Friday, July 06, 2007
Favorite Punk Records - Forming - The Germs
I can't tell you how proud and astonished I am that the Germs single "Forming" is both a benchmark and an enduring totem of Los Angeles punk rock, circa 1977.
The Germs, along withX, the Bags and the Weirdos stand out as the sine qua non representatives of LA Punk Rock. For years – 30 of them, to be exact, I’ve heard and read how the DIY single, “Forming,” with its murky picture sleeve of the band rehearsing in Pat Smear’s garage are the audio and visual foundation of Everyman’s Perception of LA Punk. Well, that’s my photo they’re talking about!
Back in those DIY days, things got done fast and on a thin dime. Sometimes credits didn't get printed, and its happened to the best of contributors, not just me. In fact, I didn't even know the Germs and Chris Ashford actually used the photo - even though I provided a strip of negatives to Chris, hoping one of the images would indeed work out for them. It wasn't Pleasant told me to quickly go find the Germs single to see my photo as the cover that I knew it was a done deal. I always thought they were going to go with the all-black option (the B-side of the single has a text-free, completely black label).
However, many people I’ve met over the years are incredulous when they learn it’s my photo on that Germs single they’ve just raved about. When I ask who they think took the picture, various names are bandied about, all of them my contemporaries from 1977, but none of them right, because it was me.
Sometimes in response to my telling the story of how that photo came to be, the rejoinder is that I am simply not cool or hip enough to have done something that seminal (or possibly that the person posing the question believes he or she is not cool or hip enough to be in the company of someone who witnessed history as it happened???).
Well, let me tell you this: punk rock may have been a seminal or epochal moment of the 20th Century, but to those of us living it --- it was just like high school!
Los Angeles punk rock was the high school Class of 1977 where no one was cool, where everyone had some glaring dysfunction and where, just like in real life high school, everyone had a clique…a snobby, exclusive clique. But because we were all outsiders in some way or another, once we were together in this exclusive clique of outsiders, we suddenly possessed some strange strength, power and confidence by our sheer numbers and our shared unilateral rebellion against a “them” that really didn’t give a damn about us, or that we were rebels.
Here's a clique...one I was a part of. Darby and Lorna Doom are part of the usual party at Joan Jett's house. Her producing the Germs was only natural.
“Rebel Without a Cause” never seemed to make so much sense – and now that I can see it from the perspective of both the teens and the adults, it makes absolute perfect sense. Everyone should have seen punk rock coming.
When the Germs got together and made this record, they were doing something a lot of their friends were also doing, and what young people have done for decades before them….and that was make a crappy but passable sound recording of a message of importance, despite its humble beginnings and format. I'm not sloughing it off as anything insignificant; no – but I'm just trying to illustrate how banal it all was photographing the cover of The Germs’ “Forming” single on the occasion of the actual photographing. It was part of the every day routine of being in a particular group of people. This is what we did.
It’s not that I do not appreciate it, the experience or the friendships surrounding it. We did not know it at the time, nor did we really expect to change the world (or at least some part of culture). We just said so because saying so was the defiant action we took as the semi or pseudo intellectuals that 20-year-olds are.
We don't know that a moment we are living in is going to be remembered as important – no matter how important we may feel it is to us at the time. I think we were all 70s enough to have documented it, though.
The 70s were the "Me Generation," no matter if you were cool or uncool. It was a time when narcissism was an acceptable character trait…after all, look at what we, as a culture had endured to date (and this is just the 20th century I'm talking about): two World Wars, with a severe economic Depression in between; autocratic world leaders – some elected, others usurpers – despots all! (yes, I'm talking about Nixon as well as Franco all in the same breath); escalating crime, runamok morality… every time a culture experiences these symptoms, great art breaks out with the artist (and in general, the experience of self) at the center of his own point of view… those of us who were students knew it. That's why our artifacts have endured…because we created artifacts in the first place.
"Rip them down/Hold me up/Tell them that/I'm your gun/Pull my trigger/I am bigger than"
"Forming" - lyrics by Bobby Pyn
So, for me, "Forming" is a favorite punk rock record on two distinct levels. First, because of my small role in its existence…and because I watched it from concept to execution and it was a point of pride to find that something you and your friends did in a garage ended up in a record store.
As for "Forming," the song and the record…it captures Los Angeles and our punk rock youth perfectly.
Darby Crash (though called Bobby Pyn at the time) was quite the student of philosophy – an Existentialist, he. As he worked out his own moral code and tried to map out the answers to questions we all have about why we are here and why we are doing what we do, he spewed forth "Forming," which speaks for us as much as it did to us. As literature of philosophy, "Forming" is as valid as Descartes' most celebrated one-liner: "I think therefore I am" or fellow Existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre's most well known title, "Being and Nothingness."