When Bobby Pyn saw the Germs’ name on the Orpheum marquee, he panicked. Once onstage for their first performance, he caked himself in licorice whips and sliced himself with broken glass as Pat and Lorna banged noisily on their instruments, without a clue as to how to actually play them; Donna was hopeless on the drums. Amazingly, the performance earned the Germs a healthy dose of respect. The Germs would soon boast a reputation as the most unpredictable, insane band in town – a band that had to be seen to be believed, a band that couldn’t play.
During their first year of existence, the Germs beat all their contemporaries in the race to produce the scene’s first vinyl document. What? Records released “Forming”/”Sex Boy,” both Bobby Pyn/Pat Smear compositions. The A side was recorded in Pat’s garage, and the B side was recorded live as the Germs auditioned for a band scene in the Cheech & Chong film, “Up In Smoke.” Their instructions were to perform so poorly that Cheech & Chong, masquerading as musicians, win a talent show. The Germs did not appear in the movie, but the cassette recording of “Sex Boy”, including shocked observers screaming ‘oh shit!’ as Bobby smears himself with peanut butter and runs through the audience – was nothing short of legendary.
Donna Rhia departed in 1977 by mutual agreement, and the Germs embarked upon the time-old tradition of burning through drummers. DJ Bonebrake of X and the Eyes recorded two songs with the band, a cover of “Round & Round” a la Bowie bootleg arrangement and a newer version of “Forming”, neither of which were released during the group’s existence. When DJ could not be persuaded to leave the Eyes, Bobby, Pat and Lorna recruited Weirdoes drummer Nicky Beat, who became an honorary Germ in 1978 to perform live and record the “Lexicon Devil” ep, the very first release for the nascent Slash Records label.
With experience, they became better musicians, gained confidence. By 1978 there was nothing comical about the Germs. Pat and Lorna formed a tight unit, churning out the perfect accompaniment to Bobby’s dramatic and intense lyrics, Pat spraying leads in an oddly perfect cacaphony, Lorna standing and smiling, Bobby growling, pacing, prancing and falling, a dynamic performer capable of holding the audience enthralled. He was the kind of lead singer who commanded the total attention of everyone in the club, and he had undergone a veritable transformation. No longer was he a self-conscious, precocious, bratty teenager. He was becoming cocky and self-assured, the center of the clique that had formed around the Germs, a clique he dubbed Circle One. His lyrics were darker, stronger, brilliantly illustrative, taking the themes of renewal, triumph, tragedy and redemption he had first discovered through the Ziggy Stardust album and tilting them through his own particular lens. He began to portray himself as the leader of not just a band, but a cult that would do anything he asked. And he had once again changed his name. He was now Darby Crash.
The A side of the ep recorded with Nicky Beat indicated the new direction the Germs were taking. Alongside a catchy riff punctuated by staccato drumming, Darby’s newly commanding voice proclaims: “I’m a lexicon devil/with a battered brain/searching for a future./the world’s my aim/so gimme gimme your hands/gimme gimme your minds…”
There were two songs on the B side. “No God” begins with Pat ripping the lead from Yes’ “Roundabout” and erupts into a furious diatribe drawing on Darby’s teenage exploration of religion, with Darby declaring that there is “no god bigger than I/no god frightening me.” And “Circle One” introduced the world at large to Paul Beahm’s new alter ego, as he explains that he is “Darby Crash/your Mecca’s gash/Chaotic master.”
There was still the matter of finding a reliable drummer willing to commit to the band. Help would come from an unlikely suspect.
Jimmie Giorsetti and his pal Rob Ritter were new transplants to LA from Phoenix, having traveled specifically so Jimmie could audition for the drum seat he had heard was available with the Germs.Lanky with long hair, Jimmie hardly looked like a punk. When he arrived at the audition, he was asked to set up his kit in the men’s room of the Masque. He fumbled around, sounding hopelessly sophomoric, until Nicky Beat taught him a Weirdoes song, “Life of Crime.” According to Pat Smear, “in five minutes he was great.” Jimmie was hired. He changed his name to Don Bolles and officially became a Germ.
The Germs contingent included the band members and a tight circle of friends, most of whom had known the band members for years. Pat and Darby, particularly Darby, were the leaders. The ‘Germs Burn’ – a circular cigarette burn given on the inside of the wrist – was a coveted mark of initiation into the exclusive clique. Once marked, one could then mark others. As the group’s popularity increased, more and more hangers-on attempted to gain access to the center of the circle swirling around Darby Crash, the charismatic leader who would be king of the scene.
