It’s been nearly 20 years since I last spoke to or heard from George Tabb. His voice over the telephone sounds substantially raspier than I remembered. “You have to have your life go horribly wrong to want to do punk rock,” he says, and if that’s the case, then Tabb is punk as fuck.
A nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn, NY, Tabb moved to Greeenwich, CT when he was just 7 years old. This may have marked the beginning of his road to ruin. He didn’t get along with his father and was bullied by the local kids for being Jewish. “The kids there had no idea what a Jew was. They would search my head looking for horns or think I drank baby blood,” says Tabb of the experience. As Tabb got older, he moved to Tallahasee, FL to go to college. Things weren’t much better there. “My college roommate’s father was the Imperial Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan,” notes Tabb. However, Tabb would soon find an escape, playing in his first punk rock band in 1979.
Tabb’s first inclination was to try to emulate punk rock heroes like The Ramones, but it didn’t quite work out that way. “I played The Ramones, but I played it too fast so people started calling it hardcore punk,” the singer/guitarist says. George’s band, Roach Motel, would be one of the earliest incarnations of hardcore and he got the opportunity to tour with bands like Black Flag and The Dead Kennedys. It was also around this time that Tabb’s father kicked him out for good and he ended up back with his mother in New York.
Tabb continued to play hardcore for some time, but soon skinheads started showing up to his shows and ‘sieg heiling’ him. This was way too serious for Tabb, whose main motivation for playing music was to “have fun and get laid like everyone else.” So he began playing styles that were a bit more musical. After moving on from hardcore, Tabb joined The False Prophets, but grew to dislike lead singer Stephen’s political rants. “Stephen drove me crazy, he was too serious,” says Tabb.
Tabb moved on to join Iron Prostate in 1989. With Tabb being the youngest member at 29, the band soon offered their premier album Loud, Fast and Aging Rapidly, featuring songs like “Rock n’ Roll Nursing Home” and “Hell Toupee.” Ironically, the band that Tabb thought was the most fun and humorous ended up with serious record label interest, recording a million dollar demo at The Power Station with Jim Steinman of Meat Loaf fame. When things with Steinman went south, the band was picked up by CBGB’s owner Hilly Kristal’s label, but internal conflicts prevailed and came to a head when singer Scott Weiss announced, “I quit. Fuck you, George,” on stage at CB’s as the clock struck midnight at a New Year’s Eve gig ringing in 1993. Tabb then picked up the pieces to form Furious George, a band that is still active today.
On September 11, 2001, Tabb was living on Dwayne St. in NYC just blocks from the World Trade Center when disaster struck. Not only was the musician traumatized by witnessing the events that day, but he was left with deadly toxins that polluted the air in his apartment. He ended up having seven surgeries in ten years and being diagnosed with a plethora of conditions which the government passed off as genetic, despite Tabb having no family history of any of these. Tabb became an unwilling political activist, trying to raise awareness and save people from the deadly fumes, but everyone though he was crazy. “I was the Mars Bar drunk. Everyone thought I was fuckin’ nuts,” said Tabb. “No one believed me except Viet Nam veterans. They [the government] had black cars following me. They thought I was conspiring with terrorists.”
It was a long process before Tabb was finally vindicated. He went through lengths that included having the Environmental Law and Justice Project test his apartment for toxins and appearing on MSNBC and Fox News. There were many 9/11-related deaths during that time including that of James Zadroga, a policeman who died of the toxic fumes from the attacks. With his death, came the James Zadroga Act which enabled people like Tabb to file a lawsuit for the reparations due to 9/11. Tabb filed, but has not yet seen a cent from that nor has he seen any money to make up for his loss of health, work, and quality of life otherwise. Tabb says of the Zadroga act, “The government keeps dragging it out. They are hoping people die before they see any money.” When asked if he’s happy to finally be proven right, Tabb says, “No, I wish I was wrong. You don’t get revenge in this world,” and adds, “I found out that people are really fucking stupid, that’s what I found out.”
In addition to being a punk rock OG and unwilling political activist, Tabb is also a writer and author. A long-time columnist at Maximum Rock n’ Roll, Tabb’s column “Take My Life Please” was autobiographical. “I didn’t want to write boring shit like reviews. I knew kids read Maximum Rock n’ Roll, so I wrote funny stories with morals to tell kids not to do the stupid shit I did,” says Tabb. “I knew I was writing chapters of a book,” he adds.
Tabb shopped his ideas around and kept getting told to edit the material he had, which inevitably ended up being futile. Fed up, Tabb decided to fire his agent on the same day he was approached by Soft Skull Press. They ended up giving Tabb a book deal which resulted in the publication of two books. The first, Playing Right Field: A Jew Grows in Greenwich, chronicles Tabb’s time growing up in Greenwich CT. The second, Surging Armageddon: Fishnets, Fascists and Body Fluids in Florida, chronicles his college life leading up to the forming of his first punk rock band. Both books went on to be critically acclaimed award winners that were even used as learning tools in schools.
Although Tabb has aspirations to write a third book, he says he is too sick to do so. “My brain has to be funny enough to write and when I’m sick, I’m not funny.” He also complains of short-term memory loss due to all the chemicals in his system which can cause him to lose his train of thought in the middle of sentences.
Tabb’s diagnosis is not great, but he is alive and in good care thanks to his wife Elena. He still dreams of moving away from New York one day and living in a house with a big backyard for his dogs to run around in. Tabb still writes and he and his wife are the founders of Volume & Tone Guitar Straps and Decibel Leather Goods, which they just launched last month. He jokes that he is thankful for the success of his band and books which might keep newspapers from bearing headlines like ‘College Dropout, George Tabb, Dead.’ But despite his punk rock sarcastic exterior, Tabb leaves us with this. “Keep your children close and hold them tight, and take them somewhere safe.”
Furious George 2012 Reunion!
Furious George played a TEN MINUTE set at Continental in New York City on Sunday, January 15th, 2012.
This is the entire set, no editing, no nothing. The band consists of Marc Renzer on guitar, Evan Cohen on Bass, Michael Harper on drums, and George Tabb on guitar and lead vocals.
Marissa Bergen is a Los Angeles-based musician and writer. “Spotlight On Local” focuses on independent underground artists in the hard rock, heavy metal, and punk genres.
[Photos courtesy of George Tabb. Used with permission.]