3AM: How did you come to be interested in The Germs and Darby Crash?
BM: I opened up a band rehearsal business off Hollywood Boulevard in June 1977, which gradually morphed into an illegal BYOB club space on weekends called the Masque, and met the Germs and Darby through Chris Ashford who was a clerk in one of the hip record stores at the time. He was their friend-manager who talked me into letting them play a gig there, and, of course, the night they did changed the entire direction my life would take.
3AM: Tell us about the cigarette burns, which were, allegedly, a sign of allegiance of the band's fans.
BM: Nothing alleged about that at all! Darby launched the cigarette burn insignia soon after he changed his original stage name from Bobby Pyn when I first met him in '77 to Darby Crash by early '78. He was big on the symbolism of circles, hence Circle One and the blue circle armbands he designed. And putting out a lit cigarette on somebody's wrist created a permanent circular white scar, so getting a Germs burn was definitely a full commitment, especially if you were branded by Darby personally, although anyone who already had a burn in the Germs' circle was officially empowered to give anybody else one. Darby also believed that all events in our cosmology, especially the rise and fall of different civilizations and cultures were all cyclical -- ideas he'd bagged from Oswald Spengler, a controversial German social theorist with an authoritarian streak that he'd boned up on in private.
3AM: What do you know about Darby's trip to England and his subsequent obsession with Adam & The Ants? Who did Darby hang out with in England?
BM: He went to England for a month or so in early summer of 1980 with a woman named Amber, his latest patron, a woman he lived with for a while who picked up the tab for everything. They stayed with Amber's friend Jordan who was a key designer-stylist in the classic Britpunk fashion look. According to Amber, Darby asked Jordan to give him what people called the "Mohawk" hairdo, although "Mohican" was actually the correct name, something Darby kept pointing out, but to no avail. Mohawk stuck in the vernacular. Mohican didn't. Still is that way. Darby's role model for the Big Make-Over-in-London was clearly Adam Ant and his Antpeople entourage of post-punk fashion casualties.
3AM: What was the music scene like in the UK by the time Darby got there?
BM: It was not a good time from Darby's perspective to be seen as a "punk rocker" in trendy London in 1980. We can speculate he was probably pretty embarrassed to present himself as some quaint anachronistic punk at that point. Britain's "Punk and Disorderly" wave of Crass-inspired anarcho-hippie-punks and "Punk's Not Dead" GBH/Discharge/Exploited of "ethnic" punks with bristles, leather, and studs hadn't quite kicked in yet.
3AM: The UK version of hardcore …
BM: Right. That scene made an overlooked, undocumented impression on the development of SoCal hardcore in the '80s, the partial influence of these sped-up post Sham 69 Oi! soccer chant-type punk bands -- more of an influence than some of us cheerleaders of pioneering SoCal skatecore would care to admit. Many of these bands headlined a series of amazing shows promoted by Gary Tovar, founder of Goldenvoice Productions, at the Olympic Auditorium on bills made up of all the best hardcore bands, from Southern California's South Bay to Oxnard.
3AM: Did Darby distance himself from punk when he was in England?
BM: According to Amber, he was a subdued fish out of water. He was not used to being a nobody. Not a soul in London even knew of The Germs, much less cared about them. Even worse, the British rock media had written off '77-style punk as long-gone stone dead.
3AM: Why do you think the British music media wouldn't cover any of the L.A. bands?
BM: I guess they didn't think they had to. There was no hype. Nobody credible to champion it. Those who actually got to make records in L.A. were on tiny labels, many with no budget for professional recording or distribution outside of the L.A. Basin. I saw a mention in Melody Maker or NME in '78 or '79 where the L.A. punk band scene was dismissed as irrelevant, absolutely not to be taken seriously. It wasn't until 1981 that one of those rags finally acknowledged with a snicker that something was going on in L.A. with punk rock. I think it was rock journalist Mick Farren, freshly arrived in L.A., who finally blundered into the twin phenoms of "slamming in the pit" and stage-diving! Understand that by 1980 Britpunk had already broken off and dispersed into different regional factions and sub-genres.
3AM: Can you give us some examples?
