Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Belinda's Five Seconds In The Germs AKA Adventures With Dottie Danger

Ah, to be a punk band. Where the only requirement is to show up - and sometimes not even that. I mean, if there's anything funnier than the thought of Belinda Carlisle being in the Germs, it's the thought of Belinda Carlisle being in the Germs ... as the drummer. Even when she eventually became famous in a band, she still didn't play anything! What exactly was the plan here?
We jammed in Georg's garage and started messing around with lyrics ... Georg was the only one who played an instrument, but actual proficiency was not a requirement in a punk band.

In the spirit of Johnny Rotten, we adopted noms de punk. Bobby became Darby Crash. Georg became Pat Smear. Theresa came up with Lorna Doom. And I chose Dottie Danger.

Why Dottie Danger? It sounded cute and angry at the same time.

Darby and Pat had been down this road before. They'd started a band after being kicked out of high school. They called it Sophistifuck and the Revlon Spam Queens - a great name. But when they couldn't get all those letters on a t-shirt, they renamed themselves the Germs.
Sophistifuck and the Revlon Spam Queens: now that, ladies and gentlemen, is a band name. To make a long story short, the more mundanely named Germs booked a show at the Orpheum Theatre in April 1977, but sadly, Dottie Danger was not able to strut her stuff. In a supreme moment of irony, what ultimately prevented Dottie Danger from remaining in the Germs ... was germs.
... as the date drew near, I got very sick and was diagnosed with mononucleosis. I had to drop out of the band and move back home with my parents for three months. Becky Barton, another girl from my high school art class, took my place. She called herself Donna Rhia.
Donna Rhia. Funny.
Anyway, as I recall, about eight people showed up to hear the band ... People didn't just casually go check out a punk band, not one like the Germs.

You had to want to see Darby.

Among all his screaming and histrionics, he stuck the microphone in a jar of peanut butter and covered his body in red licorice. As Pat recalled, they were thrown off the stage in five minutes ... But we thought that was a huge success. The band had played in public!
Even though Dottie's health improved, the band soldiered on without her, and shortly released their first single, "Forming," which probably is the only Germs song I genuinely like. The reason I like it is ... how can I put this? "Forming" is about as basic of a production as you could make, while still being able to claim that you recorded a commercially releasable song. The band used a two-track tape machine. All the instruments were recorded onto one channel, and Darby's vocals were recorded on the other. There is a heap of echo on everything, but apparently that was not deliberate; someone just forgot to turn the echo button off. "Forming" is literally garage rock; it was basically recorded in Pat Smear's garage. Either that, or his living room; same difference. But because of this extremely primitive recording method, "Forming" stands out to me from the band's later, more conventionally recorded material - and the more conventionally recorded material of every other late '70s punk band, for that matter.

Then there are the amusingly sloppy lyrics: "Rip them down, hold me up/Tell them that I'm your gun/Pull my trigger I am bigger than." Bigger than what, Darby? The guy couldn't even finish his own thoughts. Nothing beats the outro, however, where Darby stops singing entirely and simply rambles on the spot: "Anyone, anytime, anyhow ...whoever buy this shit ... is a fucking jerk ... he's playing it all wrong, the drums are too slow, the bass is too fast, the chords are wrong, he's making the ending too long ... nah, quit." Now that's how you end a punk song.

At any rate, Dottie Danger may have receded into the dustbins of history, but Belinda remained:
After recovering from mono, I stayed connected to the Germs as their publicist, which meant I put up flyers in record stores. I also announced the band before shows and stood off to the side of the stage, handing Darby his peanut butter, licorice, and salad dressing.
Oh really? I still wasn't fully convinced that any of this was true. I needed some hard evidence. Enter Germicide: Live At The Whiskey. Here is the opening of Greg Prato's AMG review:
Although punk rock was initially said to be one-dimensional and devoid of instrumental technique, many bands proved to be adept at both playing their instruments and writing songs (X, the Minutemen, the Police, the Dead Kennedys, etc.). As evidenced on the live release Germicide: Live at the Whiskey 1977, California's the Germs were not one such band. This lo-fi live set shows that the group barely knew how to play their instruments, play in time, keep a steady tempo, or truly function as a live band.
Indeed, the highlight of the album is, unsurprisingly, a cover version: the sloppiest rendition of the Archies' "Sugar, Sugar" you are ever likely to hear. But according to Wikipedia, Belinda "can be heard introducing the band." Introducing the band? How? Saying what? God damn, I needed to hear this.

Then a little bit of fear kicked in. I mean, what if it wasn't all that interesting? What if she sounded like an idiot? What if it was just a big letdown?

Clearly, I should have known better.

Ladies and gentlemen, I now give you Belinda Carlisle's recorded debut - the first words ever uttered for public consumption by America's future Yuppie princess. They are profound words, striking words - words, indeed, to live by.

The clip actually begins with an introduction of an introduction of an introduction. Some anonymous fellow introduces DJ Rodney Bingenheimer, a Los Angeles music legend in his own right, who then announces, "Right here on this stage, a young lady who used to be a member of this group, she's gonna explain to you why she's not in the group anymore..." The young woman finally steps up to the microphone. Here, and I quote, are her exact words:

"The reason why I'm not in the group anymore is because they're too dirty for me. And they're sluts. Anyway, here's the group you've all been waiting for ... the Germs!"

She already had a gift.

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