Monday, May 9, 2016
Yesterday morning, the punk community awoke to the news that John Stabb had succumbed to stomach cancer. He was 54.
It was not a secret that John was sick, and based on the few cautiously-worded updates that travelled across social media, it seemed like the situation wasn't good. Still, no matter how many times we go through this (and we've been through this a bit too much for my tastes lately), it's always a shock.
I had the pleasure of meeting John several times. We had a few common friends, and that yielded a handful of shared shows when I was in my first band, and John was playing in Betty Blue.
It's a kind of crazy situation for your first band to open for someone "famous." It would be easy -- especially when you're young and kind of immature -- to get over-excited by the prospect. It would be easy get nervous, or desperate for his attention.
But John was so normal, and goofy, and nice that it was never an issue.
Stabb made a tremendous impression on me. He was a captivating performer, but more importantly, he was funny and friendly. And in such a stiflingly self-conscious scene as D.C.'s, that was special.
I probably met him half a dozen times; I don't think he ever really remembered me, but he was always pleasant and typically would ask after the friends we shared. If he was with his partner, he would unfailingly take a moment to introduce her. (That gesture, in particular, always stuck with me. What a genuinely polite thing to do).
John was the first of the D.C. punk legends I met, and it was a sad surprise to learn that not everyone was as generous of spirit as he was. Of course, the D.C. scene is packed with legendary figures, and many of them still have a presence around town. I'm sure all of them are nice enough people, but few of them are at all approachable. John, on the other hand, was as un-insulated as they came.
For several years I'd see John everywhere...debuting a new band at the Black Cat, playing gigs at the old arts space where my wife used to work, rifling through CDs at the old Tower Records in Foggy Bottom, or maybe just waiting at a bus stop in Silver Spring. I seemed to see him everywhere for a time, and I'm sad that it'll never have again.
My favorite memory of John was playing a party with him in 1997. It was a weird event....a big all-day, all night field party somewhere in Savage, MD. At some point in the afternoon, John took the stage to read a spoken-word selection from a memoir he was working on.
The details of the story elude me, but I recall that the tale climaxed with Stabb somehow inadvertently getting himself in a feud with Glenn Danzig, and subsequently receiving a threat from none other than the Iron Sheik.
That, my friends, is a life well-lived.
This recent wave of celebrity musician deaths has been a brutal thing to behold. And in the coming years, we will undoubtedly eulogize more and more of our heroes.
So many great things will someday be written in the obituaries of the pioneers of DC hardcore...about what they did to bring important concepts like DIY, and punk rock activism, and straight-edge to the forefront, and the impact they had on so many future superstars.
This is certain.
What is less certain is how many of these people will be remembered for being...well, nice. For being funny. For being not only talented, and visionary, and charismatic, but also being friendly, and kind, and polite.
I don't know. But I do know that John Stabb was a really nice guy. You didn't have to be in his circle of friends to know it. You didn't have to be one of the smart or cool kids to discover it. You didn't have to know the right people to experience it. It's simply how he was.
That's how I want to be remembered. And it's how I'll remember John Stabb.