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 word the, that he liked to know exactly what the 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.
After he won a children's writing contest for a weekly Venice newspaper, Faith bought 10-year-old Paul a portable typewriter and kept him supplied with notebooks for his endless jottings. As he entered adolescence, his enthusiasm for writing blossomed into compulsion. He would lock himself in his room, sometimes for days, appearing only for meals, while the family could hear him clicking away. He blew up if anybody entered his room or touched his papers, and he was observant — and meticulous — enough to know if even one sheet had been disturbed.
While attending University High School in West L.A., Paul became interested in Scientology, the pseudo-religious cult founded by pulp science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. At the time, he and Germ-to-be George Ruthenberg were enrolled in the IPS (Innovative Program School), an experimental program for high school underachievers directed by Fred Holtby, who used Scientology methods as pedagogical tools. (Paul had met George, a socially estranged mulatto kid from the Pico-Bundy area of West L.A., in the seventh grade when they patronized the same speed dealer.) Spinning off Hubbard's "applied religious philosophy," IPS emphasized a screwy gumbo of est, Scientology and applied rhetoric, while students were asked to devise their own curricula, stage their own exams and grade themselves. It was around this time that Paul, with lots of encouragement from his friend George, began experimenting with the mind-control techniques he'd cobbled together from these and other sources to try to get other Uni High kids to do his bidding.
Truth be told, Paul had always seemed more fascinated by Hubbard himself than by the militia he founded. Here was a darkly charismatic figure so persuasive that he could, as Paul saw it, order his followers around like so many sheep. At one point in his career, Paul heard, Hubbard had refused to speak to anyone except through messengers, mostly regimental girls kitted out in hot pants and halter tops, sexy androids who were trained to relay his orders in exactly his tone of voice. To Paul Beahm's skewed sense of humor, manipulating people to do things for you like that was a hoot. How far could you go with that shit? "People are really stupid," he noted.
Paul would eventually claim that he had abandoned Scientology, having come to regard it as fatally "flawed." However, as late as fall '77, speaking as the Germs' Bobby Pyn in an interview in Flipside fanzine, he said that "[Scientology's] philosophy is unbelievable. Everything they say works. The government's been suppressing them. If I had $10,000, I'd go back and do it [i.e., undergo 'advanced training']. It does work. It's gonna save the world."
Lemme get control I've got your minds now I want your souls, lemme get control I've got your minds Now I want control, I need control…
—The Germs, "Shut Down (Annihilation Man)"
Paul soon discovered that he could attract attention at school and, to amuse himself and George when they got bored, command the minds of certain psychological or emotional types. If you were bright, overweight, a nerd, a druggie, a victim of child abuse, from a single-parent family or an outsider of any sort, Paul Beahm — still basically a sweet, vulnerable, sensitive kid, say former schoolmates and others who knew him early on — spoke to you, and it wasn't long before he was able to grow the subjects of his mind manipulations into a small clique consisting of some of the school's most intelligent underachieving misfits.
(A few years later, the Paul Beahm coterie had morphed into a full-blown demonic punk subcult, Circle One. According to former Germs manager Nicole Panter, "Darby used to make people do things, just because he could. Like he'd order one girl to take off a bracelet and give it to another girl, or he'd say, 'Gimme that button,' 'Gimme that shirt,' 'Gimme a beer,' and five little girls from Beverly Hills would run and get it for him.")
One of Paul's techniques for driving people into submission was to ask, over and over again, "What makes you think so?" in response to whatever the other person had just asserted. He disrupted IPS classes so many times with this variation on the 3-year-old's game of "Why?" that he was eventually booted out of the program, a move that convinced his early disciples that he was a prophet-genius who'd symbolically triumphed over the establishment.
Meanwhile, Paul had moved through the Hubbard cult toward still blacker magicks. For recreational reading, he took up most of the usual suspects, including Adolf Hitler (then, predictably, Friedrich Nietzsche); Steppenwolf author Hermann Hesse; Aleister Crowley (Mr. 666 himself, the Auld Beast of Revelation who advocated — but denied responsibility for — blood sacrifice of human infants by his following of World War Iera English decadents); and Greek-Armenian "Fourth Way" guru G.I. Gurdjieff, another metaphysical Svengali who abused his followers for being so servile while doing everything in his power to keep them from making a break for it. Paul and George also were enraptured by two popular books about mass murderer Charles Manson, former Fug Ed Sanders' The Family and L.A. city prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi's Helter Skelter.
