Government Issue - Biography
Government Issue, or G.I., was a founding band of Washington, DC’s hardcore punk scene. Singer John Stabb was the sole constant member through all of the group’s permutations, though bassist/guitarist Tom Lyle was with him for most of G.I.’s career. When Government Issue broke up in 1989, the band’s music more closely resembled the commercially successful punk of the 1990s than the hardcore thrash of G.I.’s teenage origins.
John Stabb formed Government Issue with guitarist John Barry, bassist Brian Gay, and drummer Mark Alberstadt in 1980. G.I. played its first shows that year at DC’s Unheard Music Festival. Alberstadt was sick during the festival, so the band was billed as The Substitutes and played with various fill-in drummers. G.I.’s first release, the 1981 EP Legless Bull, was also one of the first releases on the DC hardcore label Dischord Records, which came to be known as the home of Minor Threat. Ian MacKaye, the singer for Minor Threat, produced Legless Bull. After Minor Threat broke up in 1981, their bassist Brian Baker replaced G.I.'s Brian Gay. Baker eventually moved to guitar after John Barry left later that year. Baker and new bassist Tom Lyle played on the Make an Effort (Fountain of Youth) EP, released in 1982, after which Minor Threat reunited and Baker jumped ship. Lyle then moved from bass to guitar to fill the gap and remained there for the rest of G.I.’s career.
MacKaye produced G.I.’s first full-length album, Boycott Stabb (Fountain of Youth/Dischord), which was released in 1983. As many hardcore bands did in the mid-80s, G.I. tried out hard rock and metal mannerisms on the following year’s Joy Ride (1984 Fountain of Youth). G.I. recorded two releases in 1985 for Mystic Records, California’s premier hardcore label, with the 12-inch EP Give Us Stabb or Give Us Death and the live album Live on Mystic. That same year, G.I. released their next studio album, The Fun Just Never Ends (1985 Fountain of Youth), which serves up major-key Revolution Summer proto-emo similar to Embrace. The zine Flipside devoted a tape in its live video series to two Government Issue shows, also recorded in 1985.
Tempos slowed, Stabb crooned, and Lyle played keys and sitar on 1986’s Government Issue (Fountain of Youth), a step in the direction of what was then called college rock. Bassist John Leonard and original drummer Alberstadt left after the release of Government Issue. Stabb and Lyle continued to play as G.I. with bassist J. Robbins and drummer Pete Moffett on the increasingly melodic albums You (Giant) and Crash (Giant), released in 1987 and 1988 respectively, before dissolving the band in 1989. In Steven Blush’s 2001 book American Hardcore (Feral House), Robbins says, “The end of G.I. was in summer ’89. After looking at the situation objectively, having done monster tours of the US and Europe, and after a terrible van accident in England where Pete shattered his ankle, we felt we were beating our heads against the wall.”
Robbins formed the post-hardcore/emo band Jawbox, Moffett joined rock outfit Wool, and Stabb formed the bands Betty Blue and The Factory Incident. In the early part of the new millennium, G.I.’s Fountain of Youth, Mystic, and Giant releases were collected on the double-CD sets Complete History, Volume One (2000 Dr. Strange) and Complete History, Volume Two (2002 Dr. Strange). A previously unreleased 11-song 1980 demo appeared on an authorized 7-inch as G.I.’s First Demo (Spontaneous Combustion) in 2004.
On July 17, 2007, Stabb was attacked by a group of teenagers while walking home from his nightly bus commute. He was beaten badly enough to require four and a half hours of facial reconstructive surgery. Stabb continues to lead bands, and has most recently been a member of Sleeper Agent! and Manchurian Garden Club (both references to the 1962 film The Manchurian Candidate).