By Sarah Bennett
By Adam Lovinus
By Jena Ardell
By Nate Jackson
By Gustavo Arellano
By Nick Keppler
By Nate Jackson
By Alex Distefano
So the Germs return and return again:the last unthinkable reunion, after the one-song Screamers set, after the two-man Minuteman set that same show, after the Doors and the Stooges and the MC5 and the Sex Pistols have all reinforced against their early casualties to massive critical (and certainly modest financial) gain—what can I say? It’s a great time to be dead. When singer Darby Crash popped his last in that shed on Fuller, could he have known that 25 years later, his band mates might make rent off him one or two last times? Let’s hope so—it humanizes him a bit, which is something the Germs could use, pinched as they are between fans of Charles Manson and fans of David Bowie, and smudged into history as the sickest punk band in America, the cult band that actually launched both a cult—you will STILL see fresh Germs burns on fucked-up young kids, who track down weathered members of the inner circle so that the transmission will be legitimate—and a band—Circle One, which served history more as a reflection on the Germs themselves than as anything you’d much listen to—and did it all in only about three years: punk promise in its purest form, from absolute illiteracy to absolute legendry with only one confirmed fatality. What a set of acrobatics—no wonder people still love them; they were the last great collapse of the criminally insane.
There isn’t much left that hasn’t been debrided by the light these days; sometimes you wanna take your poisons in private, and the Germs’ resolute awfulness—“awful” how H.P. Lovecraft used it, and augmented by “awful” how Lester Bangs used it too, specifically for them—preserves them somehow, even with some actor singing for them. As a Germs fan, that’s something lovable, an appropriate epilogue to a band that even Kim Fowley—who, it must be said, was a better Darby than Darby and a better Iggy than Iggy, at least on one LP—couldn’t stand, and Kim Fowley managed the last lineup of Blue Cheer! (Which was bad; hence the joke!) But 25 years of technical derision ignores the still powerful magnetism of the band the Germs became and recorded and played as for their last years, a final respectable equal to LA’s best—X and the Screamers, though one must certainly reserve some love for the Weirdos—in personality as well as execution. Those terminal points make a triangle that contains pre-Black Flag LA punk: critical acclaim, romantic obscurity or death. Pick two. Well, “pick” is generous. These sorts of choices develop from without.
But the Germs persist no matter what because there is still something to them, not so much the sensationalist teen-martyr deal—Darby is James Dean for certain people—but the viciously bizarre personality effects that both rattled the band to pieces and connected them to a lost international discography of music that haunts the modern 20th century like Lomax field recordings haunted the ancient 20th century: they left a few documents of a creepy shadow parallel, a world that doesn’t or didn’t exist, artifacts of the sort Thomas Pynchon would convince people he’d made up. These things you can’t buy; they circulate on trust or on luck: music so vile and tactile it’s almost removed from critical assessment, removed from even rational reassembly, like looking at dinosaur bones and fitting them back together as monsters. Rock and pop—crit and biz both—exist to defuse that lone-listener dynamic by duplicating it for anyone who wants it, but there are still a very few little dark spots. Even with the books and a movie and all the late-for-the-trend reclamation, the Germs remain a band that could really derail someone: like Bowie, like Manson, they had great personality. There are dirty little bootleg tapes that make the rounds. You hear weird things.
They also had good songs and put on a good show; they weren’t the incompetent joke they’d started as by the time they broke up. But they had that sick wounded desolate sound that the first Stooges record had, and their last lost live recordings come with a strange and furtive sense of guilt—bunch of people yelling through a bunch of hiss, feels like some wartime newsreel vibe—archaic and awful and filtered and distant—somehow reduced to something recognizable, instead of—ah, what it was really . . . ah, well, would you wanna know? It doesn’t matter what happens at a reunion because what the Germs did only really found life once the band itself was dead, a frozen-in-time frisson, like peeking into a crypt, which is a brutal way to make history, but, well, sometimes these choices develop from without. There’s an old interview collected in an old print bootleg of Germs ephemera, something else that had to circulate from friend to friend: talking to a murderer who loved the band, asking what he thought of them 10 years later. “What’s your favorite Germs song?” they asked. “Hard to say,” he said. “Whichever. We’re payin’ a high price for it.”
THE GERMS WITH FRANKI’S BROKEN TOYS AT
THE GALAXY THEATRE, 3503 S. HARBOR BLVD., SANTA ANA, (714) 957-0600. FRI., 8 P.M. $20. ALL AGES.