For those of you who knew Johnny Stone personally, he doesn’t really need any introduction. Most of you reading this, however, know him as Coppa the Gut or Joe Average, who played rhythm guitar on Political Prisoners and In a Few Hours of Madness.
Let me say upfront — as I’m still trying to wrap my head around all this — that it’s taken me a while to find the proper words. Personally, I’ve always felt it appropriate to wait, when possible, ‘til the right words reveal themselves. And to approach loss to the best of our ability, with humor, laughter and stories that that help us to celebrate and remember who and what that person was to us. So join me, if you would, and let us peer into the not so distant past. Allow me to attempt to give you some measure of the man as I knew him, as we knew him…
I’m sure plenty of you younger cats are sick of us old timer punks riffing on about how different things were back in the “glorious” olden days. Often for good reason. Way too many people get caught up waxing nostalgic and conveniently forget that things were just as complicated and fucked up then as they are now. We might tell too many a tale that ends up sounding a bit like the punk rock version of your grumpy old Natty Ice guzzling granddad bitching about how “everyone these days is gone soft” or how he had to “walk eighteen and one half miles ta school in seven feet of fricken snow!” But… a lot those of crazy ass old timer stories just happen to be true. They were very different times, in many regards.
Punk-Hardcore, in terms of both music and culture, was totally maligned, completely misunderstood, and almost entirely unknown to society at large. Most had no clue it even existed (many of those same people may be buying Ramones shirts for their kids at this very moment. I ain’t knocking ‘em, I’m just saying). You see, even the tamest sounding bands, by today’s standards, were dismissed as “god awful noise,” “absolute garbage,” “tone deaf,” “totally amateur,” or “not real music.”
For those of us who chose to defy the accepted norms, whether it be in terms of appearance, musical taste, behavior, politics, lifestyle, when it was an extremely unpopular thing to do, we were pretty much on the outs with the rest of the everyday world. In the wilderness, so to speak. You had to be prepared to deal with a whole lot of unsavory bullshit. More often than not, lots of ugly, dangerous, bullshit. Complete strangers often treated you with hostility and violence. Not to mention all the insane and endless grief you’d catch from the police and various authorities. You had to beat the street smarts learning curve. Be able to think fast on your feet. You had better know how to protect yourself. Know when to fight and most importantly, when to run. And believe me, you had to do a hell of a lot of running.
Many of us who lived through those times have had similar experiences. Sadly, plenty of people are still having them today. Getting chased, jumped, beat or worse was often par for the course. And when you stepped out of line, when you became a “freak,” a “fucking faggot,” a “scumbag”…when you took that risk, made that choice, it came with a price. And it seemed like every other miserable prick was looking to tax you for it.
Making your way through an extremely conservative, dying Factory town like Saginaw — a town plagued by violence, that was coming apart at the seams, both economically and socially — free from harassment, hassle and harm was one thing. But out in those sticks, in a little town like Mayville, Michigan, it was an entirely different ball game. Guaranteed, Johnny was known about the country side to both friend and foe alike. Cause there sure as hell wasn’t a bunch of kids running around out there in the boondocks with the brass to rock it like that. Half hawk a foot high in liberty spikes and a decked out leather with painted rubber Halloween skeletons stapled to it. Ripping around in a green beater Chevy Malibu with Black Flag bars painted on the hood. Usually accompanied by his Black Lab, named “Doyle.” Doyle was good shit. Still ranks as one of the coolest canines I ever met.
I met Johnny for the first time in early 1990. April, if memory serves. I had driven out to his home on the far outskirts of Mayville where he lived with his father. We had been introduced via a mutual friend. A few phone calls later he invited me out and I decided to make the 45 minute or so drive out from Saginaw to “the thumb,” as we call it in Michigan, and see what ole boy was all about. In the pre-internet days people just had to go and seek each other out without the convenience of social media or cell phones and see what was cracking. Not sure what to expect, I was pleasantly surprised. Dude had that uniquely fucked up and sardonic rust belt sense of humor that we all share. He loved comic books, especially old school X-men. He was into bands like the Subhumans (UK), Dead Kennedys, the Dicks, Angry Samoans, the Avengers, the Stooges, Slayer, the Accused, the Crucifucks, you know, all that old good shit. We sat around smoking cigarettes and choking on tokes of some locally grown skunk, chugging brews and listening to the new Operation Ivy album. We rambled on about our current favorite bands, why there were way too many fucking Spider man spin offs, what a massively sinister twat George H. W. Bush was and how we most likely were going to end up in another bullshit war. We had some good laughs. No one can deny the dude was a character. On his own trip entirely. I headed back to "the Nasty" that night knowing I had found another member of the tribe.
In the interim, between when we first met and when he joined the band a few years later, Johnny, Matt, Rick, and yours truly, were running amuck and running into the (usually) good kind of trouble on the fairly regular. His antics, by that time, were already somewhat legendary.
By the time Johnny joined the band in late 1991, he already knew most of our songs. Dude was a quick study. He had come out to most of our shows at the Capitol Theater in Flint and at some point along the way one of us had given him a practice tape. The original incarnation of the band was a five piece. When he took over on rhythm guitar, Rick, who was our original rhythm guitar player, became our second vocalist. We were now officially a six piece outfit with double the howling mad fools up front. Foaming at the mouth and slathering on our busted up microphones. It was his addition to the line-up that marked our transition into the six member set up that most people are familiar with today. For our sound to work properly, we needed that rhythm guitar in place to help further nail those songs down and fatten ‘em up. It allowed Matt and Dan to move in different directions without lessening the effectiveness, or the punch and crunch of any given tune. His biggest influences in terms of guitar sound were the early Bad Brains, Misfits (1977-1983), Dicks and the Ramones. Those influences are evident, both in his style and sound.
