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Caught In My Eye

4 Sep

THE GERMSLive at The Starwood, Dec. 3, 1980 (Rhino Handmade, 2010)

There was always something incredibly severe about the way THE GERMS sounded, playing together.

Pat’s guitar, so trebly and screee-producing, took an unholy joy cutting broken shards of riffs into Lorna’s dumpy bass runs and Don’s frequent rhythmic change-ups. Darby was an untethered, unrestrained primal force all his own, his animalistic howl floating off into psychic dissociation with eerie ease. On stage, they’d lurch from self-indulgent childsplay to ass-flattening artistic depth within the very same beat, with their potent musical alchemy undercut by an equally potent recreational drug use, not to mention a disarming innocence that humanised the cultish ideas Darby toyed with. To say they didn’t have peers at the time is only to point out the obvious: lots of bands sound indebted to THE RAMONES and later BLACK FLAG, but who, really, ever even tried to sound like these fuckers? It was shambolic, primeval, and fucking nuts first and foremost, and it blew minds in subtler ways than anyone cared to articulate at the time.

In my younger years, well, let’s just say I was so taken by what I heard that I spent over half of the 80’s searching out GERMS detritus from wherever I could unearth it. I’d prod older punker types for stories about Darby: “he was actually really sweet, but couldn’t skate for shit.” I’d get really stoked about GERMS spin-offs like CELEBRITY SKIN and RUTHENSMEAR and DEATH FOLK, even when they featured cameos by Nina Hagen or did jaunty, un-punk covers of QUEEN songs. Heck I even once rang Rodney Bingenheimer on the air and offered to buy his copy of the “Lexicon Devil” 45 that was signed by the entire band, only he didn’t like my kid-friendly price and hung up on me, spinning THE PANDORAS’ “You Don’t Satisfy” in reply. Hrmph.

And now their final show has arrived, in the form of a limited, expensive boutique release from Rhino Handmade that comes in a little box with a bunch of B&W inserts that try to mimic lo-rent HC punk aesthetics, but somehow feel just, well, cheap. Fans will no doubt be familiar with at least some of this set: a couple of these tracks saw light on the What We Do Is Secret 12″ way back in 1981, others surfaced on less-than legit but crucial releases like Lion’s Share and Cat’s Clause in the later 80’s and early 90’s, while the whole thing became common mp3 trade fodder during Napster’s heyday. But a new GERMS release will always be an event in my narrow-minded world and makes me, a man who still has a big GERMS treadmark on his brain, really really happy.

As a teen I met a number of people who actually attended this show, although to a man they were who Jonathan Gold refers to in the liners as the newly shaven: recently converted suburban kids itching to see what could’ve created the ungodly power documented on the GERMS (GI) LP and how debauched this Darby Crash of lore could actually get. Every one of those folks told me this show was a defining one. It was the last stand of THE GERMS and indeed Hollywood punk, the point where dozens of emerging HC punkers stopped looking back and were given free reign to create a future in their own image. It kicked the events in SoCal into a particularly manic, violent overdrive throughout the early 80’s, setting into motion dozens of little hardcore stories both musical and non-musical alike, not all which had happy endings. And even with 30 years hindsight, it’s still a glorious moment to behold.

Pat says this was THE GERMS best show ever, but that’s a red herring, since live they were always a step away from complete insanity and just shy of total sonic breakdown. Unlike in Decline of Western Civilization, here Darby hasn’t been totally capsized by drug intake, though his singing remains a few beats behind and often isn’t even into the mic at all. Pat’s gtr sound is truly vicious, if at times endearingly out of tune. And while Don and Lorna stumble dozens – no, make that hundreds – of times, they also sound closer in spirit to their hallowed studio recordings than ever before. But it’s silly to even talk about THE GERMS in musical terms alone, since on this night possession turned these party-wreckers into a force capable of completely feral, unhinged versions of “Manimal” and especially “No God” that must’ve left even old fans speechless. Between songs, yes you get Mike Muir’s infamous look-at-my-nose speech, but also Darby at his most ernest, pleading to the young audience to pay attention and “make it like it was” since “we’re not gonna do this again.” He made good on that promise.

Heart Attack & Vine

15 May

This blog thing is a real trip sometimes.

The letter reproduced here was once sent out into the world by me as part of my search into the hydra-headed serpent known as Hollywood punk rock, apparently back in Jan. 1987. Now I don’t actually remember sending it, or if I ever received a response at the time. But inexplicably it’s returned, boomerang-like. And I’m staring at the damn thing again. WTF?

Well, ya see: the recipient Jon, aka JB – he discovered this blog early on. There’s a comment from him on my very first post. He recently let me know I’d queried him by mail about a handfull of p-rock records, 21+ years ago as a dorky 16 yr. old. And a couple weeks back JB “kindly” forwarded this scan to chez PS Recon. Fucking hell, man! What comes around sure as shit goes around. Especially within the claustrophobic, skinnyhead world of California punk rock record collecting.

