tour at the Capitol Center during the summer of ’79. I was just starting to get into underground music with bands like Blondie, The Stranglers, Talking Heads, and The Cars. I was so naive that I thought Linda Ronstadt had gone kind of punk because she was doing Elvis Costello covers. But the first punk gig I saw had to be Black Market Baby at the Psychedely. It was also the night a young angry 19 year old almost lost his virginity. And that’s all I’m going to say about that-ha!
Doc: Tell us about some of the early days of G.I.. How old were you at that
time? And what was it like hanging out at the Dischord House, recording with Don at Inner Ear and playing the 9:30 Club? Was there ever any sense that, nearly 30 years later anyone would give a damn?
Stabb: The early days of G.I. were some of the most treasured ones in my memory bank. It was a time of a handful of bands and friends all feeding off one another’s energies. We were all sharing something special that we called “HarD.C.ore”. After a few years, there were far more bands and people came & went. Different factions took place and the innocence of what we were all a part of was gone. It wasn’t the same close-knit connection and a lot of the fun of just hanging out disappeared.
I was 19 years old and just out of high school. A lot of us were close to the same age. I’m actually as old as Ian (MacKaye) and Henry Rollins. Those guys got immersed into the punk scene a bit earlier than me but I caught up pretty quickly-ha!
I was fortunate enough to not only hang out at Dischord House but also got to live with that group of punks for a brief time. When the house was initially forming, I wanted to live there but didn’t have the funds to pay for my room. Sab Grey of Iron Cross got my room in the Va group house and I will always wonder what it would’ve been like if I would’ve been one of the original tenants of the house. Instead, after my first punk group house nearby ended very badly (try having to go to court with your house mates after they commit assault & battery on you!), the good folks at Dischord House took me in. There was all of us (Ian, Eddie Janney, Jeff Nelson, Sab, Richard Moore and myself) staying up till the wee hours of the morning watching old reruns of “Perry Mason” & “Private Secretary” on the tube while sucking down 7-11 Big Gulps of Coke & Beef Bean and cheese burritos. It was the best of times, it was the beast of times-ha!
Recording with Don at Inner Ear has always been a joy. He’s the coolest engineer a musician could work with. Because “Legless Bull” was our very first Dischord session, things were tense for us kids. I can remember Me, Brian Gay, John Barry and Marc Alberstadt getting into silly arguments because we were in the studio with the mighty Ian was producing & Don recording us. This was also when Inner Ear Studios wasn’t the monster studio it is now. It was more like Don’s basement featuring a sound booth, microphones and kids toys strewn about the room. I actually did my vox in the washer/dryer room. The recording for “Boycott Stabb” was far more relaxed and quite a bit more fun. Ian’s producing was amazing and Don’s engineering brilliant!
Playing the old small 9:30 Club back then was one of the coolest things in the world! Stage dive heaven! Slam dancing galore! Some of my all-time greatest memories are buried in the ground where that building use to stand. It was my hangout, therapy session, and lifes blood all rolled into one. And at the time we were all so involved in the thing that I doubt any of us even remotely gave any thought of how we’d be remembered in the punk analogs. I think it’s cool that something I was fortunate enough to be a part of is thought of in such a lauded way. It’s nice to get some respect after all these years. I’m extremely proud of all I’ve accomplished with music but it ain’t over for this old punk yet-ha!
Doc: And what about the “movement” you, and others like Minor Threat helped to start: Straight Edge. I myself, in a big part due to you and Minor Threat, was Straight Edge for 7 years from about 20 to 27 or so. Do you feel any responsibility, even today, to stay on the straight and narrow or is that past history?
Stabb: I never felt like being straight in the punk scene was any way part of being in a movement. I get asked (and even harrassed by some idiot punk kids at times) about “Straightedge” quite a bit but it’s a fine Minor Threat song & that’s it. I never labeled myself this but was on an incredible natural adrenaline high at shows to ever want to ruin it with drugs. I left my “Dazed & Confused” years back at high school along with that awful Led Zeppelin film. I think folks have really blown the meaning of Ian’s song way out of proportion. This said, I do find it a monumental tragedy when you hear about young talented people such as Heath Ledger and Brad Renfro recently dying from drugs. I like a good fruity mixed drink now and again but I would never mix drinking and my punk rock back in my G.I. years. I knew people who would get stoned or trip on acid to G.I. and this blows my mind! Our shows were so intense and emotional that I could only imagine them to be terrifying on drugs. Unless you’re having to take some kind of meds (I take Paxil) for depression, anger or just helping you focus better on everyday things, drugs suck! I’m certainly not all fascist or militant about people who do them but I prefer not to be around those folks.