Not long after he joined Civil Disobedience we started practicing out at his crib in the boondocks. We had had to switch up practice spaces several times already and we were in need of somewhere to jam where we would could avoid pissed off neighbors, local preachers on mission to save our souls from the prince of darkness, and most importantly, our least favorite Gestapo party crashers, the police. Conveniently, the Stone residence was far enough out in the sticks that nobody was close enough to mind the racket, the rumble, or the chaos. You couldn’t miss the place as you pulled up. There was a stolen Kentucky Fried Chicken flag on the pole out front, flying with sardonic pride. One of the locals had gotten sick of kissing the Colonel’s creepy old ass, burgled that shit and gave it to Johnny. With it’s bright solid red background and the Colonel’s face emblazoned in stark black and white in the middle, it looked like it had been designed by communist propagandists, secretly dreaming of the forbidden pleasures of capitalist fast food. We hoisted it up the pole on a warm summer day after practice while someone was singing: “We eat Kentucky Fried Chicken! We eat Kentucky Fried chicken!”
No doubt we had some wild fucking times out there. And we practiced religiously. Whatever our faults as a band, we were always disciplined about practicing. And allowing time to fuck around, improvise, and work on new songs. If we weren’t practicing at least twice a week, there better be a good reason. Johnny’s place was a revolving door circus at times, featuring quite the varied cast of local characters. Contrary to many of the stereotypes that are so pervasive, about how people are perceived to be in any given area, they are not always nearly as different as you might think they are. There was a plethora of head banging hair farming hessians, a few skater punk kids who probably went cow tipping when they couldn’t get to a patch of asphalt or a local ramp, grease covered gear heads searching for spare parts, a few country boy shop rats looking to piss away that soon to be “old GM money” paycheck (someday, they might get a boat), shirtless ditch digging dirt covered hicks, one dude who was possibly the feral boy from the Road Warrior, feathered hair mullet having dudes with the go to ready comb in each pocket, one guy who looked a little bit too much like the Green River Killer and occasionally showed up with a picnic sized ice chest full of hydroponics, and a dude who looked like he’d crawled right out of a primordial time warp we called “The Cave Hick.”
When you were in the mood, if you could hack it, god damn it if that wasn’t some the best people watching you could ever hope to have. You never ever knew who might show up next. It was through those local connections some of the punk fests we put together at the infamous Red Shed were facilitated.
Whenever practice wasn’t happening Johnny was often holding court in his living room. He was the common denominator. Inevitably, someone would be sitting with their asses permanently glued to a small seat in front of the television playing Sonic the Hedgehog. The Accused Martha Splatterhead’s Maddest Stories Ever Told album would often be spinning away in the background, interspersed with frequent electronic pinging sounds as Sonic collected more coins. The room was packed with ashtray trays filed to bursting with cigarette butts. Various bongs, pipes, papers and homemade “power hitters” often lay hither and yon. On and given night in 1992, Johnny, and his girlfriend at the time Deana, possibly a few of the boys in the band, and several of the most recent passersby would be plopped on the 1970’s orange and brown fabric covered couches. The place was immersed in a permanent haze of smoke. Without fail the latest gossip and hilarious tall tales made the rounds.
Behind the awkwardness and the novelty, beyond the partying and the raucous tunes, I think one common thread that endeared us to even some of the most way the fuck out locals we dealt with, was our mutual dislike and distrust of the police, authorities, politicians, corporate bosses and their media lackeys. Some got us, plenty others didn’t, but it seems they all respected that fact that we were so gonzo. If we thought they were nuts, they thought we were fucking crazy. In a recent conversation I had with Dan he put it succinctly: “We’ve always lived by that Geto Boy code.”
When Johnny and the band parted ways early in the summer of 1994, it wasn’t amicable. There were grievances and there were grudges that had been building for a while. Some jabs were thrown, some shit was slung. Needless to say, relations had been very strained since.
On the 7th of June this year, I got word from a mutual friend that he had died at his home in Mio, Michigan, as the result of seizure, a few days prior. He had been dealing with some serious health issues related to juvenile diabetes since adolescence. In later years those health problems had worsened. He told me once a doctor had said to him that it wasn’t very likely he would live to the age of 30. Against all odds he made it to the age of 43. Making a merry racket all the way apparently. To my knowledge he kept on playing music till the very day he died.
In a surreal twist of fate, Dan who’s been working at a crematorium for years, is the one who picked him up from the funeral home in Mayville. And Dan is the one who performed the final rights, and cremated his remains.
No matter what bullshit may have come between us we shared that bond of brotherhood. Once you were truly part of that family, you are always part of it. Together we made that sacred noise. We shared that ritual. One of the greatest experiences you can share with another human being. You could say, playing music together, it’s like equal parts platonic polygamy, the Odd Couple, the Dirty Dozen, and happy go lucky Ritalin kids on holiday. Sometimes the friendships last. Sometimes they don’t. But that bond, it carries on. The music carries on. In time it becomes something greater than the sum of it’s parts. It takes on a life of it’s own.
I know Johnny was proud to have been a part of that experience. And to see how the impact and reach of that music we played together all those years ago has grown.
How he felt about it can be best summed up in his own words, taken from a recent post he made online, not long before he passed: “Thanks to everyone still listenin’ to this old shit! Cheers! Slaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrghhhhhhhh!”
A sentiment truly shared by us all. Cheers old homie! May you forever raise merry hell in the great beyond.
Much love – JB AKA M. F. Delicious