Don Bolles Keeps His Nose Clean

Why was the legendary punk rocker busted for driving with soap?

On the evening of April 4, Don Bolles—the drummer for the seminal Los Angeles punk band the Germs, member of such other influential bands as 45 Grave and Nervous Gender, author, radio DJ, club promoter and ubiquitous SoCal scenester—was driving his girlfriend, musician Cat Scandal, to an AA meeting in Newport Beach when the police pulled them over for a broken taillight. The police searched Bolles' 1968 Dodge van and found a bottle of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap. They field tested it, claimed it contained the "date-rape drug" GHB and arrested Bolles for felony narcotics possession. The Orange County DA also charged Bolles with contempt of court for disobeying a court order and violation of a protective/stay-away order. (These last two charges related to a 2006 incident between Bolles and Scandal, when Bolles was charged with disturbing the peace and signed an order that he and Scandal would only see each other under restricted conditions.)

Following the soap bust, Bolles spent the next three days in jail, a terrifying ordeal for an artsy, 50-year-old man who describes himself as "looking absolutely the way that people don't want a person to look." His friends were able to raise his bail, and Dr. Bronner's Soap stepped in to pay his legal fees. On Monday, the OC district attorney's office announced that further tests revealed there was, in fact, no GHB in the soap, and all charges against Bolles were dropped.

This summer, Bolles and the surviving Germs are set to go on tour to support the release of What We Do is Secret, an independent biopic about the band's late singer, Darby Crash. In two interviews, Bolles discussed his arrest and time in jail.

Don Bolles:[as he's finishing another call] Sorry about that. That was Pravda on the other line.

OC Weekly: The Russian newspaper?

Yeah! Even they're interested in this case, it's amazing. You know, this arrest is the kind of thing they always used to tell us happens in Russia when we were growing up. We'll this is Russia. It's happening here. I mean, this could've happened to your mom. They sell this soap at Ralphs!

What can you tell us about the arrest?

Well, I was driving to an AA meeting with my girlfriend. That was true; I didn't make that up for the news. Something I didn't tell the news was that I was wearing my big, furry Russian hat when the cops stopped us. Given the Nazi-like tactics of the cops, I wouldn't be surprised if they thought I was a Jew.

Some people are saying you didn't legally have to let the cops search your car. Did you consider resisting the search?

No. Honestly, I wasn't worried. Why would I have been? Yeah, OC has a reputation of being somewhat to the right of Mussolini, but I figured this would just be the usual program, a quick search and they'd let me go. Everything was normal, until they found the soap and one of the cops announced there was GHB in it. I fancy myself a rather hip fellow, and the cops had to explain to me what GHB even does! That was pretty humiliating, to have cops explaining a drug to me. It was bizarre; I'd washed my face with the stuff earlier that day.

Had you been to jail before this?

I try to keep my nose clean, if you'll pardon the pun with all this soap stuff. Even with the riots and stuff in the punk days, I stayed out of it. I'm not a very arrest-y guy.

Can you tell us anything more about the restraining order?

I think that was pure desperation on the cops' part, frankly. Last year, I signed a mutual stay-away order with my girlfriend. We were living together, and . . . well, she can't drink. That's why we were going to AA. She's great, things are great now, and I don't want to drag this restraining order stuff out. It's old news. It had nothing to do with the drug charge, and the cops just tacked it on and hoped it'd stick. They tested the soap three times, and I imagine they were quite disappointed when it came back negative.

How did the cops treat you in jail? Were they mean, or more business-like?

Well . . . mean, or business-like? [chuckles] They mean business, so you could say it was both of those words! They certainly weren't friendly.

Were you ever assaulted during your jail stay?

No, but not for lack of possibility. There had been some sort of race riot while I was in this one endless-loop area, during the 20 hours it apparently takes to book you. And one of the races was mine, so things were very tense. A guy was murdered in there; people came in and killed him in shifts—it took a while. This was all while the guards were looking the other way, I was told.

Wow. Did your punk history buy you any "street cred" in there?

It did, kinda. There was one guy who came up to me singing a Germs song—that was pretty surreal. I've always been pretty socially skilled. It's like Smuckers; you have to be good with people when you're a skinny weirdo like me. I was never assaulted, but it was no Swiss picnic.

How have your friends reacted to this arrest?

Suddenly, I have some! [laughs] People have been calling from all over; they've been so great.

Have they been teasing you? A lot of jokes about dropping the soap in the shower and stuff?

Yeah. I think that's why they're my friends, so they can goof on me. There's always something ridiculous going on. This arrest really came out of nowhere, and it complicated the hell out of everything . . . like our Germs tour this summer with Shane West, who plays Darby in the movie. The dates were all set up, and for a while I didn't know if I could go.

There's a lot of buzz about that movie. Have you seen it?

Not yet. I got to watch the kid who plays me, and that was awful. He's nothing like me, and it was the worst thing ever, for a while.

For a while? So he got better?

No. But worse things have happened to me since then.

Do you plan to sue the city for false arrest?

As of now, I don't have anything specifically planned out. But I may persue my God-given right to litigate.

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