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Crash and Burn

The Most Untimely Death of a White-Hot Germ

December 03, 2000|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 John Lennon.

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.

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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 girlfriends.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday December 10, 2000 Home Edition Los Angeles Times Magazine Page 4 Times Magazine Desk 1 inches; 21 words Type of Material: Correction
The magazine incorrectly credited the photographs of Darby Crash that ran in the So SoCal section on Dec. 3. The photographs were taken by Frank Gargani.

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Brendan Mullen owned the Masque, an early Hollywood punk club:

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.

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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.

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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.

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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 was him.

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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.

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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 the time.

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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.

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