The Swarm

March 11, 2012

R.I.P. Grabski, Who Battled Cancer With The Power of Rock...

Matt Diehl

“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?”
- Everett True paying tribute to the music of Grabski, via Collapse Board

Henceforth, any truly incredible endeavor should be called a Grabski.
- Steve Albini, via Electrical Audio

Think Steve Albini is a bad dude? Well, think again. A few months ago, he offered up his recording expertise and his studio, Electrical Audio, gratis to a young passionate musician named John Grabski III. Grabski happened to be dying of testicular cancer, and wanted to record an album his way, finally. He recorded two albums worth of material with his band Teeth at Electrical Audio, with Albini manning the boards and the great Bob Weston providing the mastering. In the twilight of his life, Grabski actually got to realize his dreams – something few of us ever do. That alone is inspirational.

The story of Grabski is incredibly moving, and his band Teeth actually made excellent rock music, which you can check out here, before he passed away in recent days. Along the way, he made fans of the likes of Everett True and The Cribs, who encountered him in Albini’s studio where they were recording an album:

“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.” – Gary Jarman (bassist, The Cribs) in an email to rock critic Everett True

Grabski also became an active participant on the Electrical Audio online forum, where he made many friends with his enthusiasm. I first encountered him when I unwittingly came to his defense, well before I knew his whole story. He was geeking out in great detail about his upcoming session when a couple forum members snarkily told him to PM about it. That was the last animosity ever directed towards Grabski, however: the entire Electrical community rallied around him as he strove to finish his final works. Here is a heartfelt testimonial to Grabski from a prominent Electrical forum member:

It was with great sadness that we were informed of the passing of John Grabski III, most recently of the band Teeth. Over the past few months, John became part of our extended online family and we were deeply shocked by the news. We would like to extend our sincere condolences to everybody close to John, especially his family and friends. Although everyone knew about John’s extensive health issues, he was such a brave and strong figure that even against such improbable odds, we never really considered the fact that one day we’d be missing his considerable presence. Thus, we’d been writing about his incredible album The Strain since it was released at the end of February but sadly, hadn’t had a chance to put it online until now.

After much soul searching, we decided that it would be more fitting of John’s amazing life if we continued to extoll the virtues of his unique musical voice. Together with his younger brother Benjamin, he recorded an album in Chicago at Electrical Audio studios with Steve Albini. During their stay in the city, they played out live and became firm friends with everybody in the small but vibrant independent music community which has formed around the studio. In a short period of time, he had an enormous impact and he touched us all. In his last days, he commented repeatedly that one of his goals was to show his children that anything was possible. With the completion of The Strain, he made a mockery of the perceived barriers of human endeavour and had a lot of fun doing so.

Grabski himself told his own story so well. Here is a paraphrase from one of his early posts (but really, you should read the whole thread):

I got sick. Turns out it was testicular cancer. But the biopsy showed weird stuff and I had a 9 lb tumor in my abdomen. The surgery just about killed me, and I had tons of chemotherapy which was all hail-marys as not even the best minds in cancer knew how to treat what was some undocumented presentations of several types of cancer that had evolved from the original testicular cancer I had. Then more cancer was found in my chest. This was cancer type number 5, and was even rarer and harder to treat. More surgeries, more chemo, and some radiation. I almost died many times. But in November of 2008 I was in remission, and we all thought I was in the clear… [Then] They found several other tumors and took them out, but could not totally remove the one on my heart… and the backside of my lung tumor had grown to the size of a nerf football, and has started to kinda merge with my lung which is a bad, bad thing. They can’t take it out.

So I’m kinda in bucket list mode. And one thing I wanted to get done was an album, regardless of my skill as a musician. So Steve telling me on the phone that he’d like me to come down for a few days and get this done – it’s a dream come true. It’ll only be a five or six track album, and it won’t light the world on fire, but I’m going to distribute it and promote it somehow, and will make sure a large percentage of revenues go toward cancer research…

So R.I.P. John Grabski III, who rocked and inspired from 1978 to 2012. You will be missed, but all that you touched know that you are jamming with Hendrix and Cobain and Stravinsky and Bonham and whomever might lend you a tube amp and tape machine. Thank you for all that you gave us.

I’ll probably have more to say later, but for now I’ll just say that I’ve met a lot of people, but nobody has impressed me more than John Grabski. He is an absolute hero.
- Steve Albini, via Electrical Audio

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