THE GERMS: interview with Don Bolles
By alexander laurence
The Germs are a legendary punk band from Los Angeles. They had a movie come
out about them a year ago called What We Do Is Secret. The interest in the
band has been rekindled. They just finished an American tour with actor
Shane West. The band is as solid as ever. I got to talk to Don Bolles before the
show at the El Rey recently.
AL: You were connected to the scene in Phoenix, which led to the Feederz
and the Meat Puppets. How did you get to LA?
Don: I moved to San Francisco in 1976. I lived with this girl, Olga
DeVolga. On my way I caught the first Screamers show. It ruled. That was one of the
best shows I ever saw. It was at the Starwood. It was unbelievable. They
had a big American flag draped behind the stage. They had this weird
synthesizer noise. Someone came out and painted a huge black swastika on the American
flag. They kicked in to their Screamers set, with their old keyboard
player, David Brown. He was a nightmare on wheels. He was amazing.
AL: It seemed like there was a lot of strange bands in the mid-1970s,
before punk rock, like Sparks and Sensational Alex Harvey Band.
Don: You had to do something nutty to get noticed. There was Alice Cooper.
There was Alex Harvey with the guy with the mime makeup. Zal Cleminson and
all that Vambo business. Everyone had a gimmick.
AL: Many of these bands you would see on Midnight Special or Don Kirshner
Don: They had Suicide on one of those shows. That was the best Suicide
track I ever heard.
AL: That was one of the ideas of punk rock: that it was going to destroy
rock and roll. What do you think of that?
Don: It was supposed to destroy all the bullshit and bring back rock and
AL: Sex Pistols and New York Dolls had a lot of boogie woogie rock and roll
in it. It was like an angry Chuck Berry at times.
Don: We had glitter rock. We took off from glitter rock. I brought
something to that shit. Pat Smear really liked Yes. Pat and Darby really liked David
AL: It seemed like a lot of people in LA in 1975, who caught the tail end
of the Glam thing and glitter rock, got a haircut, and got into the punk
Don: Yeah. There was a bunch of girls from the Valley who missed out on the
Glam Era. They were taking their shit and putting a leather jacket over it.
They put some buttons on it, and then they were punk.
AL: I think many bands who are the best examples of a punk band are bands
who jettisoned the whole guitar-bass-drum thing. They just came out with a
synth and a drum machine, and people thought “What the fuck is this?” So the
best examples of that were Suicide, Cabaret Voltaire, and stuff like that….
Don: The Screamers were doing that. Suicide was more like a 50s doowop
band. I saw a lot of those bands when they first came to LA. I loved the French
punk band Metal Urbain. They had a synth, and drum machine, and some crazy
AL: Some bands like early Ultravox! Who are associated with punk and new
wave, are too musically advanced for that genre.
Don: Pat loved Yes because there wasn’t a trace of Blues in that guy’s
style. Steve Howe was beyond everything. Pat Smear is a great guitarist. He
wrote all the music for the Germs. He taught all the early band members how to
play. He wrote all the drum parts and made the fat girl play them, before I
was in the band. Pat is a genius and writes great music.
AL: What do you think about some of those bands of that era: like 20/20?
Don: I like 20/20. They were a great power pop band. One of the best. I
love “Yellow Pills.” I cover that now with another band. I sing and play
AL: Many people don’t know that back in the mid-1970s it was hard to be
band in LA and get gigs. You had to be a cover band, or had to be supported by
a big label. 20/20 was one of the first bands who opened things up for other
bands, who were playing new music.
Don: Clubs accepted them. They were a power pop band. They were not punk,
so they could play anywhere. We would get banned. The Germs got banned. We
were not allowed to play many places.
AL: Was X really a punk band?
Don: No. They were just what they were
AL: Billy Zoom was a lot older than everyone else.
Don: They got lucky coming along when Punk did. They were a high-energy bar
band. It was like weird arty pub rock.
AL: There were bands like Dr. Feelgood
Don: They were like The Vibrators or The Stranglers. They were pub rock. It
was outside punk, but it was eaten up by people who were into Punk too. X
is called a punk band, because what else are you going to call them?
AL: What about The Dickies?