Closest to Darby were a series of women he seemed to replace with the seasons, female fans of his music who served as his drivers, his bankers, and his sycophants. Always, he found a girl to mother him, to provide for him. He was never known to hold a day job, instead living off his meager Germs earnings and the generosity of the girls he, and they, called “Crash Trash.” A disturbing side of Darby’s personality emerged, one which seemed to have no qualm about using his female friends for as much as they could give him, then discarding them without a second thought. His relationships seemed shallow to observers, even penurious.
And as 1978 wore on, it became apparent that Darby was one of a number of LA punks becoming more and more involved with heroin.
He had always loved drugs; he met Pat Smear when both patronized the same speed dealer as post-pubescents. Over the years he drank as much alcohol as his stomach could hold, smoked angel dust, took Quaaludes – he was an indiscriminate connoseur of substances. It was perhaps, inevitable that Darby would try heroin – it was in his nature to experiment, to go out on the edge further than anyone else. Though the drug had killed his brother, and perhaps in spite of the tragedy that it brought to his family, Darby found this high was one he enjoyed more than any other. He became a glutton for it.
1978 was also the year Darby fell in love.
Donnie Rose lived in Riverside, a valley community an hour away from Hollywood. Darby met the curly-haired fifteen year old boy at a Riverside punk club. Darby was instantly smitten, and despite Donnie’s reservations, Darby successfully seduced him. Rose, who is now deceased, has stated that although he cared a great deal for Darby as a person, he was not gay and therefore, couildn’t give his friend the emotional commitment he seemed to want. The relationship lasted for a year or so, after which Donnie politely extricated himself from what was becoming a more and more uncomfortable situation. They remained friends, although it is unclear whether Darby ever really got over the loss.
Meanwhile, as 1979 began the Germs were continuing to gain momentum .Darby had the type of charisma usually associated with religious and political leaders, and he became the idol of a burgeoning beach scene that would eventually march across the continental USA as “hardcore” punk during the middle to late 1980s. His hairstyle, his clothing, and his hard-living ways were emulated by hundreds, if not thousands, of teenagers. It became a badge of status to claim to “know” Darby, and many who had never met him made such statements, if only to bolster their own standing among their circle of friends.
Ironically, just as Darby was beginning to actually achieve some of the lofty aims which so infatuated him, he began descending more and more into a morass of drugs and depression. He spoke to nobody about his conflicted sexual identity, since he lived in an era where homosexuality was considered anathema – although many of the early Hollywood punks were also gay or lesbian, few were out of the closet. For someone who was, in most other areas of his life, a confident trendsetter, Darby’s attitudes were quite the opposite when it came to his sexuality. He seemed ashamed of it, and was mortified by the thought that the growing throngs of admirers who came to his shows, and aped his every move, would somehow learn of his secret. It may not be a coincidence, then, that Darby’s heroin use rapidly accelerated as his old friends, many of whom were either gay or female, left the scene and his relationship with Rose ended. Heroin, a notorious soother of anxiety, may have helped Darby feel more comfortable in a skin that was growing increasingly constricting, yet nearly impossible to shed.
As the original Hollywood punks started slowly drifting away from the scene, disenchanted with the influx of heroin and oafish thugs from South Beach who packed every show, the Germs reached the apex of their existence when they recorded their only LP, “Germs (GI)”, once again for Slash Records. The album stands even thirty years later as a defining document of its time, capturing the ferocity of the band and the whirlwind possession of its singer better than any live show. Even mainstream critics got into the act, with LA Times critic and rock cognoscenti Richard Meltzer comparing Darby to Jim Morrison and declaring the album to be “the most important release to come out of LA since the Doors’ ‘LA Woman.’” Joan Jett’s production perfectly matched the spitting, hissing intensity of the band, and they delivered the tightest, most frenetic music they had ever made. It was hard to believe that just two years earlier, four giggling teenagers with a fondness for Quaaludes and glam rock first took a stage without knowing how to play their instruments, instead relying on gags and gimmicks to get through a ten minute set.
