Although he only appeared on a handful of singles, one full-length album, and one movie documentary during his short life, Germs frontman Darby Crash certainly left his mark on the punk rock world. Few rock "singers" (the term must be used loosely in Crash's case) pushed themselves to such dangerous and fearless extremes. Born Jan Paul Beahm on September 26, 1958, Crash endured a troubled childhood: his older brother died from a heroin overdose while Jan was still a child and he tried to find his real father (whom his mother never married) when he was a teenager, only to discover that he had died, too. Beahm found a kindred spirit in another outcast in school, George Albert Ruthenberg, whom he met through a mutual drug dealer and shared the same appreciation for troublemaking and distaste for authority figures. While Beahm's musical tastes at the time revolved around '50s-era rock & roll (due to his older sister's influence), Ruthenberg eventually turned him on to the glam rock sounds that ruled L.A.'s Sunset Strip in the early- to mid-'70s -- David Bowie, Alice Cooper, Queen, the Stooges, and New York Dolls.
Inspired by the glam scene and by the up-and-coming all-girl group the Runaways (as well as the burgeoning U.K. punk scene), Beahm and Ruthenberg decided to form their own band despite being unable to play any instruments. Beahm changed his name first to Bobby Pyn, then shortly thereafter to Darby Crash, while Ruthenberg adopted Pat Smear as his name and took up the guitar. Hooking up with other disenfranchised hangers-on of the Sunset Strip's underworld, Crash and Smear named their new group the Germs. The pair hooked up with bassist Lorna Doom and drummer Dottie Danger and the Germs attempted to meet the members of Queen at a California hotel, and although their drummer slot would be always changing (Danger, aka Belinda Carlisle, eventually resurfaced as the singer for new wavers the Go-Go's), Doom remained a permanent Germs member. Crash soon adopted an on-stage persona that would make Iggy Pop proud -- indulging in confrontations with audience members, behaving obnoxiously and drunkenly, singing off-key and off-mike, and not resisting the urge to smear peanut butter on himself or cut his torso mid-performance. A fine example of the Germs' unforgettable stage act (as well as one of the only Crash video interviews in existence) can be sampled in the 1981 Penelope Spheeris-directed documentary The Decline of Western Civilization.
The Germs became one of the frontrunners of the emerging L.A. punk/hardcore scene (which also included such other acts as Black Flag, Circle Jerks, X, and Fear), as their one and only album, 1979's (GI), became an underground hit. But Crash's intake of heroin had reached deathly proportions just as the band's recording career began, and he split from the group to visit England for an extended period in 1980. When he returned, he looked more like a member of Adam & the Ants (with a Mohawk, facial makeup, and jacket with dangling feathers) than the streetwise punk he was before -- and when an attempt at fronting his own band, the short-lived Darby Crash Band, proved to be a disaster, a one-off Germs reunion was booked for December 3, 1980, at the Starwood in L.A. The show proved to be one of the band's all-time best, but only four short days later on December 7, Crash was found dead from a heroin overdose. He was only 21 years old. Despite being in the spotlight for a brief period of time, Crash's star still burns bright to this day; the Germs myth has reached legendary proportions in punk circles, with a movie bio being planned on Crash's life and some of alt-rock's biggest artists (the Offspring, Nirvana, Foo Fighters, Jane's Addiction, Red Hot Chili Peppers, etc.) continuing to name-check Crash and the Germs as major influences. ~ Greg Prato, Rovi