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2 February 2016

The Germs - '(GI)' (Slash)

I never understood the title of this or why the parentheses/brackets are part of it. This is an iconic record in every possible way - the sound, the artwork, the premature death of the vocalist .... yet it never jumped out at me as revolution-inspiring. I, of course, tend to gravitate towards smart-guy punk like Wire or Alternative TV, at least as a younger man. These days, the fury of the Germs is something I connect with, though maybe in a nostalgic way for some life I never led. The lyrics are of course the best part, but not included here and not always so decipherable, so the Internet is helpful here, though I tend to focus on clunkers like 'Embracing my life / between your thighs' rather than the moments that are way intelligent and poetic. Crash's words deal with (among other things) the role of the self against the emergence of technology, the existence and viscerality of the body, and power relationships between people and systems. Which is not to dismiss the rest of the band - Pat Smear is somehow still an underrated guitar player, and his lines snake and crawl around Crash's delivery, which is what Carducci would write is great rock music (and he's right!).  The Germs are a classic case of a band that remains influential for the wrong reasons, but when you watch their performance in The Decline of Western Civilization the power of this band becomes abundantly clear. The record doesn't downplay it towards new wave or pop production sensibilities like so many other records of the time, which is a credit. And they put the short fast songs on side 1 and leave the slightly longer ones for the second side, which was a pretty good move, I'd say. 'Another day, another crash' is a lyric from 'The Other Newest One', perhaps Darby's titular line, and while the backstage footage in Spheeris's film shows him to be a confused and sad kid, here he sounds the force of pure nihilism come to life. It's heavy without being metal (it's a single guitar band, after all), and the songs are as sophisticated as they can be given the self-imposed boundaries. ''We Must Bleed' is pretty fucking incredible, and leaps out of the speakers with a cutthroat monotony. Songs such as 'Communist Eyes' actually have some pop hooks buried in them - the Germs were punk, not hardcore, at least to these ears, and that's a crucial distinction. And maybe that's what remains so valuable about (GI) thirty-seven years later - the idea of punk is manifested not by his sad death (which, to be honest, is the kind of death that defines clichés) but by the force that he became when put behind a microphone, on stage, and even in the studio. 

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