Less predictably, perhaps, he immersed himself in The Decline of the West by Oswald Spengler, a neo-Hegelian German social theorist with an authoritarian streak who went into permanent hiding after publicly parting with Hitler and the Nazi leadership over the issue of anti-Semitism, especially the so-called Final Solution. (Spengler said he was against the idea of a Jewish god, not the Jewish people themselves.) Later, while Paul claimed to identify with Hitler, he, too, rejected anti-Semitism — sort of. ("There was no reason to kill all those Jews," he said, speaking as Darby Crash in the 1979 interview for No Magazine. "[Hitler should have] just got them to move back to Israel. Fascism is not a philosophy," he continued. "It's a way of life. Fascist is totally extreme right. We're not extreme right. Maybe there's a better word for it that I haven't found yet, but I'm still going to have complete control . . . One day you'll pray to me.")
From Spengler, Darby also picked up such punk-friendly slogans as "Nothing is true" and "Question authority," as well as a philosophical basis for his Circle One symbology. "You know, like, something you've done maybe eight years ago, but all of a sudden it feels like you're at exactly the same place doing the same thing?" he told No Mag, extrapolating on Spengler's contention that Western Civilization, at the end of its cycle, was so far gone it was too late for anybody to do anything about it. "You may not be doing the same thing, it's just that feeling. Everything works in circles. That's why we have circles on our armbands."
Astrid was from a planet blue He spoke of love for me and you He could set your mind ablaze . . . He made a noise that stirred our souls Got us moving out of control . . . On a starry night in mid-December Astrid cried . . .
—Jan Paul Beahm, 1975
When Paul and George openly adopted Charlie Manson as a hero, it freaked out many of the nonCircle One IPS students — which, of course, had been precisely their intention. The two walked around campus like some Rimbaudian version of Columbine trench-coat death angels Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, albeit dressed in white (bed sheets, actually), giggling on acid and bearing copies of Helter Skelter, which they referred to as their Bible. "He's God and I'm Jesus" is how George would approach an introduction. But not everyone was willing to buy into — or shy away from — their antics, and while George grew tall and sinewy and learned to hit back, pint-size Paul was frequently thumped by geek-bashing Neanderthal jocks.
In the seventh grade, George turned Paul on to David Bowie, icon of British glam rock — or "glitter rock," as it was better known locally. ("I was into the New York Dolls, the Stooges, the Ziggy Stardust album and Alice Cooper's 'School's Out,'" said George, as "Pat Smear," in an interview for Bill Bartell's Germs-tribute Web site "A Small Circle of Friends." "Darby was into oldies and '50s rock & roll.") Paul was especially inspired by his new hero's seemingly supernatural ability to change personas. He marveled that some English working-class bloke with an ordinary name like David Jones could reinvent himself so often: David Bowie, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, the Thin White Duke. (Later, Paul would likewise adopt a series of pseudonyms. First, for a poem he wrote at the age of 17, he came up with Astrid, a variation on the Ziggy Stardust idea in which a visitor from another planet with a ring in his ear and wild hair becomes an idol and a martyr. Astrid was followed by the English-punk-sounding "Bobby Pyn" when the Germs first formed early in '77. In early 1978, he considered naming himself Richie Dagger, after the Germs song "Richie Dagger's Crime," but opted instead for "Darby Crash.")
Meanwhile, back in the early '70s, Paul had analyzed every word of every lyric Bowie ever wrote. He transformed his bedroom into a religious shrine, complete with a small altar, photos, rare bootleg recordings, posters — all the memorabilia he could bag from the monthly parking-lot swap meet at Capitol Records. To young Jan Paul Beahm, Bowie was God, an infallible rock deity, prophet and mystic.
At Uni High, Paul began to preen around with stoner/surfer-length blue hair (food coloring applied daily with a toothbrush) and told the other kids he was Dean (The Boy With Green Hair) Stockwell's son.