BM: Ah, it was all about Manchester style post-punk proto-Goth rock like The Fall, Joy Division, et al according to the arbiters of all things groovy in the UK. Or it was about Adam and the Ants in London, or it was all about a Mod revival with a bunch of inter-racial ska bands in the Midlands. But rather than coming back a Brummie Rude Boy or a Mancy Goth created by the Factory-Hacienda scene, Darby returned to L.A. with the new Boy of London look accessorized with Antpeople-style feathers and Indian warrior make-up. He was ridiculed locally for being a "fashion casualty" and for being a lame follower rather than the leader he once was.
3AM: A question about Darby's sexuality: did it influence the band's aesthetic? Did it play an important part in Darby's confusion and chaotic lifestyle?
BM: Of course it did. It obviously totally affected his personal lifestyle, but I don't think it was a part of the musical aesthetic of the band at all, although perhaps there was the odd hint in a line or two of his lyrics if you look close enough, like perhaps "Sex Boy" or "The Other Newest One" are examples of ambiguous meanings. As for lifestyle, how many people can live a double life without confusion and chaos, especially if they're out of their tree on drugs and alcohol the whole time?
3AM: Why do you think he hid his homosexuality?
BM: One of the many myths about the early Hollywood punk scene, which pre-dated the suburban hardcore explosion in the South Bay and Orange County, was that it was despicably anti-gay, that we were a colony of punk homophobes. Personally I believe that it was nowhere near as bad as has been made out, although perhaps others who were there will disagree. I think the source of the homophobia in the old Hollywood scene actually came more from gays themselves than it did from straights! Some of the most disgusting anti-gay things I've ever heard in my life actually came from the mouths of closeted gay punks around the early scene -- pure, staggeringly hateful vitriol that freaked ME out, and I'm not even gay!
3AM: Lexicon Devil cites numerous examples of Darby spouting off…
BM: I clearly remember Darby saying incredibly mean, spiteful things about "fags" and there were others. Frankly, most of the straight punks I knew didn't care a rat's bum if Darby or The Screamers or Black Randy or any one else in the scene was gay. There were as many key women on the scene as there were guys -- gay, straight, and bi -- and homophobia is rarely as big an item with women outside of extreme-right Christian and Islamic fundamentalist circles.
3AM: So why did Darby feel so threatened?
BM: Once again, I don't want to seem like I'm blaming all the suburban punks from the beaches and Orange County for everything, 'cos that definitely distorts the whole Big Picture of what most of the beach kids and the bands they followed were really like -- especially since hardcore did come into its own, later on, as a positive social force, but sadly there was a definite correlation between the rise of suburban hardcore at the very beginning and open hostility to the gay lifestyle. What can I say? The origins of hardcore aren't as PC as some people would like to believe.
3AM: A question about Darby's death through overdose: did it contribute to turning him into a punk icon?
BM: Absolutely. Fetishized Western Death Obsessive Bloodlust Culture. Creepy Islamic Extremist Warrior Culture isn't the only culture that canonizes martyrs, you know. We're just as whacked-out in the West with our insistence on the preservation of youth and projecting immortality through our celebrities or icons. I agree it's kind of sad and pathetic to have to admit there may not have been this book if The Darb hadn't offed himself, but then you or I wouldn't be talking right now, would we? So does that implicate us as guilty ghouls, too? Of course it does!
3AM: So why did you do it?
BM: I was hoping that something could be learned. I was hoping I could learn personally, and boy did I ever. I was also hopeful that the reader might come away from the book having learned something from this tragedy.
3AM: Such as…
BM: That Darby was a role model, a new archetype for socially alienated kids -- a role model of how NOT to be!
3AM: What role did Rodney play in Darby's celebrity?
BM: The word-of-mouth street buzz on the Germs created by the 'zines became unstoppable, but Rodney gave Darby and The Germs widespread radio exposure in SoCal. Rodney had a better time slot than now, and at the time KROQ was blasting out on FM and AM simultaneously, the only station in SoCal to broadcast on the twin bands. This gave Rodney's Sunday night show massive influence, especially far out in the 'burbs, at least as far south of Los Angeles as the beaches of the South Bay and Orange County. Darby was a regular live-in-the studio guest who frequently phoned in on Sunday nights and Rodney always gave him huge chunks of airtime, more than anybody else on the entire scene, I'd say. Darby was smart enough to be polite and not alienate Rodney. Rodney basically introduced DC and The Germs to a new generation of teens out in the 'burbs who were just getting their first driver's licenses.
