Wednesday, July 15, 2009

July 15: The Germs, "GI"

Artist: The Germs
Album: GI
Year: 1979
Label: Slash

The idea of "live fast, rock hard, die young" has become tragically cliché over the years, as countless bands and musicians have ended their careers far too early. Whether by choice or by accident, the list of bands where one says "what if..." runs through every era and every musical genre. Encapsulating both of these ideas, seminal hardcore band, The Germs, were a furious burst of energy that stunned people at the time, and served as an influence for countless bands who formed after they were gone. The band, who rose out of the late-1970's Los Angeles hardcore scene, seemed to pull as much influence from The Dead Boys and Sex Pistols as they did from Chuck Berry and The Rolling Stones. This is surely due to the diverse membership of the band, both in upbringing, as well as overall musical style and talent. Though The Germs only recorded one album before the suicide of lead singer, Darby Crash, their 1979 record, GI, remains one of the most awe inspiring records ever, and the album has influenced a countless number of bands across many genres.

In many ways, The Germs were one of the first extremely serious hardcore bands who attempted to make it appear as if they didn't take themselves seriously at all. Truth be told, the bands' first name was, in fact, "Sophistifuck & The Revlon Spam Queens," but the band changed their name to The Germs because they did not have enough money to put all the letters on a t-shirt. Furthermore, guitarist, Pat Smear, has been quoted numerous times as saying that, at their first live show, "Darby stuck the mic in a jar of peanut butter. It was a dare, we had no songs or anything! Lorna wore her pants inside out, and Darby covered himself in red licorice...we made noise for five minutes until they threw us off." However, the fact remains that, beyond these antics, the band remains one of the most intense and important bands in history. The sound on GI perfectly captures the bands' sound, and this may be due to the fact that the record itself was produced by close friend of the band, and guitarist for the recently dissolved group, The Runaways, Joan Jett. Jett's production is phenomenal, and the thin, raw sound that is presented on the record is so great that it is almost unsettling at times. The songs are fierce, to the point, and punishing, as the live energy of the band is perfectly captured on the album, and it almost becomes understandable that a band with so much intensity would burn out quickly.

For most modern listeners, the moment you first hear GI, it almost immediately brings the sound of Nirvana and Foo Fighters to mind, and this is undoubtedly due to the heavy influence that The Germs, and more specifically, Pat Smear, had on both bands. Smear (real name: Georg Ruthenberg) was easily the most talented member of The Germs, and he would later tour with Nirvana, most notably appearing on their Unplugged performance, as well as serving as the first guitarist for the Foo Fighters. Along with his powerful playing style, Smear is also known for being one of the few guitarist to almost exclusively play German-made Hagström guitars. Bassist Lorna Doom is absolutely fantastic on the record, and her lightning fast, overly aggressive sound is one of the most startling and spectacular elements of the album. Though the band went through a handful of drummers (including "Dottie Danger," who is better known as Belinda Carlisle), when they finally settled on Don Bolles, they were rewarded with one of the finest drumming performances ever recorded. Bolles' intensity is what truly drives the music on GI, and his feverish pace seems to be constantly pushing the band closer to exploding on the album. The music itself is a no-holds-barred musical assault form all angles, and one can only imagine the pure chaos of the groups' live performances. It has been well documented that Crash had hoped to emulate the Sex Pistols' legendary album, Never Mind The Bollocks, but in reality, GI is a far more complex, more complete, and better produced album.

Though he was largely misunderstood by critics at the time, Darby Crash has become an icon of the hardcore and punk genres, and is widely regarded as one of the most brilliant and unforgettable vocalists in music history. Crash (real name Jan Paul Beahm), admitted that he was hoping to mirror the vocal style of Johnny Rotten, and though the similarities are there, once again, the performance of Crash is superior to that of his influence. Strikingly intense and unguarded, Crash's angst-ridden speaking, singing, and screaming remain some of the most ferocious and brutal vocals ever recorded. Sticking to the punk aesthetic, the lyrics are blunt, aggressive, and void of any extraneous words, leaving only a brutal, fiery core, yet what remains is absolutely stunning and the lyrics of Darby Crash are often just as phenomenal and shocking as his vocal performance. Crash was also a huge fan of David Bowie, and many of Crash's brilliant lyrics can be seen as being linked to the work and ideas behind many Bowie songs. The apocalyptic themes that Bowie explores on Station To Station and Diamond Dogs can be heard resonating through Germs songs like "Land Of Treason" and "Strange Notes;" albeit with far darker and more vivid endings. Though his contemporaries were singers from bands like the Dead Kennedys, Circle Jerks, and Black Flag, after experiencing Darby Crash's vocal work on GI, he absolutely blows them all away in terms of sheer intensity, and it is very much the reason that he remains the revered icon that he is to this day.

While there are many times when one wishes a band would have recorded more music, there are also times when it is clear that, for one reason or another, a band recorded all they could have in a short time. In the case of hardcore-punk legends, The Germs, one can argue that simply due to the incredible intensity of the band, there is little way they could have lasted any longer than the few short years they were together. Notorious for some of the most high-octane and chaotic live performances in history, the band managed to capture their vigorous sound perfectly on their only full length album, GI The album would serve as a blueprint for the hardcore genre, and it would later serve as the catalyst for the "second coming" of punk rock, which many people incorrectly refer to as "grunge." The pairing of punk icons Darby Crash and Pat Smear remain one of the most amazing duos ever recorded, and their songs run the gamut from quick bursts of fury like "What We Do Is Secret," to truly inspired musical compositions that were like nothing else ever heard in the genre, like the monumental, nine-minute masterpiece, "Shut Down (Annihilation Man)." From the devastating music to the snarling vocals, The Germs only record, 1979's GI, is truly a hardcore and punk gem, and the influence it has had on bands since is immeasurable.

Standout tracks: "Lexicon Devil," "The Other Newest One," and "Shut Down (Annihilation Man)."

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