I'm Richie Dagger I can stomp and swagger I can take on all your heroes I'm Richie Dagger I'm young and I'm haggard The boy that nobody owns
—The Germs, "Richie Dagger's Crime"
As far as Paul and his clique were concerned, the timing of L.A.'s '77 punk explosion couldn't have been better. Glam was already passé enough that they had begun to feel like anachronisms. Punk gave them a new outlet, a voice, a context in which to move their little cult of cool uncools off-campus. There was basically nowhere else they could have gone at the time.
Meanwhile, the ripple effect of London punk had opened the sluice gates for a flood of unskilled and semiskilled musicianship and performance. Now anybody — literally anyone off the street — could make a big noise onstage, and there quickly developed in L.A. a folksy community of drug- and alcohol-besotted naifs, a marvelously lascivious, antisocial subgroup, mostly ranging in age from midteens to mid-20s, who partied and had sex with each other every night, and spent the next day gossiping about it.
The Germs, who began in George's parents' garage during early '77, originally called themselves Sophistifuck and the Revlon Spam Queens, and counted among their members future Go-Go Belinda Carlisle. The group came together, in name only, after Paul and George posted fliers at Licorice Pizza — a record store kitty-corner to the Whisky on Sunset Strip — advertising their search for "two untalented girls." Two teenage would-be Queen groupies from Newbury Park High School in Thousand Oaks, Belinda and pal Terri Ryan, responded.
The kids got together in the garage, chose punk names and — presto! — the Uni High acid freaks and their plumpish, rosy-cheeked Freddie Mercuryfan pals had reinvented themselves. Paul became "singer" Bobby Pyn; George became "guitarist" Pat Smear; and Terri Ryan, who took up the bass, became Lorna Doom. Would-be drummer Belinda ("Dottie Danger") got sick with mononucleosis and dropped out before the Germs' debut at the Orpheum Theater "Punk Palace" on Sunset, to be replaced by Donna Rhia (formerly Becky Barton, also from Newbury Park).
As for the band's "punk" influences, according to Pat, he and Bobby were originally inspired to take it to the stage less by the Sex Pistols and their British ilk than by the raw-edged, anybody-can-do-this spirit they saw in the Runaways, an all-girl hard-rock band from the Valley who'd formed in '75, tanked commercially in the U.S. and the U.K., but clicked locally — and in Japan — for a few years. Runaway Joan Jett and sidekick-lyricist Kari Krome, who threw countless rocked-out, booze- and dope-fueled parties at Joan's apartment a block away from the Whisky, represented a new breed of cool rock star who didn't disappear into limos and private jets after the show. (The always accessible Joan soon became tight with Bobby and Lorna.)
Although there was no real band, the members, especially Bobby Pyn, were talking it up everywhere, and by the time original L.A. punk kingpins the Weirdos asked the Germs to open for them at the Orpheum in April '77, it had become a case of put up or shut up.
The first three Germs shows were slapstick food fights accompanied by drunken, caterwauling guitar cacophony and thrashing drums, icky-goop-laden performance presentations cheered on by their Uni High chums. "Darby stuck the mike in a jar of peanut butter," Pat told Bartell. "Lorna wore her pants inside out, and Darby covered himself in red licorice. We made noise for five minutes until they threw us off."
Virtually no one on the early punk scene took the Germs seriously as a band, certainly not grimly determined new groups like X, the Weirdos or the Screamers, whose significantly older members, possessed of at least a modicum of musical chops, were largely driven — despite much posturing to the contrary — by dreams of the Big-Buck Multiple-Record Deal. Still, following more gigs at the Masque (the illegal club, rehearsal hall and homeless shelter off Hollywood Boulevard that I opened in July 1977), the Germs were given coverage in Slash, Flipside, Generation X, Panic, Lobotomy and other fanzines, which were starved for anything remotely punk and would print the most banal sorts of gossip. ("Trixie steps out of Whisky. Returns with pants inside out. 'What old wino?' she says." "Lori Faye has fur coat ripped off, stuffed down Masque toilet by vindictive punkettes.") During that same summer, the Germs recorded the song "Forming" on two-track tape in Pat's parents' garage, releasing it as a 7-inch on Chris Ashford's What? Records. It was the first self-produced punk single from L.A.'s Class of '77.