If the public Darby Crash portrayed himself as a magnetic idol with a bulletproof exterior, the private Paul Beahm remained, to his family, insightful, sensitive, and keenly aware of his growing fame. In private moments he seemed to relish shedding the image and just being Paul, the little brother he had always been. He was quiet and even shy outside of the Hollywood scene. He laughed about his success with his sisters and mother, appreciating the respite his family provided.
Things had changed for the Baker family while Darby was discovering himself as a vocalist and lyricist. His mother was working long hours cleaning planes at LAX airport, while his elder sister Christine moved an hour and a half away to San Pedro with her husband and their three kids. The eldest went bythe nickname “Chris Crash” and bragged about being Darby’s nephew, though he was only four years younger than his famous relative. His other sister, Faith, with whom he had always been closest, had two small boys of her own.
They were aware that he was becoming more and more involved with heroin, but nobody confronted him. He never expressed a desire to quit, and he always resented any interference in his life, even the most well-intentioned.”We never saw him loaded,” says his sister Christine, adding that she was shocked, surprised, and saddened when she saw “The Decline of Western Civilization” after Darby’s death. “That person was not my brother,” she said of the scenes depicting Darby as an incoherent drunk, stumbling and falling across the stage.
By 1979, the tight-knit scene which had nurtured the Germs was all but gone, replaced by ass-kicking teenage boys from the suburbs. There were fights and all-out riots when any punk band played, and Germs concerts became reknowned for being the most violent events of all. As a result, it became virtually impossible for the band to perform; no club was willing to risk it. It was the Germs’ de facto manager, Nicole Panter, who suggested the group play gigs under the name GI; it stood for Germs Incognito and was the only way they could book into unsuspecting venues. The idea may have originally come from the Sex Pistols, who in similar circumstances played shows under the acronym SPOTS (Sex Pistols On Tour Secretly).
Darby’s onstage persona had changed dramatically from the days of peanut butter and slicing himself with broken glass. Now that his audience was composed of impatient gang-banging kids, itching for a fight, he was less comfortable. He was unable to perform without being loaded, getting so fucked up on alcohol and whatever drugs were available that he could barely walk, let alone sing. He had trouble remembering his lyrics even when sober; loaded, he slurred them unintelligibly, moaning and screaming like a wounded animal more often than not. The beach kids ate it up; to them, this was punk rock, exactly like what they saw on the news. But Darby’s old friends were saddened and discouraged. He was surrounding himself with sycophants instead of the people who truly knew and loved him; in particular, Darby had a sugar mama, Amber, who kept him well stupefied with heroin. Slowly, he drifted further and further into addiction and desperation.
There is some evidence that Darby himself recognized his predicament, and may have decided that the only way out was suicide.
As a boy, Paul Beahm explored the nuances of religion with the intensity of a scholar. He studied Scientology, EST, and the traditional Christianity of his birth. He rejected all of them, but continued to search for something higher than human existence. As he got older, he became more interested in Buddhism, and he told his sister Christine that he believed firmly in reincarnation, that he would be born again when he died.
He was not particularly close to Christine, since she was twelve years older than him and had moved out of the house when he was just four years old. Suddenly, though, he began to call her regularly. With every conversation, he managed to change the subject to that of life after death, wanting her opinion, debating its merits. He also quizzed her about his biological father, Bill Bjorklund, wanting to know what she remembered about him.
Back in Hollywood, producer Jack Nietzche, who had worked with the Rolling Stones and coordinated dozens of soundtracks, wanted the Germs to provide songs for a new film he was working on. Titled “Cruising,” the movie starred Al Pacino as a detective investigating a serial killer targeting – ironically – the gay leather community. Six songs were recorded, and one appeared on the soundtrack album. The session represented the last recording the Germs would ever make.
The Germs continued to have problems finding bookings. The situation was so bad that when Penelope Spherris approached the band wanting to include them in her documentary of the LA scene, “The Decline of Western Civilization,” she had to rent a space and throw a by-invitation-only show. The Cherrywood Rehearsal Studios played host to the Germs as well as Black Flag, another band plagued by violence at their shows. During the filming, stage hands exhorted the first-generation Hollywood folk to “dance more radical, slam into each other!” The scenesters looked at each other and shrugged. Penny Spherris was a first-generation Hollywood punk herself – she knew they didn’t slam dance!
