It would be wildly presumptuous of me to claim to be a long-time friend of John Stabb. And yet the way he would greet you and make you feel like a long-time friend is precisely why his tragic death hurts so many so much, including even me. I mean, the last time I saw him -- at an early 2016 benefit gig for the family of the late Doc Night -- he hugged me as if I was a buddy (right after he had been hugging someone else in the crowd). He was eagerly telling me and my wife about his plans to join Scream on stage to run through an old Government Issue tune. Sadly, that didn't happen that night for whatever reason.
The few times I interacted with John on a personal level, I was struck by his enthusiasm and love. If the D.C. punks had a rep for being so gosh-darn serious back in the day -- precisely why I never warmed to that movement for so long even though I was working in D.C. record stores in the era -- then John was the John Lennon of the scene. A hippy in a sea of skinheads, he stuck out in the scene in a wonderful way. Positively buoyant and perennially youthful, he was relentlessly upbeat and seemingly happy and those vibes were contagious; how could you ever meet Stabb and not love the guy?
When I saw him at the Salad Days (2014) premiere in December 2014, he was standing in the lobby alone as the second screening of the masterful film kicked off that night. My wife and I were working the t-shirt booth. I walked over and started talking to John having briefly talked to him a few years earlier at some other gig related to the film. He started gabbing with me as if I was a long-lost friend. He was carrying a CD of his earlier project, The Factory Incident, with him and he gave that to me. Not sure if no one else had wanted it or what but it made me happy to take it and enjoy it. We chatted a bit. I had just moved back to America after living in Hong Kong. I told John I was looking for an editing job and he mentioned that he was working on his memoirs. I offered to edit them for him if he ever tried to get them published. I wasn't sure how much he had actually put together but I relished the idea of helping him as the guy had some stories to tell, no doubt about that. And then later, as the film let out and more people came to the lobby, I got that pic with him and the film's director Scott Crawford.
A few nights later I saw him again at another Salad Days (2014) gig and he and Mina greeted my wife and I very warmly. I introduced Tony Porreco, from Black Checker and loads of podcasts, to John and felt like I was really arranging an important meeting of the minds that night. They hit it off immediately 'cause that's how John was, apparently, to the many younger musicians in this city.
I really don't have many more words to say about Stabb. I wanted to write something because to not write something seemed silly when so many voices are chiming in on how wonderful the guy was. The tragedy of his death has robbed this city of one of Punk's true originals. Beyond the Dischord scene (which owes him a tremendous artistic debt, obviously), his legacy as a very central figure in the rise of alternative music in America will live on.
Of course I can't pretend to have been his best friend but his life did touch mine a few times and his spirit was one that I admired. It was only years later that I realized that in the old days (1987-1990) when I worked at record stores in the D.C. area and had tried so hard to avoid the pervasive influence of the bands of the peak years of the Dischord era, I had actually seen Stabb in Weatherhead when they opened for my friend Rich's band, The Now, at the old 9:30 Club. There's a pic of the flyer here. I guess I'm lucky to have seen him in action back in the day, despite all my best efforts to avoid local music during those years when I was listening to U.K. stuff mainly, and before I heard "Waiting Room" by Fugazi and caved a bit to the great music being made here in the nation's capital. It seems fitting now that I had at least seen one of the titans of harDCore in person back then, and even more perfect in retrospect that it had been the great John Stabb.
And, of course, I saw him a few times in the last few years. He was an extraordinary performer whether there were a 1,000 or 10 people in the room.
John Stabb gave Music -- as a way of of life and a form of expression -- his all and he gave his heart so gladly to those he came in touch with that I can't help but mourn him in my small way. As a music fan, I should add my voice to the growing chorus of those who are writing about him now simply to say that yes, I was touched by him too, even if I wasn't part of that whole scene back in the actual Salad Days era itself. The largeness of his personality and the generosity of his spirit are what will be missed, not just the guy who sang on a bunch of hardcore records. It's really what he did with his place in the D.C. scene that makes his death such a tragedy now; there was still unlimited creative potential there and even a casual fan could only eagerly wait to see what he would do next as a musician, performer, and D.C. artist.
John Stabb, you will be sorely missed. Rest in Peace Stabb.
In typical John Stabb fashion, he mugged it up gleefully in this pic of me and Pete Stahl (Scream), Danny Ingram (Youth Brigade), Andy Rapoport (Kingface), Bert Queiroz (Youth Brigade), and John Stabb (Government Issue, Emmapeel, The Factory Incident, History Repeated, etc., etc., etc.)