The Decline of Western Civilization

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The Decline of Western Civilization
The Decline of Western Civilization film poster.jpg
Film poster depicting Germs singer Darby Crash
Directed by Penelope Spheeris
Produced by Jeff Prettyman
Penelope Spheeris
Written by Penelope Spheeris
Cinematography Steve Conant
Edited by Charlie Mullin
Distributed by Media Home Entertainment
Release date
  • July 1, 1981 (1981-07-01)
Running time
100 minutes
Country United States
Language English

The Decline of Western Civilization is an American documentary film filmed through 1979 and 1980. The movie is about the Los Angeles punk rock scene and was directed by Penelope Spheeris. In 1981, the LAPD Chief of Police Daryl Gates wrote a letter demanding the film not be shown again in L.A.[1]

The film's title is possibly a reference to music critic Lester Bangs' 1970 two-part review of the Stooges' Fun House for Creem magazine, where Bangs quotes a friend who had said the popularity of the Stooges signaled "the decline of Western civilization". Another possibility is that the title refers to Darby Crash's reading of Oswald Spengler's Der Untergang des Abendlandes (The Decline of the West).[2] In We Got the Neutron Bomb, an oral history of the L.A. punk rock scene collected by Marc Spitz, Claude Bessy claims that he came up with the title.[3]

The film is the opening act of a trilogy by Spheeris depicting music scenes in Los Angeles during the late 20th century. The second film The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years covers the Los Angeles heavy metal scene of 1986-1988. The third film The Decline of Western Civilization III chronicles the gutter punk lifestyle of homeless teenagers in the late 1990s.

In 2016, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".


Featuring concert footage of Los Angeles punk bands and interviews both with band members, the publishers of Slash fanzine, and with the punks who made up their audience, the film offers a look into a subculture that was largely ignored by the rock music press of the time.

The promotional poster for The Decline (and the record cover of the soundtrack album) featured a close-up frame of Germs singer Darby Crash supine on stage with his eyes closed. Crash died from a heroin-induced suicide shortly before the film was released (the poster was designed before his death).

Bands included are Black Flag, the Germs, X, Alice Bag Band, the Circle Jerks, Catholic Discipline, and Fear. The Germs' performance was replicated in the 2007 Darby Crash biopic What We Do Is Secret.


  • Alice Bag Band
    • "Gluttony"
    • "Prowlers in the Night"
  • Black Flag
    • "Depression"
    • "Revenge"
    • "White Minority"
  • Circle Jerks
    • "Back Against the Wall"
    • "Beverly Hills"
    • "I Just Want Some Skank"
    • "Red Tape"
    • "Wasted"
  • Catholic Discipline
    • "Barbee Doll Lust"
    • "Underground Babylon"
  • Fear
    • "Beef Bologna"
    • "I Don't Care About You"
    • "I Love Living in the City"
    • "Let's Have a War"
    • "Fear Anthem"
  • Germs
    • "Manimal"
    • "Shutdown"
  • X
    • "Beyond and Back"
    • "Johnny Hit and Run Paulene"
    • "Nausea"
    • "Unheard Music"
    • "We're Desperate"


The Decline of Western Civilization
Decline Western Civilization album cover.jpg
Soundtrack album by Various Artists
Released January, 1981
Genre Punk rock, hardcore punk
Length 37:31
Label Slash
Producer Gary Hirstius and Alan Kutner
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 4.5/5 stars[4]

The soundtrack was released in December 1980 by Slash Records on LP. In the late 1990s it was released on CD as well. It is currently out of print. Germs singer Darby Crash appears on the soundtrack album cover. He died shortly before the film was released, though the promotional images for the film and album release had been designed before his death.

Noticeably missing from the soundtrack is "Nausea" by X, which was prominently featured in the film over its opening credits.

No. Title Writer(s) Artist Length
1. "White Minority" Greg Ginn Black Flag 2:27
2. "Depression" Ginn Black Flag 2:23
3. "Revenge" Ginn Black Flag 1:31
4. "Manimal" Darby Crash Germs 2:57
5. "Underground Babylon"   Catholic Discipline 3:41
6. "Beyond and Back" John Doe, Exene Cervenka X 2:54
7. "Johnny Hit and Run Paulene" Doe, Cervenka X 2:49
8. "We're Desperate" Doe, Cervenka X 2:45
9. "Red Tape" Keith Morris, Greg Hetson Circle Jerks 1:42
10. "Back Against the Wall" Morris, Hetson, Roger Rogerson, Lucky Lehrer Circle Jerks 1:33
11. "I Just Want Some Skank" Morris, Hetson, Rogerson, Lehrer Circle Jerks 1:15
12. "Beverly Hills" Morris, Rogerson Circle Jerks 1:15
13. "Gluttony"   Alice Bag Band 3:45
14. "I Don't Care About You" Lee Ving Fear 3:45
15. "I Love Livin' in the City" Ving Fear 2:16
16. "Fear Anthem" Ving Fear 0:33


  1. ^ "Penelope Spheeris Biography". 2008. Retrieved 2006-11-06. 
  2. ^ Brendan Mullen (2001). "Annihilation Man". Retrieved 2009-10-26. 
  3. ^ Spitz, Marc (2001). We Got the Neutron Bomb: The Untold Story of L.A. Punk. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press. p. 261. ISBN 0-609-80774-9. 
  4. ^ Henderson, Alex. The Decline of Western Civilization at AllMusic. Retrieved 5 March 2007.

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