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!
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 punkandoi.free.fr 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, Stylusmagazine.com 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.