3AM: How did the LA punk scene differ from the NY or London scenes?
BM: On the surface it looks like all three played out the same way in many respects. Small tight circle of decadent rock 'n' rollers too young and too late for glam (but still wanting to emulate it), junkies, record collectors, drifters, grifters, graphic artists, hookers, rock crits, runaways, angry hippies, rag trade designers, male hustlers, 'zine publishers and art school groovers -- all come together to resuscitate raw '60s garage rock and bring it back from open fields to small clubs, pubs, and art galleries, originally with wide-eyed egalitarian ideology.
3AM: Did you say "hippies"?
BM: The Psychedelic Stooges (as they were originally called for their first few gigs) were originally a failed bad acid hippie rock band from suburban Michigan in the late '60s who were sort of the segue into this mid-to-late '70s movement which gradually made it okay for beginner garage bands to play in clubs and charge money for it. The MC5 were another band of hippies, garage musicians and drug addicts who were not-quite-up-to-it as rock musicians or songwriters but substituted a paucity of skills with political rhetoric and, according to a bunch of rock critics, got to "re-invent" rock 'n' roll. But it was obviously only a matter of time before opportunistic skilled non-garage musicians playing beneath their chops moved in on it -- the dreaded New Wave which we won't talk about.
3AM: How would you define California punk?
BM: Somebody pointed out in Neutron Bomb that while Jimbo Morrison never put a needle in his arm onstage a la Uncle Lou ("Heroin") but he did say he wanted to fuck his mom and kill his dad ("The End")! Anybody who shot up junk in the New York version of punk gets to be a red-hot punk. So the difference between punk L.A. and NYC as defined in Please Kill Me is that New York was basically all about derelict heterosexuals who shoot up heroin and fall about the set; while the L.A. version, according to Neutron Bomb, is about killing your parents. Which is more anti-social, which is more dangerous? Which strikes more fear into the status quo than killing and fucking your parents? Awaking at dawn with a machete for your Dad and a boner for your Mom or Waiting for the Man on some stench-ridden street in uptown Manhattan? Which is more "punk"? Which will provoke and upset more people?
The fact remains, the California punk pre-dated the East Coast version. If you go back to the garage band era, and if you take L.A. proto-punk as far back as Arthur Lee, Sky Saxon, Jack Nitzsche, Spector, Kim Fowley, and Jimbo Morrison -- even Zappa and Beefheart -- all weirdo iconoclasts with varying degrees of musical talent and influence, all of whom had varying degrees of psychopathic tendencies, all of whom were openly contemptuous if not downright hostile to Flower Power and the hippie scene on Sunset Strip. Some even put Charlie Manson in this category. It hardly took Lou Reed or the V.U. to show L.A. the way with rejecting Flower Power in favor of creepy teeth-gnashing methedrine ghoul music served up with a scowl. This is the thin ice on which the case is made for V.U. being the first "punk" band. Even Arthur Lee himself, the O.G. king of hippie-punk eventually concluded that the music scene in L.A. was for the birds with the tune "Bummer in the Summer" (from Forever Changes), a song written prior to the Velvet Underground's smacked-out abhorrence of West Coast get-back-to-the-garden LSD culture as depicted in Please Kill Me. Does Reed's psychopathic surliness apparently brought on by electro-shock treatment in his teens make him the first "punk rock archetype"? Dream on, New York! As for use of the word punk, everybody knows the term was used well before that silly comic book came out of the same name in late 1975 ...
3AM: Here's a cool line a line from Bibbe Hansen in one of your other books about punk rock, We Got the Neutron Bomb: "There was always more garage rock in California because there were always more garages out here."
BM: Dead on, mate. I think the West Coast pre-dated the East culturally during the pre-rock critic era brought upon by Meltzer, Bangs, Tosches, Greg Shaw and so on, but rather than declaring it's on to some silly East-West punk beef I'll settle for equal billing, mother fuckers! I'll settle for Meltzer's declaration in late '79 of the simultaneous East-West "twin heart of darkness". Richard thought the harsh-vibing Velvets and the Doors were the joint template for American proto-punk with Iggy being the next generation mating of Lou 'n' Jimbo as anti-hippie prototypes. Interestingly, in this same piece -- his review of the Germs' G.I. album -- Meltzer cast Darby Crash as the bastard grandson who could write better than any of them. And that even went for Iggy, too. Meltzer wrote in the L.A. Times in 1979 that Darby made all of 'em look like "coffee table poets."
