Monday, January 23, 2012

Lexicon Devil – The Fast Times and Short Life of Darby Crash and the Germs – Brendan Mullen, Done Bolles & Adam Parfrey

I hesitated to even read this book for a long time because I was never all that interested in the cult of Darby. To me, he was that obnoxious drunk guy that kept asking for beer or a Bowie button or some such nonsense. I could never understand how anyone could be won over by his juvenile tactics – though, obviously, many people were. I was extremely surprised to actually read his lyrics, which are quite good, because in person he came off as a stoned, brainless, child-like idiot. As entertainingly anarchic as the Germs were live, they were not a quality band in any sense of the word – other than they were so bad that they helped to destroy the concepts of what a band could & should be. But, after reading Alice Bag’s fine book on the LA punk scene, I got nostalgic for the time (though I was never heavily into the scene) and thought I would see what these cats had to say.

Apparently, the initial idea was for Germs drummer Don Bolles to write the book, but, as anyone who knows Don would realize, that is probably unrealistic for someone with his amount of ADD (and I say that as someone who likes Don personally quite a bit). Brendan came in to rescue the book and publisher Parfrey flushed it out a bit.

Whether due to his contributions to the book or not, Bolles actually comes off as one of the more likeable and brighter members of this contingent. Everyone continually talks of Darby’s intelligence but he gives no sign of it in his words or actions here (other than, as I said, in his above-average lyrics). Lorna Doom is mostly just mentioned in passing and Pat Smear seems to be Crash’s accomplice in obnoxious antics. Again, in comparison to Alice Bag’s book, where she came off as a smart, engaging person who would be cool to hang out with, no one in this story is compelling in any way, and I am glad that I never did fall in with that crowd.

Considering the cast of characters, it is surprising that the Germs ever got it together enough to even play live shows (though these were hardly “together” in any normal sense of the word), much less to record. So, their short career and early demise were to be expected. I do find it funny that one of the issues leading to their breakup was that the gay lead singer thought that the straight drummer wearing a dress was so offensive that it warranted kicking him out of the band (or at least was indicative of the differences in direction and attitude). Don started playing guitar in drag in Vox Pop, which Darby considered to be a joke band, though I think it a much better - and far more entertaining - group than the Germs ever were. But, the Germs were never able to properly replace Don and fell apart and Crash’s attempts at a post-Germs band apparently were even more dismal (I never saw the Darby Crash Band myself, but even the group members say that it is better off forgotten).

Of course, Darby then committed suicide (some say in a weird homage to Bowie’s song “Five Years”) and created his bizarre legend and left as his legacy the jock/homophobic/brainless hardcore scene. Odd coming from a gay, supposedly intelligent young poet, but I guess you don’t always get to pick what comes in your wake.

While this does seem to be a pretty truthful story of the LA punk/hardcore scene, there is little that is fun or entertaining here, so it is not a light-hearted read or a tale that would make much of anyone wish that they were there. But if you are interested in learning how the LA punk scene (or the part of it that begat hardcore) started, this seems like a good place.