>Doc: I was lucky enough to see you guys in the early to mid 80’s at a small
> place called Oscar’s Cornhusker, Azusa, California with Uniform Choice. How was that tour? Did it meet expectations? Any cool or funny stories?
Stabb: That mini-tour that Mystic Records flew us out to California to do was a blast! Not only did we have a great photographer and lovely friend in SST Record’s own Naomi Petersen shooting us at gigs but hung out with all kinds of cool folks. Mystic Records head honcho Doug Moody couldn’t have been a nicer fella to us and his assistant Philco was generous to a fault. I’ve heard all of the horrible “dealing with Doug & Mystic” stories but they were very very good towards G.I. Mystic set us up with a handful of gigs, a driver with Winnebago, studio time, and great food!
I don’t have any major issues with the label in the long run. Doug regaled us with stories of his youth in the major label industry and all the bands he had first time original recordings of like: Suicidal Tendencies, Lone Justice, Guns “N” Roses, etc. He was a real sweet guy to listen to. We had a really enjoyable time hanging out in sleazy Hollywood and even went to a TV show taping (Tom & Lenny went to “The Price is Right” & Marc and I checked out “The Merv Griffin Show”). There was even some romance for me before we left … oh yeah!!! The only downside of that tour was having Lenny go through a bit of a nervous breakdown but it didn’t ruin our total experience.
Doc: Government Issue is still hugely popular today. Maybe even more so than when you were playing around? In my store and mail order people young and old are into G.I. No matter what age. Why do you think that is? Just good music or is it (Government Issue) just something you have to have in order to be “punk”? You know, you’re not cool unless you have: Circle Jerks, Ramones, Adolescents etc. Or is that even the case in your opinion? Has G.I. gotten it “Just Dues” in the Punk Scene?
Stabb: I couldn’t pinpoint a reason why folks dig G.I. maybe more now than when we were playing out. I’m always pretty blown away that G.I.’s fan base runs from as close as close to me as WDC to the outer reaches of Japan. It’s nice to be appreciated for something you put so much of your life’s blood into but that was never the reason I’ve been part of any group. I’ve always just done it for myself and if others enjoyed it than that’s cool. I don’t think people place G.I. in the leagues of say Circle Jerks, Ramones, Adolescents, etc. Bands such as these have a zillion times more popularity than a little group like Government Issue could ever come close to. Those would some pretty big combat boots to fill-ha!
I think after all these years that G.I. has definitely gotten their “just dues” by having a label such as Dr. Strange want to put out our material. The G.I. collections that y’all have released made people think about us again and that’s awesome. G.I. struggled their asses off back in the eighties so it’s nice to finally make a bit of a profit 19 years later. And when I come across a person placing G.I. on their favorites list, contacting me on an online site like Daghouse.com or Myspace or even approaching me in person to tell me how much the group means to them … it makes me feel good. I’m always about making an impact on people so I think I’ve accomplished that.
Doc: What’s your opinion on the value of some of these records today? Your “Legless Bull” 7″ goes for a small fortune. How does that make you feel? Flattered or angered that people actually pay that much for Punk record?
Stabb: It boggles the mind how much people will shell out for a piece of vinyl!!
I have seen “Legless Bull” go for as much as $300 on ebay and Minor Threat’s first “7” test pressing sell for a whopping $1200!!! That’s insane, man. It doesn’t anger me that someone is willing to pay that much for something I was part of so long ago. I still think it’s ridiculous that they’re doing that. I have never spent more than say $40 on some recording I felt was worth it to me to own. The collector’s market is a crazy world and it’s not my world. When I think about spending anywhere near the amounts that some kids do for a record, I’m reminded of the days I once spent being incredibly unemployed and having to accept public assistance. When you’re struggling you should never be too proud to accept any charity the government is willing to dole out. Money is a fleeting thing so you should only spend it on things you truly need. That’s not to say that treating yourself and your mate to a nice dinner, movie or gig now and then. That is, if it’s in your budget. My wife and 2 cats are the most important thing to me in my life, not a record.
>Doc: For right or wrong, singers always get all the attention in bands (and
> chicks?) but let us know a little about the other guys in G.I.. Tom Lyle is
> a lot like you in my opinion: A gracious, giving, level headed all around
> good guy. What of the others? Do you still have any contact with them?
