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Saturday, February 09, 2013

Notes From the Old School: My First Trip to the Pit: Government Issue, 1987

As mentioned in my Black Flag post under this series, me and a couple of my close metalhead brothers came into alliance with our school punk sanction.  At the time of late 1987, I had recently gained my driver's license and was on my way towards a bad breakup with a girl I had full intentions of marrying one day.  I was at the height of my teenaged angst as I believed foolishly at the time I was gaining a sense of how the world works.  My automatic need to rebel against it was at least held in check by a wonderful near-year romance.  That was gone.  So too, for a stretch of time, was my sanity. 

It happens in teenage life no matter what your generation may be, young lovers grow up and grow apart.  Only a handful of high school sweethearts make the grade together after graduation.  I'm impressed to see a few couples from my graduating class have actually stuck together and I applaud them.  I thought that would've been my path at the time, but life had a different route for me.   I dated many girls later and ultimately married someone else I've been with for nearly two decades.  Consider the old candles long burned out.

Nevertheless, I saw the writing on the wall with my high school girlfriend, Monica after she ventured off to college a year ahead of me.  I felt my emotions hitting a peak to the point I needed some sort of desperate alleviation.  I wasn't experienced enough as a driver to yet venture into Baltimore and Washington, DC to catch all the metal and punk concerts that came through, though I'd been to many with other friends driving.  I do wish I'd been to more shows at the original 9:30 Club where all the punk icons played:  Bad Brains, Minor Threat, Dag Nasty, Rites of Spring and of course, Government Issue.  I'd gotten into these bands through my punk friends and this was the right vibe I needed in my life since metal had gone commercial and my girlfriend had gone to university in the mountains where there was nothing else to do socially but drink and pair off.  You do the math equating into our dissolution.

As fall was turning to winter in '87, I was ecstatic to hear that Government Issue (or G.I. to us east coasters) was headlining a gig at a college in my county during their cycle for the You album.  While You isn't quite the full-frontal storm of Boycott Stabb, The Fun Never Ends, Joyride or the Give Us Stabb or Give Us Death EP, I do love the former album as a melodic extension of what Government Issue could be.  They were heading towards alt rock pastures on You and the subsequent Crash album just as Dag Nasty shifted members and tones on Field Day within the same timeframe.  Yet G.I. was still as underground as it got.  You were in the know if you knew about them.  The fact G.I. came out to play for us was looked upon by the kids in our region as a gift.

The opening bands, if I recall correctly, were mostly local acts who've since bitten the ether of anonymity:  Jade, Black Friday and M.F.D.  Inconsequential in the grand scheme, yet I recall each of these bands giving their all and collecting a few fans before G.I. took the stage.  The local press had come out for this show, albeit the photographer and writer had no clue who Government Issue was.  Only the fact that a punk rock show going down in our right wing community seemed to matter to them.  I have a newspaper clipping of that article, mainly the photo of John Stabb pulverizing the mike onstage with me and my friends lined up along the front of the stage.  I still smile at the ghosts of our younger selves, hanging like acolytes in front of Stabb.  One of our semi-sorta crew of music freaks, John Budosh, is seen screaming with his fist outwards and I remember when it happened, vividly.  I even remember it was "Jaded Eyes" from You that we were all shouting back to Stabb while that photo was taken. 

During the newer songs from You, everyone mostly jumped in place and sang along, but when Government Issue dipped into the faster, fiercer back catalog, here is where the mosh pit broke out.  I remember feeling the bite of my inevitable breakup with Monica, and how I momentarily pondered suicide.  It was an awful month after it was evident she was going to move on from our relationship and I'm ashamed of how I reacted in front of her, then in private.  I've since vowed to never let anyone make me feel that low again. 

Thankfully I'd found the Ramones after the break-up and they healed me.  For a few weeks, though, I took up smoking and sneaking a few drinks where I could find them.  Considering I professed a straight edge way of thinking, I feel a little hypocritical about it, but teenagers seldom think things through.  Their hormones are propagated by instinct, not rationale.  I was so depressed over that break-up I'd slipped into a short fugue.  Fortunately, the Ramones brought me to a happy place where I kicked everything to the curb:  the cigarettes, the sour feelings, the urge to end my life.  I can't stress enough to anyone thinking about suicide, DON'T DO IT.  Life is a gift, and it flies by fast once you hit your adult years.  Embrace the gift you've been given, even when life kicks you down.  I repeat, DON'T DO IT.  Live.

Thus it was with a combination of fury and joy that I leaped into the pit as Government Issue whirled a tsunami of speed.  It was a giddy moment of detachment from things beyond my control and an expression of crazed euphoria.  It was also a quick life learning session.  No sooner had I entered the pit as a virgin, I was knocked to my ass.  I recall laughing like a lunatic but suddenly scared I'd be trampled on.  I'd seen a few remnants of the old punk-metal rivalry from punkers I didn't know and frankly, they were beastly kids whom I thought wanted to trash me and my metalhead clique. 

Yet it was one of those meaty gorillas who'd hoisted me off the floor and nudged me back into the swirl.  You have to remember, at this time, there was a code to the pit.  The punkers honored it more than the thrashers, I'm sorry to say, but the code was simple:  someone falls, pick him up.  I was grateful the code was in force at this show and once I gained my footing and bopped and bashed around in repeated circles, it was my turn to pay it forward when another kid stumbled in front of me.  I remember that kid shaking his entire body around like he was being electrocuted from inside, but I indeed paid it forward.  By show's end, we all either nodded to one another or shook hands.  Such chivalry hardly exists today, but I'm proud to say the majority of us were genteel in the way we unleashed our hostilities.  It was never towards each other, but to that invisible receptacle of purged anger.

The only time the pit got heated, everyone ganged up on the offending jock-in-disguise.  That bruiser was shoving kids from outside the perimeter of the pit and cocking his fist at everyone as they swam by.  It got out of control and we literally tossed him to one of the bulldog bouncers who had the musclehead kid out the door faster than G.I. could peel off "Fun & Games."

One of our own, Brenden Benner, ended up splitting his head open at the show and yet somehow he'd miraculously showed back up towards the end of the set, stitched up and back in the pit.  I think I learned an extra thing or two about toughness from that guy.  In later years, he'd become my running partner and we laid down many miles before hanging up our mangled track shoes and going our separate ways.  We ate a lot of vegey subs in that time and talked about the G.I. show, though Brenden would downplay it all as if it was just another night.  We would later find ourselves in another pit for Suicidal Tendencies and then Pantera, and that's a story for another day.  Nothing like the G.I. show, though.

I'm glad to see that moshing today has returned to its whirlpool roots.  I was afraid all of that chop socky kicking and punching crap a few years back was going to destroy what is, in effect, a wonderful release for teenagers to rid themselves of their penned-up aggressions.  When executed correctly and with honorable intentions, the slam pit served a great purpose back in the day.  We confronted ourselves and one another, knowing we were all combusting inside with no way to unleash our inner hatred without getting arrested.  In essence, we took our bullshit out on one another with fireball music that fueled our need to wipe away our self-inflicting inhibitions.  As long as the jugheads and 'roiders didn't infiltrate the pit, it worked.

Government Issue recently did a reunion gig in Washington, D.C. and I wish I'd been there.  Most of us who were there back in their glory years are too old to slam, but I do imagine it was quite the joy ride in itself with those in attendence calling up shadows of their younger bodies writhing the tune of "Blending In," "Mad at Myself" and "Notch to My Crotch."  I'm grateful it was G.I. who'd scored my debut in the pit and not, say, Slayer.  I might not've lived to recount the story.


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