Stories from… Joe Paul Slaby

Stories from… Joe Paul Slaby

I’m thrilled that the first entry on this blog comes from someone who was there at the very beginning: Joe Paul Slaby, drummer for Screaming Broccoli.  Joe went on to work on tours for a plethora of artists (Jane’s Addiction, Tool, Sting, Nine Inch Nails, Jack White, Norah Jones, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Natalie Merchant, A Perfect Circle, Rage Against the Machine, Primus, The Mars Volta, and many others), acting in a variety of roles from drum tech to stage manager. He still plays music – you can check out some of his current projects here and here.    -Martha

Name: Joe Paul Slaby
Age: 52
Currently lives in: Seattle, WA
Started going to 242 Main: age 20 / 1986 
Played drums in: Screaming Broccoli, The Champions

Was there a certain person who got you into underground music, or someone who brought you to your first show?

When I moved to Burlington to go to UVM, I met lots of people who were into new and exciting music, both on and off campus. DJs at WRUV got me excited about all kinds of genres, especially Dave Lamoureux’s punk and hardcore show. In the 80’s, punk hadn’t yet been “commodified”. It was a large umbrella, under which were welcome all the outsiders: mohawked rebels, straight edge skaters, ska purists, New Wave fashionistas, dour goths, etc. Especially in the relatively small town of Burlington. The singer for the local hardcore band Nation of Hate (N.O.H.) Wayne “Jr.” Shepard, had a mohawk and could remove his front teeth. As a young college kid, he intimidated me, until I talked to him at a party and learned he was just the most genuine guy. He dared to walk around town with his freak flag flying, and in those days to be punk was to live in fear of some drunk redneck picking a fight with you. The first generation of punks, from the late 70’s, were really brave.

Flyer for the first show at 242 Main, 1986. (courtesy of Spencer Crispe)

Do you remember what your first show was?

In high school, my identity was my record collection. I saw all kinds of amazing bands, from the Ramones to X. A band I played drums in, Screaming Broccoli, played the 242 opening. At that point it was known as simply the Teen Center. We got membership cards!

What was your most memorable show or event at 242 Main?

Too many to pick just one, but a Vermont club metal band called Run 21 played there. They had over the top costumes and wireless guitars and put on this incredible show with a big drum solo, during which someone rolled their skateboard across the floor and the drummer played on it. They were metal but had a sense of humor and could shred and won all us punk rockers over. Locally I was always really into the young bands playing their first show, there is a really special energy about that. An all female band called Ice 9 were just so cool. I forget the name of the person, but there was one kid who would get up on that stage and sort of sing/talk these poems, it was just like the artsiest bravest thing you ever saw, and everyone supported that. After attending a high school where conformity was the rule, I knew 242 was a special place if this kid was given the space to express their own unique voice. I’ve always admired that kind of person, like the first one on the dance floor, or the one who crosses that empty space between the band and the kids.

What was your favorite thing about 242 Main? What kept you coming back, kept you involved?

The  Screaming Broccoli 7″  (courtesy of Isaac Butcher)

I loved the vibe there: super creative and non-judgmental.  I really dug that there was a music scene there not focused around alcohol consumption, which kept me coming back for years. There is a song by the legendary DC band Dag Nasty called “All Ages Show.” One night in the 90’s, checking out a band of some younger friends, I looked around and thought, “Am I the oldest person here?” and that lyric “how old is old?” hit me because I realized it was about... me! One’s relationship to a scene like that changes as you age, but I think there is a lot to be gained by having friendships that span a diversity of age. There’s a kind of special energy from a kid getting up there for the first time learning the ropes,
and a kind of pride of mentorship to see the next generation kicking ass. There can be this unconscious competitiveness among musicians, like when you are watching a band, you silently critique them, but for the most part I always felt, at least early on, that the vibe at 242 was generally supportive and inclusive. If you look at the credits on the back of the first Broc 7″, we thanked all the bands we played with.

Were there any people, or a group of people, who had a particular influence on you?

