I’m sitting here, head in my hands, tears streaming down my face, trying to muffle the sound because my two-year-old son is eating his breakfast just feet away from me and I don’t want him to see his dad upset. I’ve just found out some guy I never even met, barely even knew, has died. Cancer fucking got him. It’s 5.45am, and hopefully everyone else is sleeping. Daniel’s singing quietly to himself, eating Milo. Birds are singing outside, looks like it’s going to be another glorious late summer day. And I’m sitting here, silently crying to myself.
Sometimes, you just feel humbled by other folk.
I was first turned onto the music of John Grabski III by Gary Jarman of The Cribs who emailed me sometime in January. The email ran something like this:
We just got done recording our new record with Steve Albini, at his place in Chicago. Don’t know if you know much about that place, but it is residential so we ended up meeting the band that was in prior to us. they were called Teeth and they were really nice guys … Albini was doing them for free because he liked the idea behind the project, and Coady Willis from The Melvins is helping them out.
I have just been trying my best to spread the word, and thought maybe it was right up your street. Super raw, honest, not being done for commercial gain etc. Very influenced by Melvins, Shellac, Bleach/pre-Dave-era Nirvana, maybe even a bit Jesus Lizard at times.
Just wanted to pass on the word.
Shortly after, John emailed me himself. Nothing pushy, just saying hi, this is where I can hear the music, glad I’m expressing an interest. He seems like a nice fellow so I have a listen: the music blows me away. Long time back, you see, I wrote about this music emanating from the Pacific Northwest, stuff that early on got to be called ‘grunge’ (later on, something else got called ‘grunge’): I loved it because I had an immediate emotional response to it – the rawness, the ferocity of the drums and acerbic guitars, the laconic way of singing, the sheer VOLUME. I was feeling all this with John’s band, Teeth. Believe me, much as I sympathised with the dude’s story – dude had cancer, apparently: incurable, apparently: wanted to make a record before he died – there’s no way I would have written about his band if I hadn’t loved the music for itself. But I did love the music. So I wrote about it:
It’s fucking SWEET, dry and incisive as all hell, blistering and right-on without any of that extraneous shit.
I know that my old coffee-drinking partner Jack Endino would love this, and I know that I love this, and I know Steve Albini loves this, and I know Thurston Moore would love this, and I know Mudhoney would love this, and I know Gary Jarman loves this … and Bangs wept. How much more of a fucken recommendation do you need?
These are the quotes that are on the opening page of Teeth’s BandCamp page when I go check it after I hear the news that John passed away last night. Do you know how humbling that feels, to have words of yours quoted as some sort of an epitaph for a dude’s music? Especially when the music is so great, and the dude seemed like such a fucking great guy; so brave, so sweet.
(Daniel, my two-year-old, is sitting at my feet, totally distracting me, hammering the floor with his toy hammer. I reckon John would’ve found that funny, from the little I know of him: seems like he had a real good sense of humour about his situation.)
I can’t really write any sort of eulogy for John. I didn’t know him. We exchanged emails and messages on Facebook a few times; not once did he complain about his situation or the pain he must have been in: he was another welcome Facebook friend from America, frequently commenting on my status updates and joining in with everyday discussion like others. He was always courteous, thoughtful, lively. The last time we directly communicated was a couple of weeks ago, when he wrote to thank me for writing about his band. I’m going to leave the eulogies to the people who knew him:
In memory of my big brother, John Grabski III…
I’m certain that John wouldn’t want us sitting around alone, drowning in tears. I think he’d want us all together, celebrating his life, and our lives together. It’s so hard to let him go from the other side of the country….
John Grabski III was a raw inspiration to so many…. especially to other brave souls fighting the ugly merciless devil called CANCER. He was a fighter. He was as REAL as a man could be. There was no pretentious bull shit about him. He was a rock musician. He put his gritty heart, soul, blood, sweat, and tears into his music, just the same as he did his family. He fulfilled his dreams in his last days within a music studio in Chicago, in order to leave a legacy for his children, his family, and for everyone else who wondered exactly who John Grabski III was. He was a man of REAL LIFE, REAL LOVE, DREAMS, & ROCK & ROLL….
ROCK vs. CANCER. You may have taken my brother, you selfish son of a *****, but ROCK STILL WINS!!!!!!!
Cancer can take my family, but it CAN’T take their DREAMS. It can’t take their LEGACY. It CAN’T take their MUSIC. And, it CAN’T take their memories.
I love you, John. Your memory will burn in my heart forever. ROCK VS. CANCER. ROCK WINS!!!!!!!!!
And I want to leave the final word to John himself, a message he left on Facebook about two weeks ago. I think you get a great sense of his spirit from it:
I’ll admit it. I think like… cancer ITSELF just … punched me, kicked me around and beat me up, like, HARD… over the last month and a half. It did. Asshole.
…And I didn’t (and likely won’t) let myself recognize that. It’s not been fun only being able to reclaim a very small percentage of myself (physically, psychologically) every day here lately… this always happens to me after any time cancer decides to “make its presence known to me”, I always end up having to go through a cool-down and warm-back-up phase, where it takes a while for my REAL reality to really come back to me… all the way from my thought processes to “how I bend my knees”… how I articulate myself verbally… how I conduct myself in public etc…. And each time these things have happened over the long years of this battle it takes LONGER for me to get myself back to optimal operating level. I know that there are things I have to accept about my reality (some pretty tough realities), but I still have so much to do, I still have so much motivation, so many opportunities and so many loving relationships to enjoy, so REALLY I have no reason to slow down anything at all… if my body can cooperate.
Big thanks to my awesome support network of my great children, my friends and family that help keep me afloat during these trying times and has offered me opportunities that have shown the greatest kinds of loving and caring that can exist on this conflict-ridden, harsh, chaotic confusing and sometimes very unkind world. I love you all; thank you.
My thoughts go out to John’s family and friends. R.I.P. mate. Thanks for caring so fucking much.
P.S. Teeth finally released their album The Strain on 29 February, 11 days ago. We’re talking rock versus cancer? Seriously? ROCK FUCKING WINS.