Printable Hardcore punk history: The Germs - vintage print poster

The Germs are one of the first punk bands in the United States, Los Angeles, California. It was formed by Jan Paul Beahm and Georg Ruthenberg in 1977.

Beahm and Ruthenberg studied together at the IPS (Innovative Program School), a specialized school at the University of Santa Monica in Los Angeles. The IPS program combined elements of Werner Erhardt’s training seminars, the author of a program for youth from impoverished areas, and Scientology. They were kicked out of school for anti-social behavior. “We convinced half the kids that I was God and George was Jesus,” Beam said in an interview. – “One girl nearly had a nervous breakdown because of it.” Being expelled from school prompted them to start a musical group. They first thought of a name for the band Sophisifuck and the Revlon Spam Queens and decided to make T-shirts for themselves, but they couldn’t fit such a long name and decided to go with a shorter name, settling on the name The Germs. The t-shirts were eventually made by themselves. In 1975, after a short period under the pseudonym Bobby Pyn, Beam changed his name to Darby Crash and Rutenberg called himself Pat Smear.

The band’s first lineup, in which the band never performed in front of an audience, looked like this: frontman Darby Crash; guitarist Pat Smear, “Dinky” (Diana Grant) on bass and Michelle Baer on drums. In April 1977, Lorna Doom (real name Teresa Ryan) replaced “Dinky” on bass, and Donna Rea (real name Becky Barton) took over the drums. In this lineup the band played the first three concerts and recorded the first single. The classic lineup of the band is considered to be as follows: Darby Crash – vocals, Pat Smear – guitar, Lorna Doom – bass, Don Bolles – drums.

At the band’s first performance, which took place in May 1977 in support of the punk art school The Weirdos at the small Orpheum Theater, not a single song was played. The Germs simply hadn’t rehearsed them. Darby stuck a microphone in a jar of butter, Lorna came on stage in pants inside out, and Darby smeared himself with licorice syrup afterward. The show lasted five minutes, The Germs were just making noise, the festival organizers stopped the chaos and kicked Darby’s band off the stage.

The next concerts of the band were rather funny shows than traditional musical performances, because the guys could not play at all and their defiant behavior distracted attention from their clumsy instrument playing. The audience at these performances were friends and acquaintances of the band members. Only Pat Smear knew the chords, Lorna Doom just drove her finger up and down the strings, and Ree kept a simple rhythm and occasionally hit the cymbals. Darby wasn’t really singing, he was more like growling and yelling into the microphone. His main job was to put on a show. He almost always took the stage drugged, often singing anywhere but into the microphone, teasing the audience between songs. At concerts, Darby smeared peanut butter on his chest, sprinkled sugar on himself during the song “Sugar, Sugar”, once broke a bottle over his head and cut himself on stage like Iggy Pop, Darby was a fan. Another role model for Darby was David Bowie, he loved Bowie’s image, his flirtation with bisexuality. Darby himself was gay, but hid it from everyone. Other members of the band kept up with Darby – they played while intoxicated, smashed empty bottles against the stage, sometimes they threw up right during the performance. Fans considered it part of the show. The Germs were banned from performing in many clubs. Because of the colorful shows, the band gained a lot of fans and female admirers. Darby encouraged them to wear a black armband with a blue circle to identify each other. The blue circle became the symbol of The Germs.

Over time, the band had a ritual for fans that Darby invented called “Germs Burn”. Darby would put a cigarette to the palm or shoulder of a fan, leaving a scar, which was the mark of his band (hence the name “Germs burn”). This tradition has survived among the modern fans of The Germs, who still pass Darby’s burns to each other. Doing the burn yourself is considered posing, and must be done by an older fan of the band.

The band’s first single was “Forming”, the song was recorded on two microphones and a Sony reel-to-reel tape recorder, with Darby singing into one microphone and the other recording the music. However, the single was not immediately released, the factory refused to release the recording, returning the reel-to-reel with a note: “Warning! This recording causes ear cancer”. The band was furious. The record saw the light of day in July 1977 on the “What?” label “Forming” was on the A side and the B side was a live recording of “Sexboy”.

If at first no one in the band knew how to play, then later on Pat Smear showed himself to be a talented and versatile guitarist. In spite of everything, the band managed to create their own original sound. The Germs’ music was influenced by David Bowie, Ramones, The Runaways, The Sex Pistols, New York Dolls and of course Iggy Pop. Darby Crash’s singing style has been influenced by bands like The Screamers and Zolar X. On The Germs’ latest recordings, the influence of Zolar X is particularly strong.

The Germs recorded two singles, a demo album and released only one LP album, “GI”. Often cited as one of the first hardcore punk albums, it was recorded in the US in January 1979 on the Slash Records label. The album was produced by Joan Jett. Much later, after Darby Crash’s death, music critics recognized his lyrics.

After the release of the studio album, The Germs recorded six original songs for the soundtrack to the movie Cruising, starring Al Pacino. One of the six songs was written by bassist Lorna Doom. Only the song “Lion’s Share” was included on the final LP of the soundtrack. The other songs were not released until 1988, and are included on the bootleg of “Lion’s Share”.