3AM: Is there any explanation for the power and beauty of Darby's lyrics? They are as astonishing now as they were then.
BM: Not really. We tried our darndest to present a few possible explanations in the book, but we'll never really know.
3AM: So let's get it on with the reparation…
BM: It was always more about the kids in London and L.A. In New York -- all the way back to the early '60s, even the Greenwich Village coffee shop folknik rebels -- it was always much more about intellectuals and other weirdo cerebrals. L.A. was about kids who may not have been as sophisticated in self-conscious "bohemian" culture or cool pop art movements, but knew what they wanted to do intuitively.
3AM: Elitism versus populism?
BM: In a way, I suppose. Punk in all three places was basically a '60s garage-rock revival by '70s kids dressed in different threads with help from slightly older disillusioned media-savvy hippies who created the 'zines and mass-marketed the home-made customized clothing the kids created back to them. Except that the "kids" in New York tended to be older people, like hippies and rock critics. There was a culture of Bowie club kids out here which basically set up the culture for punk rock to follow, which is another thing New York takes credit for. They dismiss the size of Bowie's musical talent, and because he wore a dress when he first came out West they claim he must've ripped off the old drag queens who hung around Max's! That's what the old guard goes around saying to this day! Yet none of these minimally talented queens could hold a candle to Bowie musically and they know it, but still they try to say he ripped them off! For what? A dress, a flippity-floppity hat? So fuckin' what? We're trying to talk Big Picture 20th Century historical shit here. Bowie (himself washed-up in England after going too much against the hippie grain with seven consecutive flopped singles) championed Lou (washed-up commercially after his post-VU solo career died at the gate) and Iggy (at the time a failed acid rocker from the Mid-West who openly wanted to be Jim Morrison) both as a producer and a fan in interviews he gave at the time. Sure, Bowie used them for social access to the New York club and nightlife scene, but being a ruthless social manipulator-careerist and an artistic appropriationist doesn't diminish his basic talents as a pop songwriter and a musician light years ahead of anyone in New York circa '70-'71. The glitter rock thing came from Bolan-Visconti, it originally had nothing to do with New York or even Bowie, but according to all the revisionist New York scribes, Bowie's career in the 70's depended on him hearing the Velvet Underground just 'cos he did a cover of "White Light/White Heat" in his live show and wrote a song about Andy Warhol. In other words, according to New York: no VU, no Bowie, and that's too preposterous. He may have been inspired by them to write songs about them, but Bowie was going to happen with or without the New York scene at Max's and all the other shooting galleries. In addition to himself, Bowie even tried to make Lou and Iggy over as "Britglam" (Transformer and Raw Power respectively) but all of it failed commercially. And there's the true story, stripped down to its basics: three desperate washed-up rock star "beneath-the-radar" neverweres -- one Brit, one Long Islander, and one Mid-Westerner -- all three of whom have failed commercially in everything they've done so far, try to get up on Bolan's tip in New York, but New York cries foul and cuts Bolan out of the credit completely and then slags Bowie's talents because he wore a dress in a desperate bid to get noticed. I'm sorry, but I just don't hear much Velvet/Lou influence in Bowie's 70's music at all, although the Warhol influence is obviously all over it, but that's something different. I'm talking pure music here, not image or marketing. That's Andy, that's NYC, but remember this, the last word on Warhol: Andy's first ever one-man gallery show was in Los Angeles, 'cos originally he couldn't get arrested in NYC! Suck on that!
3AM: How does New York fit into the punk rock equation?