Don: They were good. They were the first band to get signed. They had some
music biz cred. I knew Leonard and Stan. They might have tried other things.
But I think they were just doing The Dickies. Black Flag had a heavy metal
band before they were Black Flag. The Germs didn’t have another band before
AL: Many of the Huntington Beach bands were into heavy metal before punk,
so that’s why they might be more like Black Flag. What did you think of Fear?
Don: They were good musicians. They were funny. They had chops. I didn’t
like them. Who cares?
AL: How many gigs did the original Germs play? Fifty?
Don: Less than that. We have played more shows in the past three years.
AL: Everyone who saw The Germs in the early days just remembers those gigs
being chaotic. Some shows never finished. We would just watch to see how
fucked up Darby was going to be.
Don: It was crazy. People would go to see this completely insane thing. It
was almost like a shamanic fucking ritual. It was like : “live through this
dude, and you are going to be cool.” You had to let everything go. It was
like a voodoo ritual. It was about getting out of your ego. One of the things
that the Germs were about was Acid. People don’t think of us that way
sometimes. We did a lot of acid. We did more acid than Ken Kesey. Darby did more
acid than anybody. He wasn’t a heroin guy. At the very end, he got into that.
And that was stupid. We drank a lot and did acid.
AL: Don’t you think that you only need a few experiences with acid and LSD
to open your mind?
Don: No. You really have to go for it. You have to go for the jugular.
AL: Terrence McKenna started with LSD. But then he moved on to Mushrooms,
Peyote, DMT, and so on.
Don: We were suburban street walking cheaters with a heart full of napalm,
and we liked acid. It was what it was. It was evil and by far the more
dangerous of the psychedelics. It was easy to get back then.
AL: How far did you get out there?
Don: We took anywhere from five to ten hits of acid. I never had
AL: When you take DMT, all reality breaks down.
Don: DMT is harsh. I do it all the time. I love DMT. It’s like dying, but
you get to come back. It’s important to do that. You lose all fear of death
once you do that. You are not scared of death anymore once you do that. Andre
Breton said “Surrealism is a secret society that will introduce you to
death.” That is what psychedelics are. It’s fun stuff. When you actually die,
it’s uncertain where you go.
AL: That is some heavy deep, dark stuff. But is there light in the world
of the Germs?
Don: Darby Crash was one of the funniest motherfuckers I have ever met.
Pat is hilarious. They are brilliant people.
AL: What did you think of when Darby went to London and got into Adam and
Don: I thought Adam and The Ant was really interesting. I loved their
guitar player. He was like Gary Glitter meets Ennio Morricione. What could be
wrong with that? And the Burundi drumming. I knew what that was. I used to
collect world music. And the pirate look? That is a little gay, but who isn’t?
And then Black Flag has this over-reaction. It was “Black Flag kills Ants on
contact.” They had those flyers at the Starwood. Darby went overboard with
it. He was Adam and The Ants. It was weird. He did the Darby Crash band, and
that was a debacle.
AL: People didn’t understand the Mohawk. They thought he was being trendy.
Don: He was. It was going on in England. He came back here with that
Mohican. He was the first. He did that before Adam and the Ants played here.
AL: I remember going to see a Black Flag show at the Starwood. I saw one
hundred Mohawks at that gig.
Don: Suddenly everyone had one.
AL: This movie came out about a year ago. How do you think the movie
reflected the band?
Don: We got our new singer out of it. It enables us to do this tour.
AL: Was your portrayal in the film accurate?
Don: No. There are a million stories in my book. There are a lot of stories
outside the book. They had access to everything. Instead of all that, they
had this shallow, retarded, after-school special, sub-soap opera bullshit
script, where they blend five people into one person. They take eight stories
and make them into one story. The actor made me look too fat, and his eyes
are too close together.
AL: The guy who played Rodney Bingenheimer seemed like he was younger than
Don: He was there just to make fun of Rodney Bingenheimer. Somebody must
have hated Rodney. I love Rodney.
AL: How is this tour going?
Don: The guy from the T-shirt company put it well. He said: “Every
generation of 15 year olds will discover The Germs.” It’s been going on. That
record that I played on, after only playing for nine months, turned out pretty
AL: The Germs were chaotic on stage and in life.
Don: On record it’s like controlled chaos.