The document you are about to read was originally written over a two year period during 1991-93. Though it was privately published and next to nobody ever saw it, to the best of my knowledge it is the first biography of Darby Crash.
I had long been what could be termed an aficianado of punk music, and the Germs were one of my favorite bands; not only was the music suitably aggressive, but Darby Crash’s lyrics were nothing short of the most primal, inspired poetry I had ever read. Like most of us involved in the American hardcore scene of the early to mid 1980s, I was exposed to the mythology of Darby Crash and was pretty sure the picture it painted of a Sid Vicious-esque buffoon barreling to an inevitably surly demise was untrue. It seemed to me than such a person was not capable of expressing the poignancy and insight of the best of Darby’s lyrics at any age, let alone as the adolescent Darby had been when he wrote most of them. So as I approached my graduation from college I decided I would do something that nobody else had done, that I knew of, up to that point. I would try to write a properly researched and vetted biography of a mysterious, long-deceased cult hero about whom very little was publicly known.
I was as surprised as anyone when I achieved a modicum of success. I interviewed Darby’s mother and Pat Smear, both of whom have contributed their memories and blessings to other researchers during the intervening years between then and now. Where my take on Darby’s life diverges slightly from other accounts is that my list of sources included some not present elsewhere, including Christine Smith, Darby’s oldest sister and the person within the family who was first notified when he died; and the late Drew Blood, a member of the Riverside, CA contingent which included Bill Bartell (whom Darby dispatched to kick Don Bolles out of the Germs) and more notably, a certain well-hung, sweet teenage boy named Donnie Rose who by all accounts was Darby’s only true love. I also interviewed Regi Mentle, a friend of Darby’s imprisoned for life on a murder rap; the detective who responded to the scene of Darby’s suicide, and briefly, to the mother of Casey Cola, whose first words to me were that she ‘always thought Darby was gay.’ Indeed, at the time of the manuscript’s writing, it was not publicly known that Darby Crash was, in fact, gay, and that this closely guarded secret factored into his ultimate decision to kill himself.
Ultimately, I finished the manuscript in 1993, attempted to find a publisher, failed, sold the manuscript myself in the back of Maximum Rock N’Roll, and that was pretty much the proverbial that. I was thrilled that feedback I received from those who had been there, including Brendan Mullen, was highly complimentary, and even more so to eventually receive a credit in “Lexicon Devil,” the authoritative oral history of Darby’s life which was later compiled by Brendan and ex-Germs drummer Don Bolles.
I was aware that a movie about Darby was in the works. This last film project, which I remember hearing about in the middle to late 90s, was not the first one. When I began sniffing around Darby’s story, I was met with much resistance from his Hollywood friends not only because I was an outsider, being 12 years old and living in the Midwest when Darby killed himself, but also because my arrival coincided with the unceremonious departure of a name Hollywood director who was determined to make a movie about him – as it was told to me, a fictionalized piece of tripe centered around a non-existent, heterosexual Romeo and Juliet type relationship between Darby and Casey Cola, the girl with whom he overdosed on December 7, 1980. Thankfully, this movie was never made. Equally thankfully, the film that eventually was made, while taking certain liberties of a dubious nature, gives a sense of the mayhem and madness surrounding the Germs; Shane West’s performance as Darby is nothing short of remarkable. For that reason alone, if you haven’t seen “What We Do Is Secret,” do it now. You will never see West in the same light again.
Viewed from the perspective of the 21st century, the overwhelming legacy of Jan Paul Beahm, the writer, is one of tantalizing talent, never to be fulfilled. Darby could turn a phrase, utilized a gripping vocabulary (which, if John Doe is to be believed, was culled at least partially from the liberal use of thesauri), and had an innate sense of rhythm that made him ideal as a lyricist for a punk rock band. But he was never able to develop a vision of himself beyond that of a cult hero with a cult following, and his writing was similarly limited. He clearly viewed himself as a messianic figure and used his lyrics almost as propaganda to further the Circle One agenda. Later, after he returned from England without a band, without a scene, without his friends, and embarked upon the final year of his life, his lyrics lost their polysyllabic power and became blasts of confusion, torment, and pain. From the unreleased “Beyond Hurt/Beyond Help”, Darby wrote: “No caring where there’s cared for/No seeing what I’ve sought/I’m singing through the ashes/Of the ruins for which I fought/Beyond hurt, beyond help/Beyond here there’s no one else/No one else.” Darby seemed to feel that he had nothing more to offer once it became clear that his schtick had its limits. He was unable to secure the affections of the men he loved (Donnie Rose, Rob Henley); aside from a cadre of female admirers he was, in the end, unable to fashion himself as the reincarnation of L. Ron Hubbard (at least, not at age 22). He was faced with the fact that he was a mortal man and not a god, that some of his dreams, at least, were not becoming reality. With the impatience of the teenager that he was, he decided to say ‘fuck it’ and pack it in.
If you aren’t one of the ten people who bought my book in 1993, here it is. I hope you like it, and your comments are appreciated – especially any corrections or clarifications.
Chicago, IL 2008