are an American punk rock band from Los Angeles, California, originally active from 1977 to 1980. The band’s early lineup consisted of singer Darby Crash, guitarist Pat Smear, bassist Lorna Doom, and their most consistent drummer Don Bolles. Germs have since reformed in 2005 with Shane West replacing Darby Crash. They released only one album, 1979’s (GI) (produced by Joan Jett) and were featured the following year in Penelope Spheeris‘ documentary film The Decline of Western Civilization, which chronicled the Los Angeles punk movement.
The Germs disbanded following Crash’s suicide on December 7, 1980. Their music was influential to many later punk rock acts. Pat Smear went on to greater notoriety performing with Nirvana and the Foo Fighters.
In 2005 actor Shane West was cast to play Crash in the Germs biographical film What We Do Is Secret named after a song by the Germs. He performed with Pat Smear, Doom, and Bolles at a production party for the film, after which the Germs re-formed with West as singer. The new lineup of the band has performed a number of tours in the United States, including performances on the 2006 and 2008 Warped Tours.
The band began when Jan Paul Beahm and Georg Ruthenberg decided they should start a band after being kicked out of University High for antisocial behavior, allegedly for using ‘mind control’ on fellow students. The (initially hypothetical) band was with Beahm (then ‘Bobby Pyn,’ and later Darby Crash) on vocals, Ruthenberg (then and later called Pat Smear) on guitar, an early member named “Dinky” (Diana Grant) on bass, and Michelle Baer playing drums. This lineup never played in front of a live audience.
In April 1977 the band added Lorna Doom (Teresa Ryan) on bass, with transitional member “Dottie Danger” on drums, later famous as Belinda Carlisle of The Go-Go’s. Carlisle never actually played with the band, owing to her being sidelined by a bout of mononucleosis for an extended period, and she was replaced by her friend Donna Rhia, real name: Becky Barton, who played three gigs and recorded their first single. Carlisle remained a friend and helper of the band throughout (she can be heard introducing the band on the Live At The Whiskey recording, as produced by Kim Fowley), only leaving because her new band, the Go-Go’s was becoming popular, and, as she put it, “I was really disturbed by the heroin that was going on.” Nicky Beat, of various noteworthy LA bands, also sat in on drums for a time.
The band’s first live performance was at the Orpheum Theater. Pat Smear recalled:
|“||We made noise. Darby stuck the mic in a jar of peanut butter. It was a dare, we had no songs or anything! Lorna wore her pants inside out, and Darby covered himself in red licorice…we made noise for five minutes until they threw us off.||”|
The Germs initially drew musical influences from the likes of Iggy Pop, David Bowie, Ramones, The Runaways, Sex Pistols and New York Dolls. Early on, Smear was the only musically experienced member — Doom survived early performances by sliding a finger up and down the fretboard of her bass while Rhia generally kept a minimal beat on the bass drum, periodically bashing a cymbal.
Early performances were usually marked by raucous crowds made up of the band’s friends. As a result, their gigs became notorious for being rowdy and usually verged on a riot.
The first single, Forming, was recorded on a Sony 2-track in Pat’s garage and arrived back from the pressing plant with the note, “Warning: This record causes ear cancer” printed on the sleeve by the plant staff, much to the band’s displeasure. It featured a shambolic but serviceable performance on the A-side and a muddy live recording of Sexboy on the B side, recorded at the Roxy for the Cheech and Chongmovie, Up In Smoke. The song was not used in the movie, nor was the band, the only band not to receive a call-back to perform live for the film’s “Battle of the Bands” sequence, perhaps due to the fact that the Germs’ chaotic Roxy performance had featured an unscripted, full-on food fight.
The Germs, despite most expectations, developed a sound that was highly influential—throughout their career, they would have a reputation as a chaotic live band. Singer Darby Crash often arrived onstage nearly incoherent from drugs, singing everywhere but into the microphone and taunting the audience between songs, yet nevertheless, delivering intense theatrical and increasingly musical performances. The other band members prided themselves on similar problems, with many contemporary reviews citing collapses, incoherence, and drunken vomiting onstage. Fans saw this as part of the show, and indeed, the band presented it as such, even when breaking bottles and rolling in the glass, with the music coming and going.
