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#7 – Lexicon Devil

May 16, 2007

you’re not the first you’re not the last, another day another crashI had never listened to the Germs before I read this book, and I honestly can’t remember who recommended it to me. But according to the guy at the library I got it from they were absolutely nuts, according to Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers they wrote and played the best punk songs ever, and according to Lexicon Devil: The Fast Times and Short Life of Darby Crash and the Germs they were incredibly important to the LA punk scene and utterly devastating to watch live. I’m going to have to try and track down some of their recordings now.

Lexicon Devil is an oral history in the best sense of the term. Brendan Mullen, the author, was the owner of LA punk club The Masque back in the day, and he’s compiled interviews with basically all of the Germs’ inner circle and all the scenesters around at the time. The end result is an often contradictory picture of the life of Darby Crash, aka Bobby Pyn, aka Paul Beahm, who was at the center of a great punk rock band while the LA punk scene collapsed around them and drug addiction overtook him. No one can quite agree who this guy really was, some interviewees portray him as a brilliant legend who had studied fascism and Scientology and used their tenets to create his own Circle One cult; others say he was just a scared kid who bounced from mother figure to mother figure, unable to do virtually anything for himself. Just like in Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live, the various opinions create a much more realistic portrayal of the situation than if everyone was in complete agreement on the facts.

Apparently the Germs are at the centre of the punk documentary The Decline of Western Civilization, which I’ve been meaning to watch for years and now have to track down with renewed vigour. The Germs peaked fast, and they were in the wrong place at the wrong time when the hardcore kids showed up in LA and adopted the Germs as their own. While Darby idolized Iggy Pop and David Bowie, his new fans were of the Black Flag variety. They scared off all of the Germs’ fans and just wanted to fight and tear shit up. Add this to his already fragile mentality, and, well, you know any book with “fast times and short life” in the title won’t end happily after. This book is overall a fascinating discussion of a time and place I knew practically nothing about. It’s well written, very well compiled, and it’s forever changed the way I will listen to the Bowie song “Five Years”. I’d recommend Lexicon Devil to any music fan.

Edit: For more on the Germs, stop by their inexplicable MySpace page, or the awesome music blog What We Do Is Secret (also the title of the upcoming Germs biopic).

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