Sunday, July 5, 2009

L.A. Punk Vol. 1- The Germs

The Germs are one of the more important bands in the history of American punk. They were part of the original wave of L.A. punk bands. The original band, formed in 1977, that performed at their historic first show ever opening for the Weirdos was Bobby Pyn (soon to be Darby Crash) on vocals, Pat Smear on guitar, Lorna Doom on bass, and Donna Rhia on drums (who replaced Dottie Danger a.k.a. Belinda Carlisle of The Go-Go's). The band's recorded output is limited. In their very short time together they recorded 2 singles, 1 album, did a session for the soundtrack to the movie Cruising, and then released on posthumous EP, almost all of which is compiled on the Rhino set (MIA): The Complete Anthology. Tragically, the band would break up in 1980. However, months later, they decided to get back back together for one more show. The Germs final show was booked at the Starwood for December 3, 1980. Darby then overdosed on heroin just four days later, and died. It was widely accepted to be suicide.

UPDATE: The legendary final Germs show was just released on Rhino Handmade.

Darby Crash was a poet and that's just one of many reasons why the Germs have never gone out of style. In fact, since its release in 1979, their album GI has NEVER gone out of print.

Forming b/w Sex Boy (Live)

This is the Germ's first single, released on What? Records (What 001) in July of 1977. This was also the first punk single released in L.A. The drums on both tracks were provided by Donna Rhia. "Forming" is a slow, sloppy punk song. It shows the band in its infancy and though they leave a lot to be desired by the musicianship and Darby's vocals were completely lacking his trademark snarl, there's something about the song that hints at the greatness to come yet still holds its own. The flip side is a live recording of a song called Sex Boy. The song was recorded at the Roxy during the auditions to be in the battle of the bands scene in Up In Smoke. The Germs were the only band not to be used in the movie. The recording is muddy, the playing is sloppy, and you can hear bottles breaking, talking in the crowd, and even cigarettes lighters. It all adds to the charm.

Lexicon Devil EP

This is the Germs' second single, and Slash Records' first release. It was released in May of 1978. The A-side is "Lexicon Devil" and the B-side is "Circle One" and "No God". "Lexicon Devil" is one of the Germs' best songs. This version of the song is slower and tamer than the version that would end up on GI. They had yet to master that fast and crunchy sound they would have on the album. "Circle One" is a guitar frenzy in which Darby sings his mission statement: "I'm Darby Crash/A social blast/Chaotic master" and "I'm Darby Crash/Your Mecca's gash/prophetic stature." "No God" is Darby crying out against religion (Catholicism specifically). The lyrics are arguably the best of his early work: "I'd pray to anything out there/As long as I was given some sign to bear/But while I wait I'm gonna live/See...there's no God to watch over me/No God for human beings"


This is the Germs' debut album. It was released on Slash Records in October of 1979. The album features 16 Germs classics in just over 38 minutes from the classic 42 second blast of "What We Do Is Secret" to the re-recorded, harder, faster version of "Lexicon Devil", and the slow(er) dirge of "Manimal." The real gem here, though, is "Shut Down (Annihilation Man). The song is 9 and a half minutes of bluesy/garage rock-y riffing. If it weren't for its length, this would be the closest thing to a conventional rock song the Germs ever recorded. Every song on this album is essential.

What We Do Is Secret
This was released in August of 1981, less than a year after Darby's death. It contains the Lexicon Devil EP, "Caught In My Eye" (an outtake from the GI sessions), "Round and Round" (a Chuck Berry cover recorded in 1977 with X's DJ Bonebreak on drums), and 2 songs recorded at the Germs' farewell show in 1980: "My Tunnel" and "The Other Newest One." Only "Caught In My Eye" and "Round and Round" were included in the (MIA) Anthology. Also, from what I've read, the version of "Lexicon Devil" is a different version than the EP and LP versions. So if you ever find a copy, pick it up. I know I will.

The Germs also appeared on a few compilations, including the infamous Yes L.A. comp released by Dangerhouse in 1979. It was a who's who of early L.A. punk which also included The Bags, Black Randy, The Alleycats, the Eyes, and X. They also contributed a track to Tooth and Nail released by Chris D.'s Upsetter Records. Lastly, they recorded 6 songs for the soundtrack to the movie Cruising. Only one was used in the movie and on the soundtrack, but all 6 are included on the (MIA) anthology.

If you ever get the chance to see reformed Germs, I highly recommend it. I saw them at the Asbury Lanes last Friday and was blown away. They are fronted by actor Shane West, who played Darby in the biopic, What We Do Is Secret. West does a fantastic job as frontman. His singing voice is reminiscent of Darb, but he doesn't do a full on impression. Pat Smear still has his magic touch, and Lorna Doom, though she doesn't move around much, looks completely comfortable on stage still and seems to still really love what she's doing. Don Bolles is a completely different story. He's goofy, funny, and cracked jokes in between almost every song. Not only was their set amazing but afterward they all hung out and took the time to talk to anyone who wanted to talk. Shane West was funny and extremely friendly. Don Bolles again stole the show for me though. It seemed as though he looked forward to meeting all of us who came out to the show, and really enjoyed bullshitting and telling us stories.

Seeing the Germs was one of the most fun experiences I've ever had at a show. I never thought I'd be able to say I saw the Germs, let alone that I met and had a conversation with Don Bolles(or Don Whatsisname as his autograph says on the title page on my copy of Darby's biography).

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