By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
The Germs, who began in George's parents' garage during early '77, originally called themselves Sophistifuck and the Revlon Spam Queens, and counted among their members future Go-Go Belinda Carlisle. The group came together, in name only, after Paul and George posted fliers at Licorice Pizza — a record store kitty-corner to the Whisky on Sunset Strip — advertising their search for "two untalented girls." Two teenage would-be Queen groupies from Newbury Park High School in Thousand Oaks, Belinda and pal Terri Ryan, responded.
The kids got together in the garage, chose punk names and — presto! — the Uni High acid freaks and their plumpish, rosy-cheeked Freddie Mercuryfan pals had reinvented themselves. Paul became "singer" Bobby Pyn; George became "guitarist" Pat Smear; and Terri Ryan, who took up the bass, became Lorna Doom. Would-be drummer Belinda ("Dottie Danger") got sick with mononucleosis and dropped out before the Germs' debut at the Orpheum Theater "Punk Palace" on Sunset, to be replaced by Donna Rhia (formerly Becky Barton, also from Newbury Park).
As for the band's "punk" influences, according to Pat, he and Bobby were originally inspired to take it to the stage less by the Sex Pistols and their British ilk than by the raw-edged, anybody-can-do-this spirit they saw in the Runaways, an all-girl hard-rock band from the Valley who'd formed in '75, tanked commercially in the U.S. and the U.K., but clicked locally — and in Japan — for a few years. Runaway Joan Jett and sidekick-lyricist Kari Krome, who threw countless rocked-out, booze- and dope-fueled parties at Joan's apartment a block away from the Whisky, represented a new breed of cool rock star who didn't disappear into limos and private jets after the show. (The always accessible Joan soon became tight with Bobby and Lorna.)
Although there was no real band, the members, especially Bobby Pyn, were talking it up everywhere, and by the time original L.A. punk kingpins the Weirdos asked the Germs to open for them at the Orpheum in April '77, it had become a case of put up or shut up.
The first three Germs shows were slapstick food fights accompanied by drunken, caterwauling guitar cacophony and thrashing drums, icky-goop-laden performance presentations cheered on by their Uni High chums. "Darby stuck the mike in a jar of peanut butter," Pat told Bartell. "Lorna wore her pants inside out, and Darby covered himself in red licorice. We made noise for five minutes until they threw us off."
Virtually no one on the early punk scene took the Germs seriously as a band, certainly not grimly determined new groups like X, the Weirdos or the Screamers, whose significantly older members, possessed of at least a modicum of musical chops, were largely driven — despite much posturing to the contrary — by dreams of the Big-Buck Multiple-Record Deal. Still, following more gigs at the Masque (the illegal club, rehearsal hall and homeless shelter off Hollywood Boulevard that I opened in July 1977), the Germs were given coverage in Slash, Flipside, Generation X, Panic, Lobotomy and other fanzines, which were starved for anything remotely punk and would print the most banal sorts of gossip. ("Trixie steps out of Whisky. Returns with pants inside out. 'What old wino?' she says." "Lori Faye has fur coat ripped off, stuffed down Masque toilet by vindictive punkettes.") During that same summer, the Germs recorded the song "Forming" on two-track tape in Pat's parents' garage, releasing it as a 7-inch on Chris Ashford's What? Records. It was the first self-produced punk single from L.A.'s Class of '77.
Deep, deep, deep in my eyes There's a round, round, round circle of lives It's a tame, tame, tame sort of world Where you're caught, bought, taught, as it twirls
—The Germs, "Circle One"
In early '78, Paul formally dumped "Bobby Pyn," and declared himself "Darby Crash" in lyrics ("I'm Darby Crash/A social blast/Chaotic master… Darby Crash/A one-way match/Demonic flasher") he recorded for the Lexicon Devil EP, released by fledgling Slash Records — a spinoff of the fanzine of the same name — that summer. (The sleeve artwork contained goofy cartoon drawings of Nazis wearing swastikas, and no one at Slash or anywhere else on the punk scene batted an eye.)
The record gave the band instant countywide exposure on Rodney Bingenheimer's KROQ-FM Sunday-night indie-punk-pop radio institution. The Germs cult from Uni High now had an identity: Circle One. What had begun as a tiny outsiders' clique found the new punk scene ripe for recruitment. Anybody could hang with the Germs — anybody willing to serve Darby, guru supreme. With the kids who frequented the Orpheum and the Masque, it really didn't matter who you were or where you'd been. You just dyed your hair, tore up your clothes, gave yourself a new name and told the past to fuck off. You could even get in a band, just like that.
Soon after settling into his new persona, Darby began flirting with quasi-fascist imagery, including little Spengler-inspired circular insignia and armbands. Initiation into Circle One was by cigarette burn to the wrist, preferably administered by Darby personally or by one of the female recruiters who'd nab longhaired strays at the Masque and shear their hair before branding their wrists with a lit cigarette to create a permanent circular scar. ("Over 200 people have them," Darby told Flipside magazine, "even in San Francisco. You only get one from someone who has one.") One of the Circle One girls, a former child prostitute reinvented as a punk princess, even made a point of having sex with longhairs before whacking their locks and burning their wrists. "You do this. You do it for Darby," the women were overheard saying. "I completely control a number of people's lives," Darby told former journalist and Flesheaters front man Chris Desjardins. "Look around for the little girls wearing Crash T-shirts."
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