“Free love across the free land. Visions And?” For some reason this lyric from the song “Visions And?” sticks in my head as the first Government Issue song I really heard and ended up liking quite a bit. But checking the timeline it looks like the Strange Wine EP, which I bought on cassette came out in 1989. So the memory of hearing my first Government Issue song may be skewed, but we will start from there anyway.
I do vividly remember when I saw John “Stabb” Schroeder sing live for the first time. It was in September of 1988 at the University of Maryland (where I attended college.) Government Issue was opening for The Butthole Surfers. Apparently the Surfers were delayed, so we got an extended set from Government Issue. The band was super tight and I really enjoyed their set. John was an engaging frontman; I really hadn’t seen anything like him before. I didn’t meet him that night, but the band’s music stayed with me. I know I also picked up You pretty quickly after that and loved it.
Although the band would break up the next year, I continued to follow John’s career, even though I wasn’t lucky enough to get to any other shows in that time period. I remember reading a positive review about a Weatherhead show at the 9:30 Club in the early 90’s. Then a bit later, I’m pretty sure I heard about Betty Blue too. Who could forget an album entitled Men with Belted Sweaters!
Fast forward to 2003. I am writing for a couple of music magazines around this time, and somehow I heard about John’s latest band-The Factory Incident. I don’t remember how I got in touch, but on July 11, 2003, I found myself at Chief Ike’s Mambo Room in D.C. That is where I met John for the first time. The interview went well, and since we were both local, we started to hang out occasionally. Mostly to hit shows together. Again, I didn’t keep a written record. There were a lot of shows. But a few that stand out that we attended together include Bob Mould at Fort Reno (Mould had just moved to D.C.), Stiff Little Fingers at the Black Cat, The Plimsouls at Jammin’ Java, Naked Raygun at the Ottobar. The reason these stand out-John was always so gracious to always introduce me to the band members whenever possible. He knew it was a big deal to me, and for that I will always be forever grateful to him.
Music was usually a huge part of the conversation. But books and movies were always in the mix too. John knew his movies better than anyone. He made sure I watched Heavy Metal Parking Lot for the first time. Ladies and Gentlemen-The Fabulous Stains was another one he insisted on me coming to check it out. He knew I would dig it and of course he was right! He certainly expanded my horizons in that department as well. By 2006 however The Factory Incident had called it a day. John was looking for a new project.
So sometime in 2007, John asked me if I had been playing bass lately. I still played on and off, but it had been quite some time since I played in an active band. In hindsight, I have to admit now that I am really amazed at what happened next. John had been a known figure in the D.C. music scene for many years. He could have probably has his pick of 20 bassists in the area that had their chops up to speed way more than me. I never really asked “why me?” but it still seems surreal now. Maybe John saw that the love I have for music was still burning bright, but the creative side could also be re-ignited. That decision by John literally changed my life from that point on.
The band Sleeper Agent! was born. John was the singer and I played bass. Derrick Baranowsky on guitar and Jonathan Roth on drums completed the unit. Although my time in the band was brief, I feel like the experiences I gained were invaluable. Opening for New Model Army, Ted Leo and The Pharmacists, even Mission of Burma in Philly (see recently discovered video below):
The band all worked together as a team. But it was John’s history that helped a lot of these opportunities become reality. We even got asked to play a punk festival in Ohio, where John always took the time to introduce me to other musicians there, who probably couldn’t have cared less about meeting a bass player! In early 2011, I left the D.C. area and my time in the band was complete. The band would continue on under a new name-History Repeated.
During that time however, is really where the fondest memories of John will always stay with me. Practice would happen once a week and I would usually pick John up and take him to practice with me, since we lived in the same town. So there would be many long talks on those drives. Music was a highlight for sure. But life, work and other topics would work their way into the mix. John’s sensitive side will always stay in my mind forever. Not only did he try to see the decency in every human being, but he truly cared about all living things. I would sometimes see him blow a kiss to an animal that may not have made it across a busy highway intersection while we were driving. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone that had that much caring and compassion inside. Those are memories that I will never forget. I am incredibly lucky to have been able to call John a great friend for 13 years. Thank you John-I will miss you more than you know.
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