Which is all to let you know I’m back again to sling around more ill-thought out opinions about all your Hollywood punk heroes. Read the first or second posts in this series if you must, and then: 1-2-3-4 let’s g-g-g-go . . .

1. Best RIK L RIK-led effort: Garbage Hearts – The Lost EP (2007) Yes heavy drug use clipped RIK’s artistic fingernails to the bloody quick, but dammit if he didn’t record a dimebag full of minor-key, SLEEPERS-inspired glamour punk gems, some of which dated from up near his death in 2000. Shit I actually had a difficult time picking a favorite RIK moment. This man’s F-WORD album is generally considered the first Hollywood punk LP to see the light of day. His “Outback” cut – as heard on my first punker purchase ever (Rodney On The Roq, Vol. I) – was also the very first song I ever taught myself on bass gtr. And his cuts on the Beach Blvd comp. impressed the hell outta me – at least until I heard the earlier, NEGATIVE TREND EP versions.

But ultimately, this long-lost EP of early 90’s NEW CHRISTS-like material may be his very best. Certainly, it’s some of his most coherent, and I love the way his baritone soars over the din. Check it out if you haven’t – and long may the kids remember RIK’s barefoot croon.

2. Best BLACK RANDY & THE METROSQUAD effort: Pass the Dust, I Think I’m Bowie LP (Dangerhouse Records, ’79) – Talk about sidespilting – these cads still slay me 6 ways to Sunday. Any JAMES CHANCE/WHITE comparisons will definitely hold water. But remember: unlike James, Randy wasn’t actually musical, just an irresponsible prankster dead-set on exposing some of the sillier/staider aspects of “the scene” at the time. There’s room in my heart for such types, fr sure – even when they’re trying to pants me.

Hey, where’s that tweaked live snippet of “Ziggy Stardust” that graced the original Dangerhouse LP? It didn’t seem to make the cut on the Sympathy For The Record Industry reissue CD. Copyright complications perhaps? C’MON Long Gone John, this was fucking BLACK RANDY – he coulda punked out the Thin White Duke in no time flat.

3. Best FEAR effort: Saturday Night Live ’81 – As huge as they were around LA in the early 80’s with young, suburban cropped-hair dudes, FEAR (not unlike, say, the ANTI-NOWHERE LEAGUE) always hit me as ersatz HC punk, a patent-leather version of the real deal. Which isn’t to say they weren’t good – they were, and I do like alot of tunes on the first Slash LP, despite the thin/compressed production. But it’s why I’ve chosen this SNL clip: FEAR always seemed to have their sights set mainly on that other, film-industry Hollywood, and Lee hits ya best when he’s on camera. Look hard, and you’ll spot Ian Mackaye in the audience! (BTW: the first single is probably their best studio moment, but I never did turn up that rarity . . .)

4. Best ANGRY SAMOANS effort: Queer Pills 7″ 45 (Homophobic Records, ’81) Another band of far-from-authentically hardcore types who the HB strut contingent went absolutely gaga over. Had these kinda older, wordy fanzine scribes been anywhere else in the US, no doubt they’d have put out records that sounded like THE GIZMOS or THE SCREAMIN’ MEE-MEES or something. But they came to fruition in SoCal in the early 80’s where BLACK FLAG and THE CIRCLE JERKS were calling the shots; hence, the violent brevity of their cool, bonehead tuneage. This release of Back From Samoa demos came out under the QUEER PILLS moniker in hopes of throwing off the scent of LA DJ Rodney Bingenheimer, who’d they’d already alienated every which way but loose. It didn’t work and also meant that most of these 45s didn’t sell at the time, only to flood into record stores in the late 80’s. The record collector geek in me thanks the gods for this small karmic retribution.

5. Best GERMS effort: (GI) LP (Slash Records, ’79) Will anyone ever come up with a record this transcendent in the name of punkrock again? I don’t fucking think so. Yeah I’ve always kinda felt this record belongs nestled up against, say, yr COIL and POPOL VUH discs. Even now, listening to it transports me someplace far outside my body, where gtrs ring out hidden universal keys and a wordless growl makes the most complete sense in all the world. That these speed-fueled, teenage crybabies came up with something so timeless blows away all known laws of physics. I, for one, don’t like to imagine what Darby would’ve come up with had he’d hung around this Earth any longer – blowhard new wave? New-Ro balladeering? Cause he wasn’t never no kinda singer, nohow. What Darby was, was a truly potent wizard of cosmic proportions.

Much thanks to JB for his lifelong hoarding tendencies

It’s Raining Go-Go-Golden Boys

21 Apr

There is this song that I’ve lived with and loved since I was a teen. It’s a good song – a really, really good song, in fact. But in the intervening years (and given my obsessive traits), it’s kinda . . . taken over. First it felt like gum stuck to the bottom of my shoe, the kind I just couldn’t seem to wipe off. Then it grew into a creepy ritual lovespell, one that subtly encouraged me to behave in ways I’d never ever, if left alone. More recently it’s felt more like a nasty case of syphilis, warping all rational thought and leaving behind blistering sores that I just can’t scratch enough. And it’s still with me today. It’s called “Golden Boys”, and I gotta cut it loose.