Deep, deep, deep in my eyes There's a round, round, round circle of lives It's a tame, tame, tame sort of world Where you're caught, bought, taught, as it twirls
—The Germs, "Circle One"
In early '78, Paul formally dumped "Bobby Pyn," and declared himself "Darby Crash" in lyrics ("I'm Darby Crash/A social blast/Chaotic master… Darby Crash/A one-way match/Demonic flasher") he recorded for the Lexicon Devil EP, released by fledgling Slash Records — a spinoff of the fanzine of the same name — that summer. (The sleeve artwork contained goofy cartoon drawings of Nazis wearing swastikas, and no one at Slash or anywhere else on the punk scene batted an eye.)
The record gave the band instant countywide exposure on Rodney Bingenheimer's KROQ-FM Sunday-night indie-punk-pop radio institution. The Germs cult from Uni High now had an identity: Circle One. What had begun as a tiny outsiders' clique found the new punk scene ripe for recruitment. Anybody could hang with the Germs — anybody willing to serve Darby, guru supreme. With the kids who frequented the Orpheum and the Masque, it really didn't matter who you were or where you'd been. You just dyed your hair, tore up your clothes, gave yourself a new name and told the past to fuck off. You could even get in a band, just like that.
Soon after settling into his new persona, Darby began flirting with quasi-fascist imagery, including little Spengler-inspired circular insignia and armbands. Initiation into Circle One was by cigarette burn to the wrist, preferably administered by Darby personally or by one of the female recruiters who'd nab longhaired strays at the Masque and shear their hair before branding their wrists with a lit cigarette to create a permanent circular scar. ("Over 200 people have them," Darby told Flipside magazine, "even in San Francisco. You only get one from someone who has one.") One of the Circle One girls, a former child prostitute reinvented as a punk princess, even made a point of having sex with longhairs before whacking their locks and burning their wrists. "You do this. You do it for Darby," the women were overheard saying. "I completely control a number of people's lives," Darby told former journalist and Flesheaters front man Chris Desjardins. "Look around for the little girls wearing Crash T-shirts."
By early summer 1978, the Circle One gang couldn't convene at Darby's mom's house anymore, for several reasons. From Faith's side, there were too many noisy visitors during the day, when she was trying to sleep; Darby was fed up because Faith went on "rampages" and was constantly busting his chops about everything. Early in 1979, Darby left home and moved in with the daughter of a pharmacist, now slumming "on the edge" in the new, ultracool boho-punk Hollywood. She gave him the keys to her apartment and a steady supply of free drugs.
Throughout this time, Darby kept up his compulsive manipulation and panhandling. The dreaded "Gimme two dollars…Gimme a ride to the Whisky…Gimme a ride home" was the Klaxon from hell around a scene that saw a series of suggestible, often overweight women openly competing for the attentions of an emotionally unavailable, alcohol-soaked LSD-guru-cum-glitter-rock-wraith while picking up his tab for booze, drugs, gas, food and shelter.
Gimme gimme your hands Gimme gimme your minds Gimme gimme this, gimme gimme that.
—The Germs, "Lexicon Devil"
As "the most volatile band in the universe" — so proclaimed Slash magazine's Claude Bessy — the Germs didn't have a snowball's chance from day one. It was still the dark ages of the great American underground-rock renaissance of the '80s. There were no corporate-financed "alternative," "cutting edge" national networks of desperately hip indie labels, agents, bookers and promoters, or career-minded college-music radio interns. No MTV. No Internet. No digital technology whatsoever. When Circle One was forming at Uni High, it was still a big deal if you had an answering machine.
After the release of Lexicon Devil, the Germs hooked up with Phoenix, Arizona, native Jimmy Giorsetti, who had renamed himself "Don Bolles" after a murdered journalist and who was the last piece of the Germs puzzle, pulling together the whole picture, the last in a succession of drummer wannabes and part-timers on loan from other bands (including X's Don Bonebrake and the Weirdos' Nicky Beat). Bolles who engaged in hard drugs, compulsive sex and the darker end of occult dabblings, eventually helped render the Germs aura an even deeper shade of black.