Smear was revealed to be a remarkably talented and fluid player; much later, after Crash’s death, critics finally acknowledged his lyrics as poetic art. Crash’s vocals had begun to mold themselves around the style of The Screamers‘ vocalist Tomata DuPlenty (The Screamers, a huge LA live attraction at the time, never released a record, but covered the Germs song, ‘Sex Boy,’ at live shows, recordings of which are now widely available on bootleg.) Another strong influence on the band’s final sound was Zolar X, a theatrical glitter rock band popular in the Los Angeles area circa 1972–1980. Crash and Smear were enthusiastic fans of the band from the pre-Germs days, and the fast tempos and raw guitar tone of (the historically pre-punk) Zolar X  are very similar to the sound achieved on later Germs recordings.
The Germs recorded two singles (with alternate tracks), an album-length demo session, and one full-length LP, (GI), each more focused and powerful than the last. Crash was, despite his erratic behavior, generally regarded as a brilliant lyricist (a contemporary critic described him as “ransacking the dictionary”), and the final lineup of Smear, Doom, and Bolles had become a world-class rock ensemble by the recording of (GI), turning in a performance that spurred an LA Weekly reviewer to write, “This album leaves exit wounds.” It is considered one of the first hardcore punk records, and has a near-mythic status among punk rock fans. The album was produced by Joan Jett of The Runaways. Some European copies of the album also credit Donny Rose on keyboards (the song, “Shut Down,” was recorded live in the studio, and features a melodic, two-fisted piano).
The Germs are featured in Penelope Spheeris‘s documentary film The Decline of Western Civilization along with X, Black Flag, Fear, Circle Jerks, Alice Bag Band, and Catholic Discipline.
Following the release of their only studio album, (GI), The Germs recorded six original songs with legendary producer Jack Nitzsche for the soundtrack to the film, Cruising, starring Al Pacino. Lorna wrote one of the songs. Only the song, “Lion’s Share,” ended up on the Columbia soundtrack LP—it was featured for about a minute in the movie, during a video-booth murder scene in an S&M club. Other songs from this session did not appear until the 1988 bootleg Lion’s Share, along with four tracks from their infamous last show at the Starwood. The Cruising sessions were finally released officially on the CD “(MIA): The Complete Recordings.”
Dissolution and suicide of Darby Crash
The end of the band came when Darby replaced Don Bolles with his friend Rob Henley on drums. Crash became increasingly impatient with Don Bolles’ antics and fired him.
Shortly after the Germs split, Darby and Pat went on to form the short-lived Darby Crash Band. Circle Jerks drummer Lucky Lehrer joined the band on the eve of their first (sold-out) live performance, when during sound-check, Darby kicked out the drummer they’d rehearsed with. The band, described by Smear as “like the Germs, but with worse players”, played only a few gigs to lukewarm reaction before splitting up.
Shortly after that, Crash contacted Smear about a Germs “reunion” show, claiming it was necessary to “put punk into perspective” for the punks on the scene. However, Smear has said Crash told him privately he wanted to earn money for heroin with which to commit suicide. Since Darby had described this scenario many times in the past, Pat did not take him seriously.
On December 3, 1980, an over-sold Starwood hosted a final live show of the reunited band, including drummer Don Bolles. At one point, Darby told the amazed kids in the audience, “We did this show so you new people could see what it was like when we were around. You’re not going to see it again”.
Crash committed suicide 7 December 1980, at age 22. Unreported at the time, Crash had overdosed on China white heroin in a suicide pact with close friend Casey Cola, who ended up surviving. She insists that he did not intend for her to live, nor did he change his mind at the last minute and intend for himself to live. As he lay dying, he attempted to write “Here lies Darby Crash” on the wall, but did not finish. Outside the world of Germs’ fans, news of Darby’s death was largely overshadowed by the murder of John Lennon the next day. A local news station mistakenly reported that Darby had died from taking too many sleeping pills.
After the end
After the Germs ended Don Bolles played with several other L.A. bands, including Steaming Coils, Celebrity Skin, Vox Pop, Nervous Gender and 45 Grave. In fall 2009 Bolles joined the cast of punks, mods and rockers web series Oblivion.
In 1993, Slash Records released The Germs: Complete Anthology (MIA), with liner notes by Pleasant Gehman.
Pat Smear went on to play with Nirvana in their last year and, after the death of Kurt Cobain, with Mike Watt, and then with the Foo Fighters.
