Psychedelic Lunch

Welcome to our “Psychedelic Lunch”series, where we find out how deep the rabbit hole really goes and explore music and musicians from the 60’s to today. Enjoy the trip!

Darby Crash

voc, 1958-1980 US, Los Angeles
Singer / Songwriter
A.k.a. Jan Paul Beahm Bobby Pyn

Whenever there is a great triumph, sometimes comes an even greater tragedy. Such is the case with the California hardcore-punk outfit known as the Germs, who, in four short years, lived dangerously, playing fast, brash rock ‘n’ roll in the spirit of the Sex Pistols and the Ramones, but with a much dirtier and nastier edge; an edge that would prove to be sharp and deadly for the bands’ confused and drug addicted lead singer, Darby Crash.

Darby Crash (born Jan Paul Beahm) (September 26, 1958 – December 7, 1980) was an American punk rock vocalist and songwriter who, along with long-time friend Pat Smear (born Georg Ruthenberg), co-founded Germs. He committed suicide by way of an intentional heroin overdose. In the years since his suicide at the age of 22, Germs have attained legendary status among punk rock fans and musicians alike, as well as from the wider alternative rock and underground music community in general. Crash has come to be revered as a unique and talented songwriter; his myriad literary, musical and philosophical influences, which varied from Frederich Nietzsche and David Bowie to Charles Manson and Adolf Hitler, resulted in lyrics that were unusually wordy and impressionistic in the realm of punk rock.

The Germs were formed in April of 1977 in Los Angeles, California, in the midst of a burgeoning punk scene that started simultaneously in New York City with the New York Dolls and the Ramones, and in the United Kingdom with the Sex Pistols and the Clash. Soon, Los Angeles caught the punk buzz, and bands like the Weirdos and Skulls formed in the wake of American jaunts by better-known British acts like the Damned. The bug was destined to bite snotty delinquents Paul Beahm and Georg Ruthenberg, who formed a band when they were dismissed from their local community college for obnoxious behavior. Beahm took the roll as singer, dubbing himself Bobby Pyn; Ruthenberg, who would change his name to Pat Smear, took up guitar. The group also included bassist Dinky and drummer Michelle Baer. Though they never played live, this was the beginning of the band that would later be known as the Germs.

The Germs lineup started to take shape when Lorna Doom replaced Dinky on bass, and Dottie Danger (a pseudonym for future Go-Go’s vocalist Belinda Carlisle) took over on drums. Carlisle quickly left the group (though she would sing backup at a few gigs), and was replaced by Doom’s friend Donna Rhia, who took over as the band’s official first drummer. According to a biography on the site, the Germs’ first gigs in 1977 were little more than parties, with friends of the band heckling and throwing things. But the behavior soon spilled over onto the Sunset Strip when the band started to perform as a part of Kim Fowley’s punk package shows at the Whisky A-Go-Go and at the infamous Masque Club. At the time, Pyn idolized the Stooges’ Iggy Pop and the Sex Pistols’ Sid Vicious, and in turn would make each live performance an uncontrollable and often sloppy display.

That sloppiness was first documented an the band’s first single “Forming,” issued in 1977 on What?Records. The single featured new drummer Don Bolles of the band 45 Grave (who replaced D.J. Bonebrake of the band X, who sat in for a couple of gigs).

It was in the years of 1977 and 1978 that Los Angeles had officially arrived as another city where young punks could find glory in bands, which was personified by the formation of groups like the Dead Kennedys and Black Flag. The Germs were determined to make an impact, but were too unorganized to record a proper album (they did get around to releasing an hastily recorded EP featuring “Lexicon,” “No God,” and “Circle One”).

Finally though, the group began writing and recording their first album for Slash Records in 1979. Under pressure from Claude Kickboy Bessy, who was influential in Slash’s early years, the Germs entered the studio with former Runaway Joan Jett as producer, emerging with the album GI. Featuring an all-black cover with an enigmatic blue circle design—one that would echo the Germs’ stripped-down aesthetic—the album was a sweat-and-snot filled romp through 17 songs that dripped with aggression, despair, and pure anger.

Of the album, said, “There are some amazing moments of catchy, speedy proto-hardcore here, produced so clearly and with such ambition, it’s downright unsettling (thanks, Joan Jett). There are unpredictable standouts, such as the poppy, goofy, hateful, exquisitely timed ‘Richie Dagger’s Crime’ and the veering, odd assault of ‘Strange Notes.'” The band would also appear in Penelope Spheeris’ film Decline of Western Civilization, documenting the rise of the Los Angeles punk scene.