In the fall of '79, the band followed Lexicon Devil with the critically acclaimed ("a musical strip-mine-of-the-soul that doesn't miss a beat," wrote Richard Meltzer in the L.A. Times. "The most staggering statement so far from the American branch of the New Wave"), Joan Jettproduced G.I. ("Germs Incognito") full-length album, released, again, on the Slash label. But with no agency or management behind them, to say nothing of any real legal representation, Darby — at least in terms of exercising mind control over the record industry — had run into a brick wall. According to Pat, Darby felt shunted to the side when Slash invested the profits from the sales of the album into signing X rather than developing the Germs. The band never once left California. No agent would represent them. No club would book them. Neither the London nor the oppressively provincial New York rock media would give any L.A. punk band the time of day, other than to trash it.
By early 1980, the band was plagued by problems related to its ever-expanding audience of snarling, speed-bugged, sexually frustrated superpunks from well-to-do O.C. beach communities who were emulating the sensationalized media versions of punk America. Female attendance fell off at Germs and other hardcore shows, which had degenerated into bizarre post-pubescent warrior-bonding rituals, with frequent interventions by SWAT teams and police choppers.
While Darby privately disapproved of the rise in violence, he never tried to dissuade the new kids from behaving badly at Germs gigs. By early in the summer of 1980, the Germs had been banned from every club in the L.A. CountyO.C.RiversideVentura basin. Their following had become notorious (in both punk and LAPD circles) for bum-rushing club guest lists in packs, breaking windows and chairs, stealing liquor, having sex and shooting up in bathroom stalls, looking conspicuously underage while swigging hard liquor from open containers in full view of the cops, smashing up bathroom mirrors and toilet bowls, torching dumpsters and graffiti-tagging, to say nothing of their "creepy crawling" (a term borrowed from Manson lore) at Hollywood Cemetery, or their defacing and theft of art at gallery openings…
THE END CAME SUDDENLY, WHEN DARBY BUMPED DON BOLLES as drummer to make room for a beginner, a new lover, before a trip to London paid for by his latest sugar mama. Darby accused Don of disloyalty for playing in one too many embarrassing side bands. ("My worst experience in the Germs was finding out how shocked and furious Darby was when he saw me playing in Vox Pop wearing a dress," Bolles said.) Male prostitute and punk scenester Tony the Hustler said Bolles' smart-aleck penchant for deliberately baiting, grating up against and generally annoying Darby didn't help his case, either.
Then, a month later, Darby returned to an L.A. punk scene still cast in his image, dressed up as an androgynous follower of Adam and the Ants — complete with Mohawk, blue feathers and bondage outfit — and pronouncing punk "dead" when it was still just coming out in the 'burbs.
Passionate bright young things Takes him away to war — don't fake it Sadden glissando strings Uh-h-h-uh-h-uh — you'll make it Who will love Aladdin Sane?
—David Bowie, "Aladdin Sane"
Back in 1978, Darby had been disconsolate when Donnie Rose, the boy he loved, suggested they move on in their relationship into a permanent best-buds platonic zone. Darby had met and seduced Donnie when the latter was only 15. Now, at 16, Donnie was developing bisexual tendencies.
"I didn't think about whether Darby was gay," says Nicole Panter, "and I wasn't shocked to learn that he had crushes on boys, though I didn't find out until after he died." Twenty years after his death, Philomena Winstanley, another former editor at Slash, says, "I didn't even know that he was gay."
Most people thought of Darby as asexual, since in public — and very much in keeping with the "No Feeling" punk ethos — he carefully avoided emitting any perceptible sexual energy. Gay punks from the Old Guard have pointed to the homophobia rampant within the Hollywood-O.C. scene as the motive for Darby's secrecy.
"I think homophobia was part of the fascist façade of a lot of the punk mentality," says Slash contributing photographer Kerry Colonna, "especially the hardcore aesthetic as it began to evolve from mid-1979 on." When asked about this issue in a 1986 interview, Claude Bessy commented, "[The band] Fear was homophobic. X was homophobic. I was homophobic. Fuck, basically we were all homophobic."
Untrue, says former scenester Judith Bell: "I clearly remember John Doe making a specific point of reassuring Darby it was okay to be gay around us. I even remember John saying, 'We'll support you. We'll stand by you if you go public.'"