BM: The fabulously feted Dolls were another 60's garage band, an attempted knock-off of T. Rex, the early Stones and their good buds the early Pretty Things -- in drag. But they came after Bolan and Bowie with that one. All the Dolls' influences were British, including the image! The Dolls even had to come out West 'cos Anglophile Hollywood/L.A. was the glam rock capital of the world, not New York, and there were better gigs in L.A. than in New York where they were limited to playing toilets and art galleries. Television were an amped-up West Coastin' hippie guitar jam band gone VU with a legendarily inept bass player in a torn shirt who were quickly blown off the stage by the Damned the first time they left the safety of CBGB's. The Ramones were absolutely great in every way, a band that I love, but basically they began as a non-ironic Britpop band with a SoCal surf beat. Patti so badly wanted to be Rimbaud via Jimbo Morrison of the Doors rather than via the original source -- she even said so in print. Iggy wanted to be Morrison also at the beginning -- read Ron Asheton's testimony in We Got the Neutron Bomb. So there's just a wee dram of shakiness in New York's version of the origin of all things punk. Some whacko even wrote a whole book canonizing Patti as the punk connection to the beats and the French symbolists!
3AM: Well you know what they say about history -- it's all about whoever gets the book deals…
BM: How true.
3AM: Was L.A. radically different from the other scenes?
BM: Not really. The same thing was happening in L.A. that was happening in other places. These art people in their mid-to-late 20s helped to editorialize punk for the smarter, cooler teens who were behind the energy and the social scenes of punk in the commercial rock mags and even the hand-stapled Xerox zines of the day. The zines, especially the ones out here in L.A., tended to be put out by real teens who were attempting to wrest rock 'n' roll away not only from the record industry, but also from the rock critics and the old hippies who created the New York scene all for themselves. And now the rock critics were crying foul that L.A. dared to have their own band scene without first checking with the arbiters of all things groovy in New York!
For a while it seemed that nearly every band that managed to crawl onstage at CB's in the mid-70's got a major record deal! Seymour Stein, head of Sire Records was the New York scene's sugar daddy who signed up everybody with Warner Bros money, so the New York "punk scene" was co-opted as straight-ahead business-as-usual corporate rock and roll before it was even out of the gate! L.A., of course, had no sugar daddies, although A&M tried with The Dickies, and when it didn't happen, the record industry looked at Sire and all the "new wave" and "punk" acts who were stiffing commercially (Ramones, Talking Heads, Richard Hell & the Voidoids, the Dead Boys) and wrote punk off as stone dead by early 1978! But for our purposes, the smart thinking in L.A. is that the major labels left us alone in total isolation from business it gave the L.A. music scene time to develop unsupervised, something New York business was never gonna let happen.
In all three places -- L.A., London and New York -- these loose movements wrench rock 'n' roll away from elitist classically-trained rock musicians, from English public schools who'd infiltrated rock 'n' roll with prog-rock in Europe during the '70s, while over here, their US counterpart would be the dreaded jazz-rock fusion thing -- where instrumental chops got played endlessly and mindlessly by dullard technique geeks with little or no musical imagination who were simply enthralled by the math side of music theory and composition. In each case the original Big City core collective of misfits, music fans, and malcontents create the template for a re-birth of rock as the somewhat egalitarian force it originally was if you go back to the Rockabilly Rebel days of '50s blue collar Memphis, or the surf rebels of the early 60's, and succeeding it in the same decade, the psyched-out garage punk movement documented in the Nuggets re-issue series. In each case the original fresh-faced punk ideologists of the '70s feel their movement is either betrayed or ignored by the record industry before it becomes hijacked and dumbed down by suburban yobs and skinheads who subsequently destroy it. Much backstabbing, open jealousies, and scrambling attempts at revisionism plague all three. Many die from the combined effects of despair and addiction, and there is much psychic wreckage left by the roadside in all three cases.
3AM: So where's the pay-off?
BM: Some amazing, amazing music got created, some of my all-time favorite rock songs came out of punk rock -- some of the best I heard throughout my whole life of listening to rock 'n' roll. I've been listening as a keen fanatic for more than 40 years now, and I'm sorry, but I still think of punk as nothing but kick-ass rock 'n' roll. I just happen to like a lot of the songs that came out during the epoch-period of L.A. punk' s first round. I can't buy into the theory that punk was something completely new and original that supplanted all rock 'n roll before it, although I'm very aware there's many hardcore thrashheads out there who'd vehemently disagree. There's the thinking that thoroughly PC straight edge veganist hardcore was the only true clean break with punk's rock 'n' roll ancestry.
