By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Photo by Frank Gargani
I'm not going to save up for my old age because I'm not going to have an old age. If we run out of money, I can always kill myself.
—Darby Crash, No Magazine interview, 1979
IT WAS AROUND 10:30 P.M. ON DECEMBER 7, 1980. Darby Crash, lyricist and front man for L.A. punk pioneers the Germs, and Casey Cola (formerly Hopkins), a devotee of the band's predominantly female Circle One cult, had been unable to crash a party in Bel Air. So they drove to the Hong Kong Cafe in Chinatown, where their friends Sexsick were playing. Meanwhile, a girl they'd spoken to earlier in the evening phoned somebody else in the Germs' inner circle to say she was convinced Darby and Casey were about to kill themselves. The voice at the other end said, "Calm down. Don't worry about it. Darby says things like that all the time." When the panicky caller stated more forcefully that she was positive it was more than idle talk this time, the voice said, "Relax. Go home and get some rest. Everything is gonna be fine."
At some point that night, Darby, his mind beaten to shit on drugs, alcohol and nervous exhaustion, copped $400 worth of smack with his cut of the proceeds from a reunion concert the Germs had played at the Starwood club four days previously, returned to the garage that had been converted into a guesthouse at Casey's parents' home on North Fuller Street in Hollywood and, after injecting his companion with a nonlethal dose, hit himself up with most of the dope — enough to kill himself four or five times over. According to Casey, the two had made a double-suicide pact, but Darby had decided at the last second that he wanted her to live on. When she awoke at noon the next day, Darby was lying dead on the floor next to her.
By next morning, news of Darby's death had been all but obliterated by media preoccupation with the shooting of John Lennon, which dominated headlines worldwide and locally for the next couple of days.
Darby told me there were 24 different definitions for the wordthe, that he liked to know exactly whatthe meant. That's what he'd go through in his writing — the lexicon thing.
—Chris Desjardins, L.A. Weekly interview, December 1980
Darby's mom, Faith Baker, who still lives in West L.A., refused to believe it was an intentional suicide, opting instead to view her boy's death as an accidental overdose. This was, after all, the second of her sons to kill himself with drugs. Faith, a single working woman, had raised a family of four — Bobby, Christine, Faith and Paul — during the '60s and '70s, first in Venice and later in West L.A. For many years, she had worked hard at this, that and the other job for minimum wage. She'd also once run a restaurant, and no one ever went hungry in her house. She loved to cook for her family and friends, the more the merrier.
Up until his early teens, Paul, the youngest, who would in a few years become known to friends and fans as Darby Crash, believed his father was Faith's second husband, Harold Beahm, who had vanished from their lives when Paul was a toddler. (Hence the name on the birth certificate: Jan Paul Beahm, born September 26, 1958.) Then his sister Faith let it slip during an argument that his father was really a Swedish sailor named William Bjorklund.
In 1969, older brother Bobby was found dead in a station wagon in Venice, reputedly from a heroin "hot shot" passed to him by an angry dope man. Then, in 1971, Paul's stepfather, Bob Baker — by all accounts a kindly man and the only stable male figure in Paul's young life — died at 39 of a heart attack. Now 13 years old, Paul had been powerfully attached to Bob Baker since the day seven years previous when he'd invited the older man to come home and live with him and his mother after the two grown-ups had been out on a date. Shortly thereafter, Paul asked Baker to marry his mom and be his new dad.
Baker, a Korean War veteran, was the main man in Paul's household, and the period before his death was relatively carefree and happy, especially for Paul. His surrogate dad was a warm, fun-loving guy who organized fishing and camping excursions with the boys, car trips to local amusement parks, picnic drives to the countryside and other typical Nuclear Age family outings.
Bob Baker's death left Paul devastated, according to Faith junior. When he attempted to track down his real father, he learned that William Bjorklund, too, was dead. Mom, again the family's sole breadwinner, had to leave Paul and the others unsupervised while she worked a graveyard shift making sandwiches in a cafeteria at LAX. But even if she couldn't be there for her son during the day while she slept, nor at night as she worked, Faith encouraged Paul to develop his precocious interest in reading and writing, scrimping to buy him expensive dictionaries, encyclopedias and other reference books.