Still, Tony the Hustler tells how, in early 1980, Darby refused to be filmed anywhere near him during the shooting of Penelope Spheeris' oh-so-Spenglerian documentary The Decline of Western Civilization, because he didn't want to be seen with anyone looking so unambiguously homo. It was Tony who suggested calling in one of Darby's old Uni High female chums, Michelle Baer, to front as his current roommate; hence the film's cozy domestic egg-frying display in the kitchen of Tony's apartment, complete with live tarantula.
Meanwhile, Darby was sinking deeper into narcotics and alcohol abuse. Before taking off for London in the summer of 1980, he had confided to friends that he felt unappreciated and abandoned. Many people from the old Hollywood scene had parted company with him over his exponentially accelerated drug use.
Following the release of G.I. in 1979, when the Germs were asked by soundtrack composer, producer and music supervisor Jack Nitzsche to contribute five songs to director William Friedkin's Al Pacino vehicle Cruising, Bob Biggs, president of Slash, said, "I was over the moon. Here was the perfect way to ease Darby back into creative work mode without pressuring him for the G.I. follow-up. I thought, 'Thank God, a solution.'" However, the Germs showed up completely unprepared, and Nitzsche demanded brand-new original songs, no quickie remakes or covers.
According to Donnie Rose, this task now became a daunting nightmare for Darby: "It was the most creative pressure I'd ever seen him under. He seemed totally lost and out of it." Up till now, says Donnie, Darby had been accustomed to creating at his own nonprolific speed, and had been coasting for some time on previously written material. Darby disappeared from the studio in terror, started drinking even more and using tons of drugs, thus causing considerable alarm to the band, before he eventually returned several days later…and delivered the goods pretty much on schedule: five new songs, as well as Lorna Doom's only known composition, "Now I Hear the Laughter." (Darby himself certainly "heard the laughter" when Friedkin ended up using just one excerpt from one song — titled, ironically enough, "Lion's Share.")
By the winter of '79, hardcore drugs and hardcore hostility had cast a shadow over the entire punk scene. The exhilarating, freewheelin' days of innocent fun and games (as we liked to think of it) were over. My poor old, dear old Masque was gone forever, and I was secretly heartbroken while pretending to be stoical about it. The Canterbury Apartments up the street on Cherokee Avenue were shuttered after the final punk squatters had been evicted at gunpoint by thugs who'd taken control of the building.
Livin in a fury life's kinda blurry dyin' in a hurry story's kinda lurid . . .
—The Germs, "Not All Right," circa 1979
Sometime, then, in the midsummer of 1980, Darby announced that he was taking off on an extended open-return ticket to London with his new girlfriend and would-be manager, Amber, who picked up the tab. He instructed Lorna and Pat to teach Rob, his latest squeeze, to play drums so that they could resume as the Germs, sans Don Bolles, upon Darby's return.
Pat and Lorna had spent three years honing their chops, and resented being asked to revert to their primitive garage-thrash beginnings. After attempting to teach the unwelcome newcomer some rudiments, the two concluded that the situation was hopeless: Their young charge had absolutely no musical talent whatsoever. Lorna quit in disgust, and Pat followed, thus ending the Germs as a band while Darby and Amber were still in London.
Upon his return to L.A., newly reinvented "Ant person" Darby found himself ridiculed by fans, friends and other supporters, who took one look at his feathered Boy of London outfit and told him he looked a right jerk. Fanzine editorials chastised him for being a follower of fashion rather than the leader he once had been. (The Darby-inspired Oki Dog skate-punk look carries on into the present day.) Even worse, the word along the Hollywood-to-O.C. suburban-punk grapevine was that Darby Crash was washed up, a has-been. He was 21 years old.
Just when the timing seemed like it couldn't get any worse, Darby was pressured into forming the Darby Crash Band after Amber, who'd already announced she was managing his solo career, committed him to a date at the Starwood on August 27, 1980. There was not nearly enough time to pull something worthwhile together. Darby called Pat in at the last minute as "temporary" guitarist, and with Bosco (a.k.a. David Davenport) on bass and Circle Jerks drummer Lucky Lehrer, the band came together — during sound check, for the first time — for a run-through of a few new tunes and some Germs covers.
The reception at the Starwood was tepid. The kids wanted the Germs. They wanted onstage self-mutilation. They were also alienated and confused by the new image, the "weird" getup. Shortly after the Starwood gig, when the "professional" relationship with Amber had ended, Darby glommed onto yet another socially estranged woman with a car and sufficient income to cover his expenses and provide a rent-free crib. Enter Casey Cola.