3AM: That sounds retarded.
BM: It's an incredibly boring argument. Hardcore is another important sub-genre, a split-off gene of rock 'n' roll, and I still love nearly all the seminal HC bands because most of 'em rock the fuck out with good tunes, especially SoCal HC -- the best in the world. Many of these OG HC bands are still rockin.' But I don't want to drone on about HC anymore 'cos to tell you the truth that petty narrow-focused Maximum Rock 'n' Roll mentality always bored me. Too restricting. Hardline fundamentalist groups with strict rules and codes of fashion and behavior scare the shit out of me. By nature I'm a person with a psychic allergy against authoritarianism. I'm an anywhere, anytime, any place I choose type of hippie way too slack and undisciplined for the demands of HC contemporaneousness, but I still love a lot of the music. I feel cursed to have witnessed and loved the development of the SoCal hardcore scene. I loved it and hated it.
3AM: You seemed to be lobbying quite hard in your other book We Got the Neutron Bomb for Morrison to be canonized as some sort of L.A. punk archetype who was as far away from hippies as Lou Reed. Was Jimbo Morrison a punk or a rock god?
BM: I'd say both, but I'm sure Morrison was the kind of guy who would have insisted a punk was somebody who got butt-fucked in jail -- a person coerced into receptive sodomy for protection of life and limb by a physically stronger specimen trapped for life inside an iron barred cage. I mean what's your archetype? Casting a punk as a sniveling Sid-style brat with a loutish attitude? A wormish petty criminal straight out of Dirty Harry? Or, according to Webster's, someone regarded as "inexperienced or insignificant"? Is a punk also a bit of an anarcho-intellectual leftist type with an unresolved Oedipal Complex, or is it someone who gets forearm-fucked in jail?
3AM: Was Darby ever a hustler? Did he ever peddle his body for drugs?
BM: Not that I know of, although Amber claims to have had sex with him. And according to people who were closer to him than I was, she picked up for most of his living expenses, including drugs. She freely admitted she knew every heroin dealer in town, and that she accompanied him to score on many occasions. She was not a heroin user herself; she said she only helped him to cop drugs to keep him off the street.
3AM: Is The Germs' story the story of punk rock?
BM: The Germs were well beyond punk rock -- as some sort of paradigm of cartoon psychopathy and criminally antisocial behavior. I wouldn't say they were the definitive story, but obviously their saga is one of the best punk yarns ever, and an achingly sick tragedy at the same time.
3AM: How would you characterize it?
BM: At the risk of seeming puke-up pretentious, I'd rate it a classic turn-of-the century mini-epic, a sick, street-level fin de siecle re-run whose mythology has lived on to become an indelible hieroglyphic in late '70s L.A. folklore. "Richie Dagger's Crime" was so much more overtly criminal, more outlaw than any other version of punk. The Germs, as one of the L.A. punk scene's original events, became so much more threatening to the status quo, much more, I'd say, than all those relatively benign hetero-megalo rock 'n' roll heroin addicts falling downstairs at Max's and CB's at the height of mid-'70's NYC decadence. I think Saint Genet would've been tickled to orgasm by Darby & Co. That's my fantasy -- that Daddy G would be piqued by the tale of Lexicon Devil.
3AM: What happened to the rest of The Germs?
BM: Pat Smear chills in Atwater after seasons with Nirvana and the Foo Fighters and is producing a girl band called Harlot, or Harlow, or something, I don't know anything about them, or what label the record is for. Lorna Doom said she couldn't participate in the book because she was "afraid of tape recorders". She lived in NYC for many years with Gary Moss, a high school bud of Donnie Rose. Gary was Joan Jett's bass player in the Blackhearts for years. We begged for Lorna's co-operation in the book, but she refused for no clear reasons. She'd moved back to Cali and was living with her parents in Thousand Oaks for a few years, but now I'm hearing she may have gone back to NYC. She's very, very mysterious. Won't respond to phone calls or e-mails. Don Bolles is still whoopin' it up every night like the old days. He once swore to me that he would never do anything he didn't wanna do, even if it meant he wound up pushing a shopping cart! Pray for Bolles. He's a very talented guy. Fuck, pray for all of us.