What I know: “Golden Boys” is variously credited to Darby Crash/Pat Smear, Pat Smear alone, and Bell/Crash/Ferris/Smear depending on who’s covering it. It most certainly began life in the dying days of THE GERMS, and Darby most certainly penned the lyrics. Whether or not THE GERMS ever worked up a nascent version of it remains unclear. I sure as hell haven’t ever heard of or found reference to it, and lemme tell ya: I’ve looked. VAGINA DENTATA, who featured Pat fresh out of TWISTED ROOTS, definitely waxed the first version, probably in late ’83/early ’84. Beyond that . . . well, only Pat himself knows the full details, and he’s too busy pushing Hagstrom Guitars to bother with this story. What follows is, most definitely, a rundown of all known versions of the song. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you: this shit will take over if you’re not careful.

1) Vagina Dentata, “Golden Boys” (Flipside Vinyl Fanzine Vol. II Comp., Flipside/Gasatanka Records, 1984) – Now, there are other recorded versions of this great song sans the long intro, but this is, hands down, the best. Those big, wild drums . . . that pummeling bass . . . those psychotic leads . . . and oh wow what a lead singer Michelle Bell (a.k.a. Gerber) could be when she cut loose, as she does with freakin’ abandon here. I wonder what happened to her . . .

2) Pat Ruthensmear, “Golden Boys” (Ruthensmear, SST Records, 1987) – I remember listening to this when it first came out and thinking, man, this is the polar opposite of what Pat did with the GERMS. But that wiggy contrariness (traceable at least back to his tenure with TWISTED ROOTS) is a big part his appeal. The over-the-top glam/pomp rock thing seemed to make a lot of sense in LA during the second half of the 80’s, and here, everything’s coming up roses. Pat belts it out like a lisping Mick Ronson, and like Mick, he plays most of the instruments too.  And when he sings “Golden Boys” in place of where Darby shoulda been, well, ya can’t help but tear up.

3) Gary Celebrity, “Golden Boys” (Diary of a Monster, Triple X Records, 1992) – Kinda perfunctory in execution but Gary’s entitled to do it anyway he wants, seeing as he drummed on the VAGINA DENTATA original. Gary sometimes sang this with his great ‘n’ garish 80’s teenbeat combo CELEBRITY SKIN, who I promise to gush about in a separate post soon. Oh and PAT plays gtr on this too, making this almost an electric DEATH FOLK outtake, if that means anything to ya.

4) The Dickies, “Golden Boys” (Idjit Savant, Triple X Records, 1995) – Leave it to the DICKIES to really bring out the melody in a song. Secretly, the late 80’s/early 90’s line-up of the DICKIES is my favorite. They weren’t so young (and certainly not so clean) anymore – but their sound was expanding in all manner of goofy, orchestralpop ways, and their lyrics were getting weirder by the hour – giving them an even more SPARKS-ian glow than ever before. “Boys” is rendered in straightahead DICKIES style, but they spruce it up with an extra bridge that stamps it as their own.

5) Pavement, “Golden Boys/Serpentine Pad” (Wowee Zowee: Sordid Sentinels Edition, Matador Records, 2006) – Never thought I’d be putting a PaveFUCKINGment song on my blog, but live long enough and Plop! There it goes. This mid 90’s outtake of theirs isn’t the worst version of the song I’ve heard (that would be the live version PAVEMENT did of this song available on their Stuff Up the Cracks boot, which I’ll spare you today), and their choice to take some artistic licence with it ain’t such a bad idea either. It’s that “Cut Your Hair” guy’s voice – in all it’s lifesucking faux-lazyass, uh, “glory” – that really gets me shifting in my seat. I know these guys are revered as some kinda 90’s indie/emo supermen, but dude – in my universe, PAVEMENT will always be the musical equivalent to tepid, stewed okra. Uhggh.

6) NoFX, “Golden Boys” (Never Trust a Hippy, Fat Wreck Chords, 2006) – Sadly, what new pop/punk/HC stuff suceeds in doing for me is only to make me miss the darker/wilder/hairier forms of early 80’s HC that much more. And I admit I have never listened to these guys or ridden a snowboard before, so I’m really not qualified to say much. This ain’t exactly horrible, although kinda redundant after some of the above (see THE DICKIES version). But hey: singer Fat Mike did have the sense to put out the great DESCENDENTS Cool To Be You CD a few years back, so maybe I’m missing out on something special here?

7) Apartment 3-G, “Golden Boys” (Strange Notes comp., Bitzcore, 1994) – If you’re a POISON IDEA spin-off band – and APARTMENT 3-G most definitely are – you got a lifetime free subscription to rock the fuck out of ANY Crash/Pat tune you see fit to.