MORE

Crash Landing: What We Do Is Secret

Shane West channels mythmaker Darby Crash.
Kevin Estrada

Most people know by now about this movie, What We Do Is Secret, coming next week to a theater or drive-in near you. A biopic of the infamous, legendary, etc., L.A. punk band the Germs, the film features at its core lead singer Darby Crash, who traveled his own naive, idiosyncratic, pathetic and brilliant path and ultimately really did achieve his goal of changing the shape of the universe — in his own way. He killed himself on December 7, 1980.

Darby offed himself the day before John Lennon got offed, which, strategically, was a mistake, as the latter’s death eclipsed his and got all the attention. It’s taken many a year for Crash’s legacy to be more fully recognized. In fact, this biopic was something like 15 years in the making.

The Germs were a bunch of real, true misfits among the punk-rock aspirants of Los Angeles circa 1977. Darby (real name Jan Paul Beahm), son of an alkie mom and brother of a junkie, had hung out with Pat Smear (a.k.a. Georg Ruthenberg) since grade school, bonding when both got kicked out of University High for bad behavior. Their first band together was called Sophistifuck & the Revlon Spam Queens, with “singer” Darby then known as Bobby Pyn, Ruthenberg on guitar and a couple of others attempting to play music that would pay homage to Bowie, Queen and Yes. They couldn’t really play their instruments too well.

Eventually, the Spam Queens begat the Germs, after Darby and Pat drafted Lorna Doom to play bass and, briefly, future Go-Go’s singer Belinda Carlisle on rudimentary tub-whacking. Later, drummer Don Bolles came out from Phoenix to insist that he, too, be a member of the band. He had heard about the Germs via their first single, “Forming/Sexboy,” which has been called the first punk record by an L.A. band. B-side “Sexboy” was recorded live at the Roxy for inclusion in the Cheech and Chong movie Up in Smoke; it features a food fight. Darby’s highly developed lyrical/poetic gifts, which “Forming” had given clear evidence of, made Bolles and others take notice. (Also, Darby’s ability to totally dominate a room full of drunk, crazy punk-rock kids with a seemingly real gift for mind control.)

The Germs’ music, as heard on their one and only album, What We Do Is Secret, didn’t sound at all glammy. It was much more volatile, aggressive and haywire — but real tightly played and very, very fast, with loads of teen-beat torment that seemed to epitomize everything that was wrong with life — and so interesting because of it for that particular generation of greasy, angry geeks and their girlfriends. The Germs grew in messianic powers — and divided the L.A. punk scene with their un-happy vibe and nihilistic sound. Their stage “shows” became too scary, the kids got too inflamed and things got violent and insane. The band was ultimately banned from playing anywhere in L.A.

Darby all the while spiraled higher and higher, pursuing some obscure vision on an ever-receding artistic plane, then lower, and lower. He became very sad, felt a growing hopelessness. A fated last act would end his pain, then, and possibly seal his legend. It was all part of his “five-year plan.”

L.A. Weekly recently talked to Don Bolles and Lorna Doom about their time in the Germs, their memories of their departed friend Darby Crash, and their feelings on seeing it all played back on the big, silver screen. Their memories of Darby are fond ones; they miss him terribly.

L.A. WEEKLY: What was your first impression of Darby Crash?

DON BOLLES: It was one of the strangest conversations I’d ever had. I talked about every imaginable sexual indiscretion that I’d ever heard of. And he just seemed really interested. ... We bonded on Eno, ’cause Eno did stuff with Bowie, so he thought Eno was cool.

LORNA DOOM: “He had extreme amounts of charisma. I didn’t think of it as mind control, he was just extremely charismatic. And he was funny. ... Darby could be like some kind of shaman. I don’t know how he did it. Total crowd control. And then the sound and action was like total chaotic oblivion; you were at that point, and it was kind of where you needed to be. It was like a dervish, like an insane dervish exorcism party. It wasn’t just some kind of rock show. The music was sort of like a carrier, loosening the bonds of humanity with these people ... get them out of their humanness for 45 minutes, and making them part of some emergent system of chaos and weirdness. Very Information Theory.”

This wasn’t mind control?

DB: We were practicing mind liberation, not mind control. He made himself into this thing, he made himself this shamanic, feverish fucking clown. And it really worked.

Why did he have to die?

LD: I was devastated. I will never forget that day. I felt relief for him, because he was unhappy. But, even though he had said it so many times to so many different people, at some point, he actually killed himself.

DB: He had this image as this junkie guy who was reckless, and he was to some degree, but there were stories which were part of his calculated image. He did once empty out a bunch of capsules and take them to a club, and then asked somebody for a beer so he could take all these pills. Then he eats all these pills in front of all these people and they’re, like, oh, my god! That kind of stuff happened. His attention to detail was pretty good.

LD: Darby would’ve loved the idea of a glamorous, pretty-boy actor playing him in a movie, you know? This was all part of that five-year plan that he had. How did he know? He knew he was going to be huge. That was his thing. How could he have known that it would happen this way?