The Germs – “(GI)”

Darby Crash, frontman of The Germs, was yet another rock ‘n’ roll casualty, though he didn’t even live long enough to make it to the fabled “27 Club,” committing suicide by intentional heroin overdose in 1980 at the age of 22.  Twenty-two.  Let that sink in for a minute.  Crash fronted a popular Los Angeles punk band that had released what is now considered one of the earliest proto-hardcore albums just a year earlier, a record produced by none other than Joan Jett.  A band that was later pointed to by a generation of punks and grunge rockers as a major influence.  But he still wanted to die.  And even in death he was overshadowed when John Lennon was murdered just a day later, ensuring that Darby’s story would be all but completely ignored.  Twenty-two years young.

Germs guitarist Pat Smear stayed in the music scene and benefitted from the reverence the new wave of grunge bands had for The Germs, eventually joining Nirvana as their second guitarist during the last half year of Kirk Cobain’s life and appearing on the band’s famous MTV Unplugged in New York album.  But Cobain, a heroin addict like Darby, also chose to end his own life (conspiracy theorists, please don’t email….), and once again Smear appeared a man without a band.  Until Dave Grohl invited him to join his post-Nirvana project, that is.  A band called the Foo Fighters.  The Germs, Nirvana, and the Foo Fighters.  That’s quite a resume.

(GI) is west coast punk rock.  Make no mistake about it, accept no substitutes.  This is about as close to ground zero as you can get in the Los Angeles punk scene.  All but one of the album’s 16 tracks are shorter than three minutes, and in fact nine of them take less than two minutes start to finish.  All except the last song, “Shut Down”.  Yeah.  That one is just over nine minutes and was recorded live in studio in one take.  The quickest song is the one that gives it’s name to the biographical film about the band, the 41 second “What We Do Is Secret.”  My favorite track, however, is “Richie Dagger’s Crime,” which has some cool vocal parts, with “We Must Bleed” as a close second.

The Germs remind me a lot of a Finnish punk band called Lama who put out their debut album in 1982.  Lama was faster than The Germs (to say punk evolved quickly would be an understatement), but there are a lot of similarities especially in the vocal sounds.  The marathon that is “Shut Down” is reminiscent of the entire sludgy B side of Black Flag’s My War (1983), the album side that alienated and royally pissed off a good chunk of the Flag’s entire fan base.  But The Germs did it first.

(GI) is a great punk record, a must-listen-to if you want to hear the best of the early Los Angeles punk scene.  If I were teaching a course on the history of punk rock, this would have to be part of the syllabus.