The breakup of the band began after a scandal between Darby Crash and drummer Don Bolles. As a result, Crash kicked Bolles out and replaced him with his friend Rob Henley. After some time, The Germs decided to disband. Crash and Smear decided to form a new band, calling it the Darby Crash Band. On the day of the first concert, for which all tickets were sold out, Circle Jerks drummer Lucky Lehrer joined the band in a hurry, because during the soundcheck Crash decided to kick out his drummer. Smear later said that the Darby Crash Band was the same as The Germs, only with worse musicians. The band played a few gigs and broke up. Darby Crash went down the path of self-destruction: alcoholism, excessive acid and heroin use. Dissatisfaction with his career, sexual frustration, dissatisfaction with himself pushed Crash to suicide, about which he began to constantly tell others.

Shortly thereafter, Crash suggested to Smear that he revive The Germs and play a concert, explaining that it was important for the future of punk music and that he needed money for heroin to kill himself. Crash had often told band members that he would kill himself with heroin, and Smear did not take his words seriously. On December 3, 1980, The Germs’ last show with the old lineup took place in a packed auditorium at the Starwood Hotel. It was one of the band’s best shows. Even drummer Don Bolles agreed to play. During the show, Crash, addressing the teenagers in the audience said: “We put on this show so you new people can see who we are. You’ll never see this again.”

On December 6, 1980, Darby Crash suggested that his close friend Casey “Cola” Hopkins kill herself, and she agreed. In a garage at Hopkins’ home, Crash injected her with a non-lethal dose of heroin before injecting himself with a lethal dose. Darby Crash died at the age of 22 from an overdose, Hopkins survived. His body was found on December 7. There is a legend that Crash before his death tried to write on the wall, “Here lies Darby Crash”, but did not finish and he was found spreading his arms like a crucified Christ. In fact, before his death, Darby wrote a short note to David “Bosco” Danford bassist of the Darby Crash Band, “My life, my skin, my love goes to Bosco.”

Darby’s acquaintances claim that he committed suicide in order to become a rock legend, but he failed. John Lennon was killed the day after Darby’s suicide. Lennon’s death overshadowed Darby’s death and all the newspapers wrote only about it. Darby was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery, in Culver City, California.

The Germs were the first punk band in Hollywood to play hardcore, technically uncomplicated aggressive music. Their songs later inspired dozens of bands, including Nirvana.

Pat Smear continued his musical endeavors after Crash’s suicide. He played in the bands The Adolescents, Belinda Carlisle, Nirvana, Mike Watt and Foo Fighters. Together with Nina Hagen, Pat recorded two solo albums: “So You Fell in Love with a Musician…” and “Ruthensmear”.

Don Bolles has participated in many bands in Los Angeles: Steaming Coils, Celebrity Skin, Vox Pop, Nervous Gender and 45 Grave.

In 1996, a tribute to The Germs called “A Small Circle of Friends” was released. Tracks for it were recorded by Mike Watt, Free Kitten, The Melvins, Meat Puppets, That dog, L7, The Posies, NOFX, Flea, Gumball and others. His version of the song “Circle One” was presented by Pat Smear with the band Hole, it is listed on the CD under a different name – “The Holez”.

In 2002, a book dedicated to The Germs was published – “Lexicon Devil: The Fast Times and Short Life of Darby Crash and the Germs”. It was authored by Brendan Mullen, a music promoter and host of many nightclubs in Los Angeles, and co-authored by Don Bolles and Adam Parfrey.

The Germs can be seen in the documentary The Decline of Western Civilization, directed by Penelope Spheeris and released in 1981. In addition to Darby Crash, the film features the bands X, Black Flag, Fear, Circle Jerks, Alice Bag Band, and Catholic Discipline. In an interview with Penelope Sphyris, Crash revealed that he takes drugs before a concert to avoid feeling the pain of injuries from fans. Darby Crash is given quite a lot of time in the movie, the movie poster had a picture of him. The movie Sphyris made Crash more famous than he was in his lifetime. There were riots in the audience during the premiere of the film, which was held in a theater.

In 2005, director Rodger Grossman began filming a biographical movie about The Germs – What We Do Is Secret. One of the band’s songs was taken as the title of the movie. Former musicians of the band participated in its production: Pat Smear, Lorna Doom and Don Bolles. They recorded the musical parts for the movie. Darby Crash was played in the movie by actor Shane West. The collaboration between West and the old punk rockers so enthralled them that it was decided to recreate The Germs, with West as the frontman. With this lineup, the band did a string of U.S. tours in 2006, 2007 and 2008. The replacement of Darby Crash with an actor was harshly criticized by musician Jello Biafra.

In July 2009, Don Bolles announced that they were preparing to record a CD “Lest We Forget: The Sounds of the Germs”, which would include both old and new songs by The Germs. The album was to be produced by The Smashing Pumpkins leader Billy Corgan. Two songs from the CD, “Out of Time” and “Beyond Hurt – Beyond Help”, were written by Darby Crash and Smear before Crash’s suicide, but were never recorded.