The Germs to end out an insane week. With the sad news on Thursday of the death of bassist Lorna Doom (aka: Teresa Ryan), I was reminded of how short-lived, but how seismic this band was to the L.A. Punk scene.
Formed in 1976, Germs were one of the earliest and most influential west coast punk bands, helping to usher in the high-speed hardcore punk style. Their only album, (GI), was produced by Joan Jett and released in 1979. Belinda Carlisle had a short stint as a drummer, while their guitarist Pat Smear would go on to join Nirvana as a touring guitarist and then Foo Fighters. The band’s singer Darby Crash killed himself in 1980, aged 22, shortly after the band had split.
That’s it in a nutshell – however, there’s more (there’s always more): Singer Darby Crash (born Jan Paul Beahm) and Pat Smear (born Georg Ruthenberg) decided to start a band after being kicked out of University High School for antisocial behavior, allegedly for using “mind control” on fellow students. Their original name was “Sophistifuck and the Revlon Spam Queens”, but they had to shorten the name as they could not afford that many letters on a T-shirt. The (initially hypothetical) first lineup consisted of Beahm (then known as Bobby Pyn, and later as Darby Crash) on vocals, Ruthenberg (under the name Pat Smear) on guitar, an early member named “Dinky” (Diana Grant) on bass, and Michelle Baer playing drums. This lineup never played in front of a live audience.
In April 1976, the band added Lorna Doom (born Teresa Ryan) on bass, with transitional member Dottie Danger (later famous as Belinda Carlisle of the Go-Go’s) on drums. Carlisle never actually played with the band, as she was sidelined by a bout of mononucleosis for an extended period. She was replaced by her friend Donna Rhia (Becky Barton), who played three gigs and performed on their first single. Carlisle remained a friend and helper of the band (she can be heard introducing the band on the Germicide: Live at the Whiskey recording, produced by Kim Fowley), only leaving because her new band, the Go-Go’s, were becoming popular and, as she put it, “I was really disturbed by the heroin that was going on”. Nickey Beat, of various noteworthy Los Angeles bands including the Weirdos, also sat in on drums for a time.
The band’s first live performance was at the Orpheum Theater. Smear recalled: “We made noise. 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”.
The Germs initially drew musical influences from Iggy Pop, David Bowie, Ramones, the Runaways, Sex Pistols, and New York Dolls. Early on, Smear was the only musically experienced member; Doom survived early performances by sliding a finger up and down the fretboard of her bass while Rhia generally kept a minimal beat on the bass drum, periodically bashing a cymbal.
Early performances were usually marked by raucous crowds made up of the band’s friends. As a result, their gigs became notorious for being rowdy and usually verged on a riot.
The end of the band came when Crash, who had become increasingly impatient with drummer Bolles’ antics, fired him and replaced him with his friend Rob Henley.
Shortly after the Germs split, Crash and Smear formed the short-lived Darby Crash Band. Circle Jerks drummer Lucky Lehrer joined the band on the eve of their first (sold-out) live performance, when during soundcheck, Darby kicked out the drummer they’d rehearsed with. The band, described by Smear as “like the Germs, but with worse players”, played only a few gigs to lukewarm reaction before splitting up.
Shortly after that, Crash contacted Smear about a Germs “reunion” show, claiming it was necessary to “put punk into perspective” for the punks on the scene. However, Smear has said Crash told him privately he wanted to earn money for heroin with which to commit suicide. Since Crash had described this scenario many times in the past, Smear did not take him seriously.
On December 3, 1980, an over-sold Starwood hosted a final live show of the reunited Germs, including Bolles. At one point, Crash told the amazed kids in the audience, “We did this show so you new people could see what it was like when we were around. You’re not going to see it again”.
Crash committed suicide on December 7, 1980, at age 22. Unreported at the time, Crash had overdosed on heroin in a suicide pact with close friend Casey “Cola” Hopkins, who ended up surviving. She later insisted that he did not intend for her to live, nor did he change his mind at the last minute and intend for himself to live. According to Spin, apocryphal lore has Crash attempting to write “Here lies Darby Crash” on the wall as he lay dying, but not finishing. In reality, he wrote a short note to David “Bosco” Danford that stated, “My life, my leather, my love goes to Bosco”.
Outside the world of the Germs’ fans, news of Crash’s death was largely overshadowed by the murder of John Lennon the next day. A local news station mistakenly reported that Crash had died from taking too many sleeping pills.
That’s a bit of historic background on Doom’s place in L.A. Punk history. I can’t take credit for this recording – I didn’t make it, nor did any of my radio station buddies make a copy nor did any “business” friends with connections to house mixers turn me on to this – this was from a Rhino Records official release in 2010. I’m not sure if it’s still in print – and those of you who are fans will no doubt already have this. This is for the newcomers who are just getting their feet wet in early Punk and who are curious about the development of the West Coast in the Punk scene. This is for you. It’s also a reminder that we lost a seminal figure in that movement and to remember who that seminal figure was.
RIP: Lorna (Teresa Ryan) Doom.