Stabb: That may be right that the wacky front person gets the attention most of the time but someone has to make the band look good-ha! The bottom line is that front people are usually the focal points in bands because we are the biggest hams up there. When you put on a frenzied fun-filled intense flamboyant performance, you’re bound to stand out. Tom and I went through many years in G.I. wanting to tear each other apart but there was a lot of petty immaturity happening back then. I’m happy to say that Tom and I are good friends again, the way we first were when he joined G.I. He’s a great guy and an amazing musician! But don’t think that young Stabb got all the chicks back in G.I. because Tom was usually the one the girls went for. I was usually the guy they watched on stage with this “tortured nutlog” vibe and they were afraid of me after the gig. Tom didn’t chase after any of them but they sure went for him-ha!
Tom and I are extremely happily married so those, um, days are a thing of our sordid past-ha!
We both used to hear from Marc Alberstadt (who grew up close to me) but he’s kind of dropped out of the musical loop lately. Marc’s a great guy to hang with and talk about movies and music. Otherwise, the man’s a reserved quiet dude. John “God” Barry teaches at Townshend University and lives in the Baltimore-area. I’m happy to say that John and his wife Ditty plus Tom and his wife Kim, were all at my wedding. If I knew how to get a hold of other x-G.I.’s at the time, they would’ve been invited. I’m still in touch with J. Robbins and Peter Moffett who were both at my Government Re-Issue gig. They’re great guys as are anyone who spent time in the group.
>Doc: – I have to ask you because I’m asked this many times. With more bands reuniting than not: The Freeze, Bad Brains, Sham 69, etc. why not you? I know you would get a ton of people to go your gigs. What has stopped you?
Stabb: Tom and I discussed doing a reunion gig as a benefit for J. Robbins and his wife Janet Morgan’s baby who was born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy. I called Tom and said “You and I have always been violently opposed to ever doing a G.I. reunion (we were even asked to play one of the “Save CBGB’s” benefits and turned it down) because we wish to just move on and not take ten steps backwards but the only reason I would do it is to help raise money to help medical bills for J.’s son”. “I agree with you but I’d do it in a heartbeat to help J.’s son”, Tom answered. I even contacted Pete to see if he’d do it and he told me to ask J. if he’d be part of it because he would only do it with J., Tom, and me. I avoided contacting J. because I felt he had enough to deal with but Pete asked him. Apparently J. wouldn’t have been opposed to doing it but we discovered that in order to make it happen, we’d need to be f’n great! This would call for us to do some serious practicing time. What with Tom living in the Jersey area raising a daughter, Pete traveling across the world as a drum-tech for Dashboard Confessional, and J. seeking alternative medicines for his child … this was not to be. There was no way on earth we could do this half-assed so better not at all. It would’ve been a hell of a gig if it did happen, I tell you what-ha!
>Doc:- Speaking of music, what’s up with your newest band: Factory Incident?
Stabb: The Factory Incident lasted a good 5 years but are done making their post-punk noise. x-F.I. guitarist/best friend/best man at my wedding Karl Hill and I are getting together with a few other folks to see what gels.
I will tell you this: I’m extremely anxious to make some noise in front of people again!! I miss being part of a band but life’s been pretty busy lately. Mikastabb’s dying to see her crazy husband back on stage as she’s probably my biggest fan-ha!
Doc: – Tell us about life today for Stabb. I know you recently got married. No
> kids correct? What is an average day for you John? And what are your goals for tomorrow?
Stabb: I work in really cool hardware store so you could say I went “from hardcore to hardware”. Mikastabb and I love spending time with our little fuzzy 4-legged family: Cat-Astrophe & Whisper. They are our kids and play a huge part in our lives. We check out DVDs on Netflix and go to check out a band or 2 now and then. We’re very comfortable hanging at home watching a movie while our cats sleep nearby (or on us). Unlike the old days of having to check out so many bands during the week,
I don’t feel that need. When I was younger in the scene, I had (!!!) to check out every cool punk gig. It was my destiny-ha!
My goals these days are pretty simple ones (at least I hope they are):
To keep myself from ever getting into huge debt, complete my memoirs “The Sheer Terror of John Stabb”, form a publishing company with Mikastabb so we can release my book and any others we come up with, do a speaking tour a la Henry Rollins, have another band that records and plays out, be able to afford a house to raise a child with Mikastabb.
Thanks for the therapy session, Doc. Who should I mail the check to-ha!
Thanks again to John Stabb and all the great memories and music!
*Want more info on this story? e-mail me directly at email@example.com or if you want music, shirts, buttons etc… from this band or others, visit the world’s largest PUNK ROCK site at www.drstrange.com