Lorna Doom, a Legendary Presence in LA Punk, Has Died
Greg Hetson remembers his youth with The Germs and Agent Orange to pay tribute to Lorna Doom and Steve Soto, two of the most influential musicians in LA Punk.
Lorna Doom, bass player for the Germs and one of the original and most important figures in the LA punk scene, died January 16, 2019 at the age of 61 from cancer.
There is very little biographical information about Lorna Doom, although she does appear vividly in The Decline of Western Civilization, Penelope Spheeris’ groundbreaking documentary about the LA punk scene; and she is widely credited as a musical influence in Under the Big Black Sun: A Personal History of L.A. Punk, X-cofounder John Doe’s memoir that includes contributions by Exene Cervenka, Jane Wiedlin, Henry Rollins, Dave Alvin, and others.
She was born Teresa Ryan on January 4, 1958 in Dallas, Texas. While attending in high school in Thousand Oaks, Ca., she met Belinda Carlisle and,, later, Darby Crash and Pat Smear. In 1976, Crash (born Paul Beahm) and Smear (born Georg Ruthenberg) started what became the Germs. The line-up changed, but Darby, Pat, Lorna, and Don Bolles were the core. In 1979, the band recorded their only album, GI, with Joan Jett producing. It was the first full-length indie punk album in LA. (The Dickies’ debut, The Incredible Shrinking Dickies (1978), was first, but that was on a major label.)
The Dickies name check Lorna in “Poodle Party,” a song from their debut LP:
Oh Doggy Doo
You're the sleaziest
Oh Lorna Doon [sic]
You're the easiest except for me
Veteran LA punk guitarist Greg Hetson (Redd Kross, Circle Jerks, Bad Religion) grew up in the LA punk scene since. He vividly recalls his first encounter with Lorna Doom at the first Germs show he attended. “I had the ‘Lexicon Devil’ single and I wanted to go see them. ‘No God’ was on the other side. Darby was a little scary, because he had like 57 piercings in his ears and was a larger than life character. Always on the verge of something. And I wanted to see tables and chairs thrown—you know, it got a little crazy in the pit.
“First time I met Lorna…,” Hetson said and paused. “I was going to a Germs show at the Hong Kong Cafe. It was probably 1979.” Hetson was 18. Lorna Doom was maybe four years older. “And I had bought a Quaalude. I wasn’t sure if I was going to take it or not, because I was scared. Darby and Lorna were walking through the crowd. Darby was asking everybody, ‘You got any drugs? You got any drugs?’ So, I gave him the Quaalude.”
“Why did you give Darby drugs?” Lorna asked.
“He always plays better when he’s fucked up,” Hetson told her. “But, really I was too scared to take it.”
Like the early stuff in all musical scenes, there was no one defining element that made something punk or not in those days. Both Joan Jett and Belinda Carlisle are equally punk: same place, same time, same audience. Yet they are very different pop stars. In the ’70s, certainly, it was weirdo kids in band taking turns playing, then being the audience while their friends played. That's why so many bands were on the same bills.
Lorna Doom’s gender was not lost on Hetson: “She was in the hardest, heaviest, craziest punk band in LA, and she’s keeping the rhythm going with the drummer [Don Bolles]. You can rock hard and you don’t have to be a guy… she was quiet, considering.”
The LA punk scene was unique in its inclusion of women—X, The Bags, The Go-Go’s, Black Flag. In its earliest incarnations, the Germs had not only a female bass player but two female drummers. Dottie Danger—aka Belinda Carlisle—took over the drums after Michelle Baeh left the original line-up, but Carlisle never played a live gig, because she contracted mononucleosis. She would go on to become lead singer of the Go-Go's. Baeh later wrote the script for the Germs biopic, What We Do Is Secret (2007), in which Bijou Phillips played Doom, and The Germs reunited with Shane West filling in for the late Darby Crash on a tour to promote the film.
“There were a good proportion of punk bands that had girls in them, and they all had really cool style,” Hetson said. “Hard Rock and Heavy Metal—there were very few.”
Anyone who was near the LA punk scene will recognize the Germs’ iconic blue-on-black circle logo armbands. A woman came up with that idea, too. “This girl Melissa made them,” Hetson said. “It was kinda like their inner circle had the armbands that signified their crew, and people just started making them. I did end up being cool enough to have an armband—an original one Melissa made.”
Death always hits the punk world hard because there’s something so rejuvenating about the scene—it always feels like something that was born not that long ago, which gives the people in it a kind of Peter Pan quality: you just don’t expect them to die. Which is perhaps one reason why it feels like the punk world has seen more than its share of death in the past few months. Before Lorna Doom, there was the Buzzcock’s Pete Shelley, who died Dec. 6, 2018. And before Shelley there was Steve Soto, of Agent Orange and the Adolescents, who died in his sleep on June 27, 2018, at 54 in his childhood home in Placentia, Ca.
Hetson and Soto were friends for more than 40 years, and Hetson calls Soto “the nicest guy in punk. Period. Nobody had anything bad to say about him.”
Hetson and Soto were both very young when they got started in their respective punk bands. “I do remember!” Hetson says after thinking about his first encounter with Soto. “He was in Agent Orange and I went to see them some place in Orange County and he was the bass player. They were one of the only bands that had younger members. Sometimes he wasn’t allowed out [of the house by his parents] and would be on restriction and couldn’t play gigs. His parents were strict.”
Hetson and Soto became even closer in recent years once they began touring with Punk Rock Karaoke. “Agent Orange is from Fullerton, Brea, Placentia area. Northeast Orange County—it [Agent Orange] could have been a double entendre. I was in Redd Kross. We played with Agent Orange a lot. Then, Steve left and formed The Adolescents and played gigs with Circle Jerks. He wrote all the four-part harmonies for The Adolescents stuff. Bad Religion got the shit from them.”
Soto’s work ethic was insane. “He's the kinda guy that would play no matter how sick,” Hetson recalled. “He was in Brazil with The Adolescents. He was trying to close a window, and it fell and chopped part of his finger off. He had stitches and had a bandage and put duct tape on it and played the gig.” He wouldn’t let anyone step in and play bass.
“He loved people. He would sit down and people would just flock, and he would tell stories. One of Steve’s favorite memories—we were in Montreal and we were really drunk—before we were sober—he was about to fall, and he said, ‘Greg Hetson—he always called me Greg Hetson when he was drunk. ‘Greg Hetson, I think I am going to fall over.’ And I go, ‘Grab the tree.’ He was holding onto it, saying. ‘I am drunk with Greg Hetson. This is so rad.’”
This article was updated January 20, 2019