Punk rock group
Whenever there is a great triumph, sometimes comes an even greater tragedy. Such is the case with the California hardcore-punk outfit known as the Germs, who, in four short years, lived dangerously, playing fast, brash rock 'n' roll in the spirit of the Sex Pistols and the Ramones, but with a much dirtier and nastier edge; an edge that would prove to be sharp and deadly for the bands' confused and drug addicted lead singer, Darby Crash.
The Germs were formed in April of 1977 in Los Angeles, California, in the midst of a burgeoning punk scene that started simultaneously in New York City with the New York Dolls and the Ramones, and in the United Kingdom with the Sex Pistols and the Clash. Soon, Los Angeles caught the punk buzz, and bands like the Weirdos and Skulls formed in the wake of American jaunts by better-known British acts like the Damned. The bug was destined to bite snotty delinquents Paul Beahm and Georg Ruthenberg, who formed a band when they were dismissed from their local community college for obnoxious behavior. Beahm took the roll as singer, dubbing himself Bobby Pyn; Ruthenberg, who would change his name to Pat Smear, took up guitar. The group also included bassist Dinky and drummer Michelle Baer. Though they never played live, this was the beginning of the band that would later be known as the Germs.
The Germs lineup started to take shape when Lorna Doom replaced Dinky on bass, and Dottie Danger (a pseudonym for future Go-Go's vocalist Belinda Carlisle) took over on drums. Carlisle quickly left the group (though she would sing backup at a few gigs), and was replaced by Doom's friend Donna Rhia, who took over as the band's official first drummer. According to a biography on the punkandoi.free.fr site, the Germs' first gigs in 1977 were little more than parties, with friends of the band heckling and throwing things. But the behavior soon spilled over onto the Sunset Strip when the band started to perform as a part of Kim Fowley's punk package shows at the Whisky A-Go-Go and at the infamous Masque Club. At the time, Pyn idolized the Stooges' Iggy Pop and the Sex Pistols' Sid Vicious, and in turn would make each live performance an uncontrollable and often sloppy display.
In a 1996 review of the Germs tribute album A Small Circle of Friends, the Austin American-Statesman illustrated an early encounter with Pyn (who would change his name to Darby Crash in 1978). "The first time I ever saw him was in the line outside the Roxy waiting to get into the filming of the Ramones' Rock and Roll High School in 1978. He was running that Sid Vicious look, and his skirt-trash entourage was keeping his place in line as he did the wasted rock star walk down Sunset Strip for all to see. So cool. Then Sid Jr. kinda ducked into a doorway, but not far enough to shake your eyes off him. With everyone in line wondering what he was up to, our protagonist then tied off and shot up with what was presumed to be heroin. It was just after noon. About a week or so after the Ramones shoot, I went to the Masque IV nightclub, and when the Germs came on, I couldn't believe it. The singer was that idiot who had been shooting up in broad daylight. Darby Crash was so out of it that night he could barely stand, so after stumbling around and falling several times he finally just stayed down and muttered and groaned out the lyrics. I don't think the guy used a consonant all night. At one point, Darby got himself up and sort of collapsed into the crowd, which carried him on their hands while he stretched out into a crucifixion pose. And the band played on. Sloppily; very sloppily."
That sloppiness was first documented an the band's first single "Forming," issued in 1977 on What?Records. The single featured new drummer Don Bolles of the band 45 Grave (who replaced D.J. Bonebrake of the band X, who sat in for a couple of gigs). It was in the years of 1977 and 1978 that Los Angeles had officially arrived as another city where young punks could find glory in bands, which was personified by the formation of groups like the Dead Kennedys and Black Flag. The Germs were determined to make an impact, but were too unorganized to record a proper album (they did get around to releasing an hastily recorded EP featuring "Lexicon," "No God," and "Circle One"). Finally though, the group began writing and recording their first album for Slash Records in 1979. Under pressure from Claude Kickboy Bessy, who was influential in Slash's early years, the Germs entered the studio with former Runaway Joan Jett as producer, emerging with the album GI. Featuring an all-black cover with an enigmatic blue circle design—one that would echo the Germs' stripped-down aesthetic—the album was a sweat-and-snot filled romp through 17 songs that dripped with aggression, despair, and pure anger. Of the album, Stylusmagazine.com said, "There are some amazing moments of catchy, speedy proto-hardcore here, produced so clearly and with such ambition, it's downright unsettling (thanks, Joan Jett). There are unpredictable standouts, such as the poppy, goofy, hateful, exquisitely timed 'Richie Dagger's Crime' and the veering, odd assault of 'Strange Notes.'" The band would also appear in Penelope Spheeris' film Decline of Western Civilization, documenting the rise of the Los Angeles punk scene.
Following some touring to support GI, Crash would slip heavily into his heroin abuse. It would soon become apparent to everybody surrounding Crash—who was not only suffering from his drug use, but was also dealing with massive confusion due to his homosexuality—that the band would soon meet its demise. Later that year, the predictions would come true, as the Germs disbanded. Crash and Smear headed off to England, where Darby would perform with The Darby Crash Band in order to keep money coming in for his habit. He would return in 1980 to reunite the Germs for a performance on December 3, 1980, at the Starwood in Los Angeles. The reunion, however, would be short lived, as Crash died of a heroin overdose on December 7, 1980. Following his death, a collection of Germs releases have appeared over the years, including Germicide (a live album) for Mohawk/Bomp in 1981, 1985's Let the Circle Be Unbroken for Gasatanka and Lion's Share for Ghost o'Darb, and 1986's Rock N' Rule. A myriad of bands have named the Germs as influences, including Nirvana, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Hole. Smear went on to play in Nirvana and the Foo Fighters.
GI, Slash, 1979.
The Decline, Slash, 1980.
Germicide (live), Mohawk/Bomp, 1981.
Germicide: Live at the Whisky, 1977, ROIR, 1982.
Let the Circle be Unbroken, Gasatanka, 1985.
Lion's Share, Ghost o' Darb, 1985.
Rock 'n' Rule, XES, 1986.
Media Blitz (live), Cleopatra, 1993.
Germs (MIA): The Complete Anthology, Slash/Rhino, 1993.
For the Record …
Members include Don Bolles , drums; Darby Crash (born Paul Beahm; also known as Bobby Pyn; died on December 7, 1980), vocals; Lorna Doom , bass; Pat Smear (born Georg Ruthenberg on August 5, 1959, in Los Angeles, CA), guitar.
Group formed by Crash and Smear, 1977; released debut album GI, produced by Joan Jett, on Slash Records, 1979; group disbanded after death of lead singer Crash, 1980; various compilations released, 1980s-90s.
Bianco, David, editor, Who's New Wave in Music, Pierian Press, 1985.
Larkin, Colin, editor, The Encyclopedia of Popular Music, 3rd edition, Macmillan/MUZE Ltd., 1998.
Strong, Martin C., The Great Metal Discography, Canongate, 1998.
Austin American-Statesman, October 10, 1996.
Guitar Player, December 1993.
"The Germs," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (June 2, 2005).
"The Germs," punkandoi.free.fr, http://punkandoi.free.fr/germs_biography.htm (June 2, 2005).
"On Second Thought … The Germs," Stylus Magazine,http://www.stylusmagazine.com/feature.php?ID=432 (June 2, 2005).
"Pat Smear," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (June 2, 2005).