The Cherrywood gig took place on January 3, 1980. In less than a year Darby would be dead, but at the time his future looked bright. The attention from Hollywood power broker Jack Nietzsche, the rave reviews their album had received, and the band’s already legendary reputation apperared to ensure the same fame on a national, if not worldwide, level. More and more punks were born each day, bringing more fans, more ticket sales, more record and t-shirt sales. Life looked good on the outside, but on the inside it was beginning to fall apart for the Germs.
Darby never spoke much about his problems, not even to Pat Smear, his best friend. “He never said anything to me,” Pat has said. “It wasn’t that kind of relationship.” But turmoil was clearly building. In the spring of 1980, the band’s manager, Nicole, quit along with their bassist, Lorna Doom. The reason was Darby’s shocking decision to dismiss drummer Don Bolles and replace him with Rob Henley, Darby’s new on-again, off-again lover. Bolles had an eccentric, strong personality that grated with Darby’s authoritarian designs. Don wouldn’t fall into line the way Darby expected him to, and as supreme leader of the Germs, Darby cast him out of the kingdom. If Henley had been a talented drummer, it wouldn’t have mattered as much, but unfortunately Henley made their first drummer, Donna Rhia, sound professional by comparison. He was beyond terrible, and without a drummer or bassist the Germs broke up, just as Darby left to visit England with his sugar mama, Amber.
In May 1980, while Darby and Amber were in England, Joy Division vocalist Ian Curtis committed suicide. Grief-stricken fans sent the group’s new single, “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” to the Number One chart position, where it remained for the duration of Darby’s visit. Curtis’ death may well have provided Darby with a macabre preview of his own suicide and the ripple effect it would likely have for the band he would leave behind. Darby was a lifelong student of people and their reactions to events, and it does not seem terribly far-fetched to surmise that an already depressed Darby might have observed the furor caused by Curtis’ suicide, and finally committed himself to his own plans in order to be “reborn” into the Godlike status he so wanted.
It wasn’t until summer that Darby and Amber returned to LA.. The Darby Crash who came back from England wasn’t the same Darby Crash who left LA. Taking a cue from Adam Ant, who was just beginning his career and whom Darby had met while overseas, he shaved his hair into a Mohawk. He is widely regarded as the first American punk to wear the hairstyle, which he foppishly called a “Mohican” – he would correct anyone who dared refer to it as a Mohawk. He was newly decked out in expensive Boy of London gear, wore war paint on his face, and trailed feathers behind him wherever he went. It was an odd look that would never have caught on – except that he was Darby Crash. Within weeks, dozens of pint-sized Mohicans, with makeshift bondage wear and war paint, cropped up in LA.
Now that the Germs were no more, Darby assembled a new group called the Darby Crash Band. Another love interest of Darby’s, the late Bosco, played bass; the stalwart Pat Smear remained on guitar, ostensibly as a temporary measure until Darby found someone permanent; and Darby sang as per usual. There was never a permanent drummer, and old friend Lucky Lehrer, who once voted to kick Darby out of IPS, played the only live shows the group would ever do. There were two, one in San Francisco and one in LA. Darby wrote two new songs which alluded to his increasingly desperate frame of mind, “Out of Time” and “Beyond Hurt/Beyond Help,” which fell far short of the standard he had set for himself with the Germs. The band was not well received and quickly faded into obscurity. Several songs from their San Francisco performance would later appear on a Flip Side video compilation in 1981.
At around this time Amber began to slowly fade from the picture, and Darby began spending time with a new girl. Casey Hopkins was known as Casey Cola on the scene. Little is known about her, except that she was disliked and distrusted by Darby’s Hollywood friends – Pat Smear remembers her as being “ugly, looking like an old lady.” Even less is known about exactly how Darby met her and how he came to choose her as a partner in the suicide scenario that would unfold at the beginning of December.
Darby decided to reunite the Germs, including his nemesis Don Bolles, for a final show. Publicly, he said the new members of the punk scene needed a “sense of history.” Privately, he said that he needed money to buy the drugs he would need to kill himself.
It was now Thanksgiving 1980. Darby spent the day with his family, joining them at Christine’s house in San Pedro for a delicious meal. Originally Darby planned to invite Pat, but Christine wanted the celebration to include only the family, so he demurred to her wishes.
While there, he autographed a copy of the Slash album for his sister. The family kidded him about being a big star, and Darby – still Paul to these familiar loved one, half-seriously complained that “(I) do this all the time” and to knock it off.
He was in good spirits and showed no signs of depression.