In Praise Of... Pat Smear

Here's just some of the reasons we love Pat Smear.

His first band were too punk rock for even the most hardcore punk rockers

A teenage Queen, Alice Cooper and Runaways fan, Georg Ruthenberg reinvented himself as Pat Smear in 1977 when he formed his first band The Germs with his best friends Paul Beahm (aka ‘Darby Crash’), Teresa Ryan (‘Lorna Doom’) and Belinda Carlisle…yes, that Belinda Carlisle. The fact that none of the four could initially play instruments was an added bonus in their bid to become the most notorious punk rock band in the world.

“If we’re gonna be punk, then we’re gonna out-punk the Sex Pistols,” Smear said of his band’s early aspirations. The Germs very first gig, at the Orpheum on Sunset Boulevard, saw the quartet ‘play’ a two minute set, during which Crash smeared himself with peanut butter, and his bandmates amused themselves by spitting on one another and their audience until they were hauled offstage for their own safety.

A local fanzine duly described the band as “the biggest joke of the year.” You can bet that Smear just loved that. Below is another typically messy performance, with the guitarist in feisty mood…

When he joined Nirvana, he had less than $20 to his name.

Post-Germs - the band having disbanded when Darby Crash OD’d - Smear drifted somewhat aimlessly in Hollywood, taking on work as an extra in TV shows to supplement his income. 

One such ‘acting’ stint led to him strike up a friendship with a louder-than-life wannabe actress/musician named Courtney Love…a connection that led Kurt Cobain to invite Smear to join Nirvana in 1993, a decision Cobain made before actually discussing the idea with his bandmates Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl. As Smear recalled in Foo Fighters documentary Back and Forth, life in Nirvana was something of a step up from The Germs…

Dave Grohl initially thought he was far too cool to want to join Foo Fighters

Post-Nirvana - and you know how that ended - Smear returned to Los Angeles and disappeared off the radar, convinced that his musical career was at an end. “After you’ve been in the coolest band ever, what do you do?” he later mused. A new opportunity was on the horizon however. While in Los Angeles tidying up Nirvana’s business affairs, drummer Dave Grohl dropped off a demo tape he’d recorded on his own in a Seattle studio. 

Grohl didn’t think Smear would have any interest in joining his new band, Foo Fighters, because he considered the guitarist a punk rock icon: Smear, however, was “blown away” by the cassette and a beautiful friendship was re-kindled. The Foo’s first ever tour saw them hook up with another punk legend, former Minutemen bassist Mike Watt, and Eddie Vedder’s wife’s band Hovercraft, which led to this little slice of TV history…

He quit the Foo Fighters on live TV.

In one of the coolest exits from a band ever, Pat Smear walked away from the Foos during a live MTV performance in New York, on September 4, 1997. After performing Monkey Wrench with the band on the roof of the iconic Radio City Music Hall, Smear walked over to the mic, announced his departure and handed his guitar over to his replacement, Franz Stahl, to complete the Foo’s set. Sheer class. His return as a permanent member of the Foos for the Wasting Light album was even sweeter.

He was introduced to rock n’ roll by The Beatles and now hangs out with Paul McCartney.

Until the age of 11, little Georg Ruthenberg didn’t know that rock n’ roll existed. Then his parents bought his big sister three records - Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Abbey Road by The Beatles, and George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass - and everything changed. Understandably then, no-one was more excited than Smear when Dave Grohl invited Paul McCartney to collaborate on the Sound City movie soundtrack. Just look at his little face! Bless.

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.