Thirty years ago today, Government Issue—which at the time was John Stabb, Tom Lyle, Marc Alberstadt and myself—played CBGBs. It was an all-ages, Saturday matinée show because most of the kids who bought our records and went to see us play were—like myself back then—teenagers. That was the first out-of-town show of our US tour that summer. From there we were to go on to Boston and play a gig with Agent Orange, but we learned it was cancelled before we left NYC.
Other venues we played on the tour were Joe’s Bar in Ann Arbor, the Cubby Bear in Chicago, Goofy’s Upper Deck in Minneapolis, the University of Colorado in Denver, Vortograph in Sacramento, the Mabuhay Gardens in San Francisco, Sportsman’s Hall and Shamus O’Brian’s in Los Angeles, Danger Zone in Tuscon, Nightlife in Austin, Raw Power in San Antonio, and back in Washington, D.C. at Space II Arcade.
Some of the bands we played with that summer were Channel 3, Murphy’s Law, Suicidal Tendencies, Savage Beliefs, Dirty Rotten Imbeciles, Stalag 13, Otto’s Chemical Lounge, SS Decontrol, Jerry’s Kids and Heart Attack.
Maybe you were there? Or someplace like it? Most of these shows were back-to-back. Play the gig, sleep, get up early, drive to the next town, eat bad food (repeat steps one through five) with only four days off spread in between just to drive some more.
A tour bus? You must be joking. We drove a Buick Electra that belonged to John’s dad and hauled all our gear in a trailer. No roadies. No guitar techs. No drivers. No manager. Just us. Tom and I did most of the driving even though I had a license for only a year or two. John did not drive. And Marc we let drive only during the day, which meant Tom and I drove all the late shifts. It was during a long, late night stretch across the prairie that I first heard Mountain’s Theme from an Imaginary Western. It slowly drifted out of the Buick’s speakers, as one of Tom’s many cassette tapes transported a ribbon of rust over the sound heads, while I piloted the Buick Electra, that eight-cylinder Leviathan, through the night.
At the time, many punk bands enjoyed provoking ordinary people at random and hippies. Hippies seemed comical in 1983 because by then the idea of flower children, Woodstock and Haight-Ashbury was irrelevant and as appealing as old wine gone bad, although just 14 years had passed since Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane and Country Joe and the Fish went down to Yasgur’s Farm. But we found making fun of hippies too easy. So we turned that around and aimed it at the kids in the scene who took punk rock way too seriously—the ones who sucked all the fun out of it.
As far as visuals, you’d never catch us with a mohawk or in a leather jacket. Well, Tom, in a leather jacket, maybe, but only in winter. Marc wore a t-shirt and jeans behind his drum kit. John would get the most ridiculous clothes he could find at the Goodwill and I’d wear a Kibbutz Gezer t-shirt or something equally un-punk rock, which was far more punk rock than wearing a “punk rock” uniform of bomber jacket and boots. And this was long before Hot Topic sold Black Flag t-shirts in every mall in America. It was the same with the music. We didn’t play standard punk rock because we listened to all kinds of music, and we liked seeing how far we could push the audience. There were too many bands playing formula punk rock and we were not going to be another one of them.
No hotels did we trash. Not just because we didn’t stay in any, it was simply something we’d never do. We slept where we could. Often that meant the living room and basement floors of fans we met at the show. Or up in a dusty loft of the club we just played. One night we drove a long way out of our way, only to learn the girl—who only wanted to brag to her friends that we had stayed at her house—did not have her parents’ permission for us to spend the night. We arrived early in the morning, at that time that’s more night than day, and had to park the Buick and the trailer around the corner, sneak into her father’s house, unroll our sleeping bags in the basement and make not a sound. Most nights were better. A few less so.
It was not glamorous, but it was an adventure; and like CBGBs, itself, the possibility of going on such a tour—with little more than the equipment we brought on stage, a list of promoters’ phone numbers and coins for the pay phone—no longer exists. Just as the New York City of the 1970s and ’80s no longer exists. It was a time and place that most people will never experience, and one I’m glad I did.
Hear us play Here’s the Rope or get the entire July 30, 1983 CBGB’s show at:
Another favorite track from that gig is Dead Dog—an homage to Pentagram, a 1970s heavy metal band, also from the Washington, D.C. area, that deserved far more fame than it received.