Mary Gallagher, Kathy Lawrence, and Jane Driscoll (Sanders) at 242 Main. (photo by Joe Paul Slaby)

I had great respect for Kathy Lawrence and Jane Driscoll (now Jane Sanders) who were the “grown-ups” that worked hard to make that place happen. Bernie’s Mayor’s Youth Office was very cool. They had a youth-run newspaper called the Queen City Special, the first publication to interview our band. In retrospect, I realize I met a lot of young women from hanging out at 242, many younger than I, who were feminists (before I really identified what that was) and learned from them. I’ve stayed friends with them, and over the years, many have come to be leaders, activists and change-makers.  I met brave people, artists, nonconformists, “weirdos”, all the best kinds of people. As a local musician, in a band that had toured and slept on a lot of floors, I often invited visiting bands to crash at my various Burlington apartments. I’d make ’em pancakes. You learn about karma and the importance of community that way.

What did your parents and/or other friends think about you hanging out at 242 Main?

Because of the all-ages thing, Broc made friends with people younger than us. Really great, independent, awesome people. Some in bands, some making zines, some into skate culture, a lot of people really into punk, metal and other sub-genres. Ever see that scene from the hardcore doc Another State of Mind where the punk guy talks about the rules of the mosh pit?

It’s an apt metaphor for the punk scene in general: people look out for each other. If someone falls down while slam dancing, everyone is gonna pick them up. It was camaraderie. When they showed the film Suburbia at UVM (the punk one, with Flea in the cast: a huge contingent of punks descended on the campus, surprising the campus jocks – like it was a band coming to town. These are all the people I still see on the Vermont Hardcore/Punk Rock group on Facebook.

What was your least favorite thing about 242 Main? Did you run into any problems or issues with the space or community?

Music scenes can tend to get dominated by guys, which is a bummer. And for me, as “hardcore” became more narrowly defined, it meant less to me. Also, no one needs a Marshall stack in a club the size of 242. Ever.

Did you stop going to 242 Main at a certain point, or go less often?

My tastes mellowed as I got older. It’s kind of like public transport, though: you might finally save enough money to buy a car, but if you’ve ever ridden the bus, you’re always happy it’s there for the people who need it. I was amazed to see the Wards played the final gig there. That band was there before anyone, so perfect they outlasted everyone.

Tell me a bit about your life beyond 242 Main. Did your experience at 242 Main affect other areas of your life?

After touring with Broc, I took a job as a roadie and I’m still in the music biz almost 30 years later. But of everything I’ve seen in the big world of corporate rock, I still think I learned more driving around in a beat up-van playing all-ages shows and making actual connections with folks: it was community. For sure, to quote “History Lesson Part ll” by Minutemen: “punk rock changed our lives.” A lot of punk music that spoke to me was about politics, either overtly – like the Clash educating me about Sandinistas – or indirectly, by allowing us to simply reject the status quo. The members of the hardcore band Joined at the Head and their friends were inspired by punks in other cities to start a Vermont chapter of Positive Force, and had shows where you got in by bringing a canned good for a food drive. In this recent election cycle, I felt like I’d known Bernie my whole life.

What else do you want to share about your experience at 242 Main and in the Vermont underground music scene?

“Sing along. I snapped this from behind the drum kit.” (photo by Joe Paul Slaby)

Random memories: having a 6-foot Slim Jim eating contest while we played on the stage, having a Snickers toss when we ran out of stickers, singing along with bands like Seven Seconds or Fugazi when they came through town, being surprised by the band of the kid who you always saw quietly beside the stage, who you realized was just gathering the energy for the lift off of their own trajectory, who you realized was a genius, (like Eugene Hutz and others). The excitement of carrying drums in the back door, knowing you get to play a show, or waiting in line on a cold Vermont night, to be welcomed into the warmth of bodies close to the stage. Broc covered this one tune from the 60’s called “Little Black Egg” and it had a kind of “ba ba ba” chorus, and all the “kids” would get up on stage and sing along. I remember one time pretty much everyone crammed up there, yelling into the mics, all around me even behind the drums. That’s about the coolest thing that can happen to a band. This video isn’t from 242 but you get the idea:



One thought on “Stories from… Joe Paul Slaby

  1. I was at the first show at 242. We were excited and nervous as hell, no idea how it would go, if anyone would come and if there would be any problems. Some of us were the kids that church street merchants hated, cause we were the bad kids making the shopping district look dangerous for tourists. The teen center was our one and only safe space. I loved it and miss it tremendously today. There’s no place like it anymore.


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