Smash Your Head On The Punk Rock: The Germs - Forming

Devin's new occasional series highlighting great punk rock songs. This week: The Germs' seminal garage classic!

Note: When we started this site we had very big ambitions for what it could be. We're still chasing those ambitions. I want Badass Digest to be more than a site covering superhero movies and action sequels, although I understand those are the things that pay the bills. In an effort to get closer to the site's broadest goal, I'm going to start a series of posts called Smash Your Head On the Punk Rock, intended to highlight some of the greatest punk tracks of all time. I don't know how long the series will last - your interest and my stamina will help decide that - but in the meantime let's just get into the pit and do some pogoing. 

Forming by the Germs is one of the all-time greatest recordings. I'm talking up there with the best stuff by The Beatles or any modern plastic hit factory. It's almost perfect, in fact, largely because it's so utterly imperfect. Chaotic and muddy, Forming was recorded in the garage of George Ruthenberg (aka Pat Smear) on a simple two track reel-to-reel tape. One track was for instruments, all mic'ed together, the other was for the singer, a 19 year old snot named Jean Paul Beahm, later known as Bobby Pyn and eventually immortalized as Darby Crash.

Beahm and Ruthenberg knew each from high school in Los Angeles. They had been kicked out together in 1976, for the crime of subverting the other students using LSD and - I'm not making this up - mind control. They decided to form a band, and they got together with some friends, including a young Belinda Carlisle. Carlisle would be a member of The Germs but never actually played with them - she was sick with mono and so she got replaced. She decided to stick with her other band, The Go-Gos, because The Germs were far too steeped in heroin abuse. 

The band is everything I love about early punk. Disaffected teens without much musical ability (legend has it that bassist Lorna Doom faked it by just sliding her finger up and down the fretboard while hitting the strings) but with an unstoppable amount of energy and anger, The Germs were known for their incredibly racuous shows where Darby Crash would be incoherently drunk and drugged up. He would dive into the audience and emerge battered and written on with markers. 

Forming was the first single, and it came back from the record pressing plant with a label that said "Warning: This Record Causes Ear Cancer." Unlike every auto-tuned, super-polished, studio-intensive record released today, Forming is a blast of raw realness, a shambolic explosion of true youth. It's thrilling to listen to, even the tenth time in a row, and the ending of this recording - with Darby complaining about how shitty the recording is - is totally magic. It's a moment that distill punk rock to its basics.

The band released one real album, (GI) before Darby Crash killed himself. He died of a purposeful heroin overdose, partially because he wanted to be a rock legend. His timing sucked, though - he killed himself on December 7, 1980, the day before John Lennon was murdered. The mainstream media had room for one dead rocker that week, and it wasn't going to be the LA kid whose entire musical aesthetic spit in the face of the mainstream.

Pat Smear would go on, eventually, to play with Nirvana. This year he took the stage with Sir Paul McCartney as part of the Nirvana reunion at the Hurricane Sandy benefit, surely something he couldn't have imagined while staking out Freddy Mercury's place as a fan in the mid-70s. 

In 2007 The Germs got a biopic, What We Do Is Secret. Shane West (yes, Tom Sawyer from League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) played Darby Crash, and he actually eventually went on tour with the band as their replacement lead singer. You can see the real deal Darby Crash in The Decline of Western Civilization, the ultimate document of the LA punk scene. The band is featured playing Manimal and Shutdown