Nirvana Recruit’s Punk Pioneer
By Joe Gore
If Nirvana had set out to renew their underground credentials with one symbolic act, they could hardly have done better then recruit punk rock guitarist Pat Smear for their upcoming tour.
But Smear, best known for his tenure with the Germs, L.A.’s notorious sultans of self-destruct, insist’s it wasn’t a concious move: “It’s all very natural, honest, and true to what they’re really all about. I’ve rehearsed with them, I’ve watched them write songs, and there’s nothing contrived about anything they do.”
The Germs may be remembered less for their music then for the ultimatly fatal antics of lead singer Darby Crash, as depicted in The Decline of Western Civilization, director Penelope Spheeris’ punk rock documentary. But Smear’s sound on the band’s sole album, the Joan Jett-produced G.I., sounds amazingly current in today’s neo-punk guitar climate. The disarmingly poetic “Manimal,” for example, wouldn’t sound out of place on a record by, well, Nirvana. (Slash Record’s recently reissued the 1979 album as part of a single-disc Germs compilation, adding the band’s early singles and unreleased bonus cuts.)
“G.I. doesn’t sound that dated,” agrees Smear, 34. “I’m still trying to get that same guitar sound. I used an SVT bass amp head as a preamp to a Fender Champ, so for about half the album the speaker was blown. I didn’t have my own guitar or amp during my whole time with the Germs, so I used Darby’s weird solidbody Rickenbacker. After it got stolen, I’d just borrow from friends. For our last show in 1980, I bought my first guitar, a Hagstrom.” Days later, Crash was dead of a drug overdose.
During the ‘80s Smear alternated between playing music and working “regular lame jobs.” He cut two SST solo Lps (Ruthensmear and So You Fell In Love With A Musician) and two more as part of a duo, the Death Fork.
The Nirvana connection came via several mutual acquiantances, though Smear didn’t meet the band until his Seattle audition. “I’d heard their album mabye once,” he recounts, “but everything felt really natural right away, because what they do is very similar to what I’ve always done.”
Smear plans to tour with Hiwatt amps and his favourite Swedish meatballs, Hagstroms. Will Hagstrom prices skyrocket like those of Kurt Cobain’s beloved Fender Mustangs? “Oh no,” demurs Smear. “I’m not Kurt. I’m just the anonymous guy on the side.”