Every story has a beginning. Everybody’s journey starts somewhere. Nobody emerges from the womb fully formed, knowing exactly who they are with a crystal clear vision of what they’re destined to do and who they’re supposed to be for the rest of the time they walk the Earth. Each and every one of us is just a blob of shapeless clay waiting for inspiration to lead us out of the darkness of mundanity and into the light of absolute, individual certainty. There’s a moment in everyone’s life when they encounter something or someone that changes their perspective, forever alters their outlook on life and makes them realise what it was, and is, that they’re meant, and want, to do with the rest of their days. My epiphany began with George Tabb.
In the summer of 1992 I was teaching riflery on a camp in Pennsylvania, instructing small children in the usage of fire arms. Until then, all I’d ever wanted to be was a soldier and having just been informed by the army that I was medically unfit to serve due to a back injury that I’d suffered two years previously, I was, for all intents and purposes and as the Jerry’s Kids song so succinctly put it, lost. That news had hit me like a drunk swinging a sledge hammer in a china shop, smashing all of the plans that I’d made and goals that I’d set for myself. I was devastated, had no idea what I wanted from life anymore, no purpose or ambition and had taken the instructors job to try and get some breathing room in an attempt to figure the life stuff out. Not that it wasn’t fun, it was. It was a whole lot of fun, it was almost more fun than any person should ever be able to have without exploding and spraying their nearest and dearest in all manner of viscera and bodily bits and pieces. But all the fun I was having didn’t change the fact that the days until my contract was due to end had begun to tick down and I was floundering toward the future like a rudderless hippie.
Which is when fortune, for once, smiled on the not so brave, arriving in the form of a care package that had winged its way across the Atlantic ocean from “dear old” Blighty. Tucked away in the parcel were a couple of issues of Maximum Rock’n’Roll, the long running punk magazine that was based in San Francisco and while I’d periodically dipped in and out of reading it for the band interviews, scene reports and record label news, I’d never bothered even looking at the columns before those issues turned up. It was probably the dearth of other available reading matter on the camp that finally forced me to peruse MRR in greater depth, but I remember being intrigued by a huge feature that was in one of the issues called something like ‘Punk’s Thirty and Still Doesn’t Give a Shit” in which a whole bunch of punk rockers and scenesters who had sailed past the big three oh were interviewed about their involvement in, and with, the punk rock scene. And the only interviewee I can still vividly recall from the feature was George Tabb. That was my first encounter with the man who gave me my sense of direction back.
Fast forward a couple of years and I was an avid MRR subscriber, but I was no longer interested in the bands that it talked to, the scenes that it reported on, the tittle tattle and she said he did conjecture and rumour that filed its letter pages and the gossip about which labels were cool and which ones sucked because of some vaguely offensive political statement that the owner had made when drunk a decade previously. No, the reason I read Maximum Rock’n’Roll was the columns. And one column in particular; George Tabb’s Take My Life Please. It was the both the first and last thing that I read every issue, as I figured go in on a high and end the same way. Take My Life was a series of autobiographical tales and stories from George’s life, that always made me laugh and while it seemed like, on the surface at least, George was living the punk rock dream, when you dug a little deeper, there was so much more substance to, and behind, everything he wrote. His columns were funny, acerbic, self-deprecating accounts of band life, his family and wonderfully strange people he bumped into and situations that the shortest serving member of the Ramones found himself in. They were astonishing, stylistically unique, witty and engaging and made me realise that you didn’t have to create detailed alien worlds to tell a story, you just had to write what you knew. Reading George’s columns made me want to write because he made me realise that everybody has a story, you just had to find a way tell your own tale. So I did.
Hit the fast forward button again, a few more years passed and I had a box of the first badly edited edition of my debut novel. I think I had something like ten copies of it and in an all too rare moment of bravado, I decided that I’d send a copy to George, because he was, after all, the guy who’d inspired me to become a writer. I wrapped a copy up, popped it in the post and didn’t think about it again until I read Take My Life Please two months later. And in the footnotes, George had a written about my book. He’d not only read it, he’d liked it. Heck, he’d loved it and he said so. Right there in his column. It was one of the happiest moments of my life and then and there, working on the strike while the iron is hot principle, I decided to ask George if he’d be interested in being interviewed for Mass Movement. I sat down, did my best nonchalant email thing and in less than thirty minutes, George replied and said “You betcha”, or something along those lines. I’m old, it was a while back, give me a break.
Then, just as I was getting ready to send the interview, 9/11 happened and everybody’s worlds got turned upside down. But the ones that flipped the fastest and the hardest were the worlds, and lives, of the people who lived and worked in New York City. People like George Tabb who lived less than half a mile from the twin towers of the World Trade Centre. Having been that close to the epicentre of the attack changed everything for George, and trying to regain some semblance of normality, he moved away from the City and headed West. After he started feeling some of the physical effects caused by the collapse of the World Trade Towers, George became a leading, and one of the first advocates of a movement that was based on discovering the truth about what was happening to the close quarters survivors of 9/11; why they were getting sick and what caused it.
Time passed and I got back in touch with George, we did the interview and I sent him a copy of the issue of Mass Movement (this was back in the days when we were still a print magazine) that he was featured in. He kind of liked it and told me so, and so in another moment of rare opportunism and ridiculous bluster, I asked him if he’d like to write, and become a columnist, for Mass Movement. An hour later, he was signed up and ready to go. I think that was my favourite, along with running George’s debut column, moment in Mass Movement’s history and it was the start of my friendship with the man who had inspired me to write and become a journalist. Honestly, as incredible as I thought he was before I knew him, nothing prepared me for how kind, warm and generous a person he really was, and is. George was also the reason that we managed to snag an interview with the Village People for Mass Movement. That’s right kids, the Village People were in Mass Movement and it was all thanks to George Tabb. True story.
For nearly a decade, things ran pretty smoothly, or at least as smoothly as they ever do in Mass Movement land. George sent in his columns, I ran them and read them and was always amazed by how easy and natural his stories were. We talked via email and every time we did, I had to pinch myself to make sure that I wasn’t dreaming and that this was really happening. That George Tabb was my friend and that he was writing for my magazine.
And then George got sick. Really, really sick. His illness, which was and is directly attributable to the events of 9/11, made him re-examine his own mortality and priorities; and not having the energy that he used to have, he stepped back from lot of his writing commitments, Mass Movement included. I understood at the time and I understand now. I can’t even begin to imagine coping with all of the fallout from that fateful day with the same stoicism and strength that George has, and I’m proud of him and feel honoured that I’m able to call him my friend. He was, and continues to be, an inspiration and is the best, most naturally gifted writer I’ve ever known. If you haven’t read his books, you owe it to yourself to do so. They might just change your life. Oh, and one last thing. George, in case you’ve forgotten, or I’ve been negligent and not told you this enough over the years we’ve known each other, you rule. Tim Cundle