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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.

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.