Well now you know that your Cat has nine lives Nine lives to itself But you only got one And a dog's life ain't fun
—John Lennon, "Crippled Inside"
Darby had talked about killing himself so many times before, since at least 1977, that nobody took it seriously anymore. "He said, 'I'm going to kill myself before I get old, I'm gonna do it at a time when it takes everybody by surprise, and I want a statue erected of me for people to go to,'" according to Nicole Panter.
"He used to say it regularly," says Philomena Winstanley. "He talked about death and bleak depressive states of utter hopelessness in his lyrics," which made frightening sense on the page but were incomprehensible during his unpredictable live performances, where he would snarl or drool, as often as not off-mike, such peppy, life-affirming lines as "I'm heading for the center of destruction" or "I want out now, I want out now, I want out now now now now now now now now."
Photo by Jill Ash
Judith Bell tells how she and Chris Desjardins met with John Doe and Exene Cervenka to discuss what to do after Darby told John he wanted to kill himself. It was right after the final Germs reunion show at the Starwood, on December 3, 1980, just days before Darby's death. "'He looks up to you,'" Bell says Lorna had told Doe over the phone. "'Maybe he'll listen to you.'
"Despite our repeated assurances, Darby told John he was petrified of being outed," says Bell. "He thought that Fear [a pseudo-macho punk-metal hybrid from the Valley whose satirical between-song patter inevitably included a round or two of fag baiting] might beat him up, and that Claude Bessy would throw a fit or something."
Before they could figure out a plan of action, Darby was gone…
"WE'D BOUGHT GRAPEFRUIT JUICE AND 100-PROOF vodka, and we talked about how easy it would be to die — what we'd have to do and how much money we had," Casey said in an interview with a former roommate, Kari Leuschner (a.k.a. Ella Black), about two years later.
"Darby and I had been doing consistent drugs for a month and a half. We'd really been trying to put our lives together. Everything was fucking up with our plan for this great house we were living in. He was supposed to be writing [but] he hadn't done anything, and he was supposed to be recording in January…
"We looked around the courtyard of the Hong Kong and said, 'Man, fuck it, let's do it. Fuck this shit, it's not gonna ever change, it's not gonna get better. It's going to go on and on, we're going to be doing this same shit next year.'"
Darby suggested going to Casey's mom's place, out back in the guesthouse. "We talked about whether we could get enough drugs, and that if he hit me up it would be murder — I can't do myself, because I have a manual-dexterity problem. We were each asking, 'Are you sure? Are you sure?' He didn't coerce me, and I didn't talk him into it. We never talked each other into anything. I didn't make Darby die…
"I got water and a spoon. He wrote a note, which he didn't show me, but which I think said, 'My life, my leather, my love goes to Bosco.' He hit me up first and said, 'Are you okay?' and I said, 'Um, yeah.' He put his hand at the small of my back and he said, 'Just hold it, just stay there, just wait for me, okay? Just wait for me.' He held me up for a second, then he hit a vein and laid himself against the wall and pulled me to him. It was almost like he forgot what we were doing, and he goes, 'Wait a minute.' And then he kissed me and said, 'Well, 'bye.'"
SQUABBLES BROKE OUT AMONG THE FIERCELY protective women who ran the Circle One cult as to who was and who wasn't cool enough to attend the funeral, and there were lots of sour grapes among those who weren't invited. Nicole Panter: "If you saw the movie Suburbia, you saw the funeral, basically. It was this really sad little punk rock funeral. Darby looked like they'd put green clay on his face, and his hair was dyed black." The autopsy identified the cause of death as "acute heroin-morphine and ethanol intoxication."
That was 20 years ago. A search for recent anniversary coverage in the Lexis-Nexis® news-research engine turned up 580 listings in the database defined by the parameters All Newspapers/Previous 60 Days/"John Lennon" AND "death." The same search, but substituting the name "Darby Crash," turned up one.
The loneliest fucking number I ever saw.
Brendan Mullen is currently co-writing, with Don Bolles, a biography of Darby Crash, scheduled for release by Feral House in Fall 2001.
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