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The Past and the Pending
Can’t accept a handsome movie star leading legendary punk band the Germs? Get over it
As a teenage punk, I would have laughed at the thought of the Germs performing with any singer not named Darby Crash. Had guitarist Pat Smear, bassist Lorna Doom and drummer Don Bolles regrouped their legendary Los Angeles quartet during the ’90s punk revival and not four years ago, I would have sung along to tunes that defined my high-school years—even though they were written before I was born. I also would have shit on whomever the unfortunate fool behind the mic was. Such is the conundrum of the teenage punk.
But the Germs didn’t reunite when it mattered most to me, and now that I’m old and lame, I’m glad they chose a time when I can appreciate what’s left of a seminal band and not focus on the one guy who couldn’t make the gig regardless of how much money was on the table. And you know what? Me and the few gray hairs atop my head are okay with that.
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For those who witnessed the blood, broken bottles, riot-inducing performances and countless teenage punks who wished they’d been born 30 years earlier, the Germs are a symbol of organic rebelliousness who combined white-noise chaos and drug-addled debauchery with insightful lyrics (when you could make them out), as well as—regardless of what the history books say—punk rockers who could actually play.
Crash solidified the notion that the Germs were something more than just a band with his heroin-induced suicide on Dec. 7, 1980. The singer had previously spoken of having a five-year plan and, according to confidants, would reference his plan to kill himself on a regular basis. To those who weren’t there, Crash’s intentions sound childish, weak and cowardly, yet to the legions of people who followed him then and after his passing, Crash became a demigod with an untouchable aura surrounding him. So when word hit that actor Shane West, who portrayed Crash in director Rodger Grossman’s 2007 Germs/Crash biopic, What We Do Is Secret, would leap from screen to stage and actually sing in the reformed band, more than one Mohican got his bondage pants in a bunch.
It was with this trepidation that I saw the Germs at the Galaxy Theatre in 2005. My friend’s band opened, and I figured if there was ever a time to see the Germs, knowing the openers would be it. I sat instead of standing in front, and made sure to keep my arms folded, hoping the foursome would see my disapproval at what they were about to do to my memories of listening to “Communist Eyes,” “No God” and “Lexicon Devil” on a cassette tape in sophomore English class. Bolles kicked off the set with the familiar intro to “Circle One” and from behind the drum riser, West came barreling into the mic and screamed, “I’m Darby Crash/a social blast/chaotic master.” Three songs in, my arms were unfolded and I understood that the newest version of the Germs was an enjoyable experience for those who wanted to experience joy.
Crash killed himself, but in the process he also killed something that obviously meant a lot to Doom, Smear and Bolles. Thanks to West, the remaining members have the opportunity to do what they do best: perform. Anyone who can’t see through their own bias toward the new Germs has never been in a teenage punk band.
If Secret and the stories that make up the Germs legacy are true, then it’s safe to say the group approached their career in a haphazard fashion. And why would more than 20 years of not being a functioning band change that? I contacted three members and got zero responses for my interview requests. But for all those who claim the pretty-boy singer is ruining the band, you’re wrong. The Germs still ain’t got their shit 100 percent together, and that feels pretty damn good.
So West is an attractive Hollywood actor who starred in a film with pop singer Mandy Moore and Smear went on to play with Nirvana and the Foo Fighters. If you don’t like the idea of the new-millennium Germs, don’t support them. Don’t buy tickets to the shows, don’t buy the new record if/when that happens, and don’t bitch that one of your favorite bands is being ruined. Regardless of how much the haters will complain, the past ain’t coming back. That’s what records and YouTube are for.