Following some touring to support GI, Crash would slip heavily into his heroin abuse. It would soon become apparent to everybody surrounding Crash—who was not only suffering from his drug use, but was also dealing with massive confusion due to his homosexuality—that the band would soon meet its demise.

Later that year, the predictions would come true, as the Germs disbanded. Crash and Smear headed off to England, where Darby would perform with The Darby Crash Band in order to keep money coming in for his habit. He would return in 1980 to reunite the Germs for a performance on December 3, 1980, at the Starwood in Los Angeles. The reunion, however, would be short lived, as Crash died of a heroin overdose on December 7, 1980. Following his death, a collection of Germs releases have appeared over the years, including Germicide (a live album) for Mohawk/Bomp in 1981, 1985’s Let the Circle Be Unbroken for Gasatanka and Lion’s Share for Ghost o’Darb, and 1986’s Rock N’ Rule. A myriad of bands have named the Germs as influences, including Nirvana, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Hole. Smear went on to play in Nirvana and the Foo Fighters.

Psychedelic Lunch

Welcome to our “Psychedelic Lunch” series, Punk Rock Edition, where we find out how deep the rabbit hole really goes and explore psychedelic tunes from the 60’s to today. Weekdays At Noon EST. Enjoy the trip!

Darby Crash, singer of the Germs, the most outrageous band on the West Coast, died tragically in 1980 when he committed suicide. He ought to have become a celebrated rock icon but his death was overshadowed by John Lennon’s murder the next day. Now a film about his explosive life has been made and the cult group has re-formed. Tim Adams tells a story of anarchy, chaos – and some music too.

In 1975, Paul Beahm, a 17-year-old, high-school dropout from West Los Angeles, whose brother had been murdered over a drug deal and whose stepfather had died unexpectedly three years earlier, devised a plan to make himself immortal. The plan would have the timeframe of his hero David Bowie’s apocalyptic anthem ‘Five Years’. It went like this: Beahm would form a band with his mates, spend a couple of years making it a cultish, outrageous live act, release one great album and then commit suicide to secure his legend.

Beahm proved himself as good as his word. His band, the Germs, with Beahm performing under the name Darby Crash, were, for a while, the most infamous punk band on the West Coast. By 1978, their appearances were occasions of such mayhem that they were routinely broken up by riot police. The Germs’ only album, (GI) (Germs Incognito), released in 1979, was widely acclaimed as a brutal masterpiece (an ‘aural holocaust,’ the LA Times suggested). And, as planned, on 7 December 1980, Darby formed a suicide pact with his then girlfriend, Casey Cola. They lay down together in her mother’s back room and injected themselves with the $400-worth of heroin they had bought with the last of their rent money. Crash died, Cola survived.

The one thing that did not go according to plan, however, was the timing of Darby Crash’s self-mythologising exit. Icons are not supposed to be upstaged, but on the day after Crash killed himself, John Lennon was murdered in Central Park and the world found a more genuine legend to mourn.

Crash’s designs on immortality were subsequently put on hold, but they have been revived in a film that retells the story of the ultimate live fast, die young life. Twenty-eight years on, Darby Crash may yet take what he always saw as his rightful place as a rock’n’roll martyr somewhere in the junkie’s pantheon between Jim Morrison and Sid Vicious.

Not long before he died, Darby Crash’s stage show had been preserved on film in The Decline of Western Civilization, Penelope Spheeris’s documentary about LA punk, a more theatrical, decadent relation to its slightly more venerable New York and London cousins. Grossman and his friends had watched that footage over and over. Crash, he suggests, was not only the most extreme but also the most romantic figure of that time and place. He had literally been the poster boy for Spheeris’s movie, pictured on the film’s promotional fliers passed-out drunk on stage, prefiguring his death mask by a couple of months. ‘Darby,’ Grossman says, ‘was at or very near the heart of a very important scene. He drew people to him. It’s an overused term but in the Los Angeles I grew up in he was a living legend.’

The movie is, necessarily, pitched somewhere between myth and reality. The Germs had been a polarising force and Grossman discovered that everyone he spoke to ‘had a different perspective and everything was always heightened when they remembered Darby. People cared a great deal that I got things right’.

No one cared more than the surviving members of the Germs, who had been rechristened by Crash: bass player Lorna Doom, guitarist Pat Smear (who went on to play with Nirvana and currently plays with the Foo Fighters) and the crazed drummer Don Bolles. All of them make large claims for Darby Crash, but none more so than Bolles. ‘With a little more luck and concentrated effort,’ he suggests, ‘Darby could have fulfilled his plan to be the new Jesus/Bowie/Manson/Hitler/L Ron Hubbard… he was a natural messiah type, whose heroic consumption of LSD helped make him the most psychedelic prankster I have ever known.’

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