In 1996 a tribute album titled A Small Circle of Friends appeared that featured tracks by Mike Watt, Free Kitten, The Melvins, Meat Puppets, that dog., L7, The Posies, NOFX, Flea, Gumball, and others along with a version of “Circle One” performed by Pat Smear with Hole under the name “The Holez”.
Rhino Handmade officially released Live At The Starwood Dec. 3, 1980 on June 14, 2010. The live set was previously unavailable in its entirety. Along with the CD, the release includes an 8½” × 11″ replica of the original poster for the show, a reproduction of the handwritten set list and a four-page fanzine with photos and liner notes by Jonathan Gold.
The Germs film and reformation (2007–present)
A movie about The Germs, What We Do Is Secret, was in production for several years, and premiered June 23, 2007 at the Los Angeles Film Festival. The film was theatrically released on August 8, 2008. The film stars Shane West in the role of Darby Crash. On MySpace Shane West has his display name as “Shane Wreck”, a possible play on Darby Crash.
Smear, Doom, and Bolles reactivated the Germs with West taking over the vocal spot. They played on the 2006 Vans Warped Tour and toured club shows in the US later that summer, and again in 2007. They will once again play on the 2008 edition of the tour, August 14–16, on the Vans Old School Stage. Some prominent members of the punk rock community such as Fat Mike and Jello Biafra have been critical of the band’s decision to replace Darby Crash with an actor.
In a July 2009 article drummer Don Bolles spoke about the band’s plans to re-record old material for a planned box set entitled Lest We Forget: The Sounds Of The Germs. The band has re-arranged songs from the Germicide live album and songs from the Cruising sessions; they also plan to record several Darby Crash Band songs as well. Live recordings, both old and new will make up the rest of the box set, which Don hopes to release in 2010. The newly recorded songs will be released through The Smashing Pumpkins front-man Billy Corgan‘s new, and currently unnamed, record label. Two songs, “Out of Time” and “Beyond Hurt – Beyond Help,” were originally written by Darby Crash and Pat Smear prior to Crash’s death, but were never recorded. The songs will be recorded with Shane West providing vocals.
- Pat Smear – guitar (1977–1980, 2005–present)
- Lorna Doom – bass (1977–1980, 2005–present)
- Don Bolles – drums (1978–1980, 2005–present)
- Shane West – vocals (2005–present)
- Darby Crash – vocals (1977–1980)
- Dottie Danger (Belinda Carlisle) – drums (1977)
- Michelle Baer – drums (1977)
- Ambrose Nzams – bass guitar (1977)
- Donna Rhia – drums (1977)
- Diana Grant – bass (1977)
- (GI) LP, 1979, Slash Records
- Forming/Sexboy (live) 7″, 1977, What? Records
- Lexicon Devil 7″ EP, 1978, Slash Records
- What We Do Is Secret EP, 1981, Slash Records
- Germicide (aka Live At The Whisky, First Show Ever), 1981, Mohawk/Bomp Records/ROIR
- Germs Rock ‘N’ Rule—Recorded Live At The Masque Christmas Party—Whisky A-Go-Go, December 1979, Hollywood, 1986, Xes Records
- Germs (MIA) – The Complete Anthology CD, 1993, Slash/Rhino Records
- Lest We Forget: The Sounds Of The Germs Box set, forthcoming.
- The Decline of Western Civilization LP, 1980, Slash Records
- ^ http://www.austinchronicle.com/gyrobase/Issue/review?oid=oid%3A93942
- ^ http://www.bostonherald.com/entertainment/music/general/view.bg?articleid=1182283
- ^ http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/08/03/AR2006080300435.html
- ^ a b c d watt and mascis on germs tribute
- ^ http://www.rhino.com/shop/product/the-germs-live-at-the-starwood-12-3-1980
- ^ http://filmguide.lafilmfest.com/tixSYS/2007/filmguide/eventnote.php?notepg=1&EventNumber=5036&
- ^  Riot Fest Feature – The Germs
- ^ Billy Corgan’s Label Releasing New Germs, Strawberry Alarm Clock Material
- Rekindling the Punk Flame, article
- Germs interview from Flipside #2, 1977 at Punk Zine Archive
- Germs interview from Flipside #15, 1979 at Punk Zine Archive
- Germs interview from Flipside #26, 1981 at Punk Zine Archive