Crash and Burn
The Most Untimely Death of a White-Hot Germ
By ALLISON ADATO
Twenty years ago this week, Darby Crash, lead singer of
the Germs, killed himself in a premeditated, drug-facilitated
suicide that many believed was meant to ensure his own
legend at age 22. Had it been a different week, the media
might have run with a myth-making "American Sid Vicious"
story. As a punk PR event, however, Darby's exit was poorly
timed. About 24 hours later, a disturbed young man murdered
To mark the anniversary of Crash's death, some
friends--many of whom, as it happens, are writing books
about the singer--recall the day in 1980 when they learned
that both Crash and Lennon were gone.
* * *
Michelle Ghaffari met Darby, then known as Paul Beahm, at
University High School in West L.A. They later appeared
together in the documentary "The Decline of Western
Civilization," and she is now working with director Rodger
Grossman on a film about Crash:
Darby became my best friend, my mentor. I guess I was a
good follower of his, too. But I felt like he treated me
specially. I'm sure I was in love with him, but he did not have
* * *
Brendan Mullen owned the Masque, an early Hollywood punk
I didn't want to book the Germs at first.They can't play
their instruments; they just throw food all over. They would
do an excruciating version of "Sugar Sugar" by the Archies and
pour sugar all over the audience. Darby cut himself
sometimes, so there was blood, but you couldn't tell, it was
such a mess. And Darby had his cult. To be in the cult, you had
a Germs Burn administered, which was a cigarette put out on
the inside of your wrist.
* * *
Exene Cervenka's band, X, shared a record label, Slash,
with the Germs:
I have a Germs Burn. At first I thought Darby was really
mean. He was very punk rock, and I was very small town. At
the same time, he had the super- vulnerability of someone
who's been wounded. The James Dean thing. Someone much too
beautiful or much too scary or much too talented.
* * *
Don Bolles became the Germs' drummer in 1978:
The Germs' single was amorphous noise with a food fight
going on over it. It was either the worst or the most
incredible thing I'd ever heard. I called Pat [Smear, the Germs'
guitarist] and said, "I just started playing drums a couple of
weeks ago. I'm going to join your band."' And Pat said, "Oh,
OK." I drove from Phoenix and auditioned in the Masque
bathroom. I couldn't play at all. I guess they figured, "Well,
this guy's got his drums set up in like three inches of beer
and urine and water. . ." because they went out to deliberate
and came back inside and said, "You're a Germ." People were
attracted to Darby in droves. He was like an Oscar Wilde or an
Iggy [Pop]. Really, he was shy and reserved. He couldn't go
onstage without drugs.
* * *
Mullen: He used to do these mind games. He'd say to a girl,
"That's a cool necklace. Give it to me." Then he'd throw it
away. Mostly I remember him whining, "Gimme a beeeer."
"Gimme two dol-laahs." "Gimme a ride to the Whiiiisky." That
* * *
Ghaffari: He really hoped to be a rock star of some sort. In
the long term, it's not what I would see him doing. I see him
as a philosophy professor or something. He was incredibly
well-read. He loved Nietzsche. He read Hesse. He also read
Hitler. For fun he read a sociological study on the effects of
chance-taking. He never wasted a moment. Back in 1975,
when he was heavily into Bowie, the song "Five Years" on the
"Ziggy Stardust" album intrigued him. He talked a lot about
killing himself. He'd say, "I'm not going to be here in six
months anyway." Then he'd make some hysterical joke.
* * *
The Germs had formed in 1977 and broke up in mid-1980.
They reconvened for one concert on December 3, 1980.
Cervenka: We were supposed to play with them that night.
The audience was the Orange County hard-core fans. We had to
cancel, because we would have gotten killed. Me in a dress?
Forget it. I said the scene had been ruined and we should all
commit mass suicide. We used to all say stuff like that all
* * *
Bolles: At the last Germs show the magic was back. I
thought, "Maybe we'll get back together." Darby would say,
"Well, I'm not going to be around." He said that so much that
you didn't think he would. But then someone called and said,
"Oh, Darby's dead." There had been four or five scares before;
the call was just anticlimactic. I went to his funeral. His
mohawk was down. Which is good, it kinda looked stupid.
* * *
Ghaffari: The morning of the night he killed himself, I
went over and I woke him up. He made a big deal about hugging
me, saying, "Good to see you." The next day I got a call from
our friend Malissa. She was crying and said, "He did it." The
site of his death was this girl's mother's pool house--the girl
who accepted Darby's suicide pact. Either he didn't want to be
alone when he died, or else he needed help paying for the $400
worth of heroin. I don't think he had any intention of letting
the person with him die. She woke up and found him. There
was a note. He didn't die in the shape of a cross, if anybody
tells you that. Malissa was there and she would have told me.
He was just dead. I helped his mom figure out what he should
be buried in and who should come to the funeral. I don't think
she ever went to see them play, but she was supportive of
him. He had a couple sisters, nice, normal. I had my parents
drive me to Malissa's house. That's where I was when I heard
about John Lennon being shot.
* * *
Cervenka: It was like Darby was saying, "Hey, guys, look,
I'm immortal." Then John Lennon died. "Oh, wait. You're not." X
was leaving on our first U.S. tour. Everywhere we went we
heard "Imagine" or a Beatles song. Every truck stop, every
diner, that's all anyone was talking about. It was really
annoying. Of course I listened to the Beatles--I'm an
American. When you're a little girl and you hear the Beatles
for the first time, you're transformed forever. But my focus
was on my friend. Not to put down John Lennon, but someone
we loved had died.
* * *
Bolles: Darby was known for not singing with the band
during live performances. We played real fast and, if you were
drunk, there's no way to keep up. When I heard about Lennon, I
just thought, "Great timing as usual, Mr. Crash."
* * *
Mullen: I felt shock, then sadness. I thought, "You bloody
little idiot, you didn't need to do that. But you
double-chumped it. You had to pick a day when a Beatle gets it
in the head."
* * *
Ghaffari: None of us thought we were going to live to be
old. The attitude then was, "There is no future." It allowed us
to live fully, do what we wanted to do. I wouldn't recommend
it today. I never pictured my wedding. I never pictured my
kids. Those days were the most important time in my life
until I had kids. It was the most vital time. It was so ours.
Now I want people to know about it. I also want people to
know that, yes, there is a future.
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