The short life of Punk Icon Darby Crash

The Germs lead singer who committed suicide in 1980 aged only 22 was born 65 years ago

The short life of Punk Icon Darby Crash

Darby Crash was born Jan Paul Beahm on September 26, 1958 in Los Angeles, California. The controversial Punk musician, over the years gained a considerable cult following, turning him into one of the biggest Punk influences of several bands, including the Red Hot Chill Peppers. Born into a dysfunctional family, at age 11, the young Darby saw his eldest half-brother Bobby Lucas dying of a heroin overdose at the age of 27. From a young age, Darby started to experiment with drugs, eventually escalating it to heroin.

He met future bandmate Pat Smear (later of Nirvana and Foo Fighters), while in school. Although Darby was regarded as highly intelligent and even intelectual, his behavior stopped him from finishing school and with Smear, the two were accused of brainwashing the other students and causing them to behave subversively. Shortly after, in 1975 influenced by the rising Punk Rock scene and by Queen, they formed the Sophistifuck and the Revlon Spam Queens, later they renamed it to The Germs. The band is regarded as being pivotal on the development of the Hardcore Punk music and remains highly influential. Pat Smear later recalled how they were so obsessed with Queen that both him and Darby stalked the band in their hotel while in L.A for a concert. After putting out an ad requesting “two untalented girls” who couldn’t play their instruments, the two friends were joined by the suitably inexperienced bassist Terri Ryan, soon to be rechristened Lorna Doom, and drummer Belinda Carlisle (who later found fame as the Go-Go’s singer and solo Pop artist during the 1980’s) who was dubbed Dottie Danger, but Belinda was quickly replaced by Becky Barton (aka “Donna Rhia”).

The Germs gained a reputation for their violent, chaotic performances, often exacerbated by Crash’s drug abuse, which increased steadily over the group’s brief lifespan, but in between, they released a debut single “Forming” in 1977, the E.P “Lexicon Devil” in 1978 that includes the song “Circle One”, and in 1979 they released the album “(GI)”, their first and only. The record includes some of The Germs best well known songs such as “Lexicon Devil”, “What We Do Is Secret” and “We Must Bleed”
The Germs disintegrated in April 1980, due to Crash’s increasingly drug use and erratic behavior. After the split, Crash traveled to Britain, where he became heavily enamored with the music of Adam and the Ants, adopted an Adam Ant-inspired new look that included a Mohawk, and put on a considerable amount of weight, and after he returned to Los Angeles, he formed the very short-lived Darby Crash Band.
On December 3, 1980, The Germs reunited for a last concert, that took place at an over-sold club, the Starwood. During his short life, Darby Crash was unable to cope with several things, one of the biggest being perhaps his sexuality, the fact he was gay and struggled with it. He was known to date women but also men, and on the 2007 biopic “What We Do Is Secret”, which stars Shane West as Crash, this is one of the main subjects that are explored.On December 7, 1980, in Hollywood, California, Crash committed suicide by intentional heroin overdose, aged only 22. As he lay dying, he attempted to write “Here lies Darby Crash” on the wall but was unable to finish it. He also wrote a short note to Darby Crash Band bassist David “Bosco” Danford that stated “My life, my leather, my love goes to Bosco.” Darby’s death was largely overshadowed by that of John Lennon, who was killed by Mark David Chapman in New York just one day after Crash’s suicide.

Legacy and Legend

Over the years, he has come to be revered as a unique songwriter with his myriad literary, musical and philosophical influences, which varied from Friedrich 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 at the time, immediately setting Crash and his band apart from most other Los Angeles punk groups of the era. The Germs were captured famously in Penelope Spheeris’ 1981 film “The Decline of Western Civilization”. The film features a characteristically hectic and sloppy live show in which Crash, heavily intoxicated and under the influence of several drugs, calls to the audience for beer, stumbles and crawls on the stage and slurs lyrics while members of the audience write on him with permanent markers, and during an interview in the film, Crash also discusses taking drugs onstage to avoid feeling injuries from fan violence and “creeps out there with grudges”.

Watch a short interview with Darby Crash, taken from the 1981 film documentary “The Decline of Western Civilization”

Watch The Germs performing “Lexicon Devil” with Darby Crash

Watch The Germs performing “Manimal”, taken from the 1981 film documentary “The Decline of Western Civilization”

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