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Punk's Little

Punk's Little


Darby Crash, lead singer of the influential '70s punk band the Germs, was gay -- and with the release of the new film What We Do Is Secret, the gay community may finally discover him as an icon

Above: Shane West as Darby Crash

Picture an iconic gay singer and Darby Crash of Los Angeles's infamous punk band the Germs does not come leaping to mind, but with the advent of Rodger Grossman's new biopic film What We Do Is Secret, that may change.

The Germs exploded onto the L.A. punk music scene in the late 1970s; its mastermind was Paul Beahm (who took the name Darby Crash), who along with fellow classmate Georg Ruthenberg (Crash named him Pat Smear) enlisted an assortment of young women who, like them, did not know how to play instruments -- among them, Belinda Carlisle (Crash called her Dottie Danger), who would go on to find fame with the Go-Go's). They first called themselves Sophistifuck and the Revlon Spam Queens, and later settled on the Germs.

Darby Crash began aggressively promoting the band -- making T-shirts, assigning stage names to band members, even coming up with the group's philosophy -- before they had written any songs or in fact rehearsed. Their first gigs ended up being more of an exercise in stage dramatics than music. During their stage debut at the Orpheum Theater on the Sunset Strip (not to be confused with the downtown L.A. Orpheum of today), Darby covered himself in licorice, and the set ended when he stuck his microphone in a jar of peanut butter, causing the band to be kicked out of the venue. Crash's antics later helped make a name for the band as he tossed sugar at the audience or cut himself while performing.

Above: Rodger Grossman

Eventually the group self-produced a single, "Forming," which is widely credited as being L.A.'s first punk single. With dogged determination the group continued, developing a sound and playing whenever they could find a venue brave enough to showcase them. They acquired a fan base.

On December 7, 1980, just four days after a successful, final performance at the (now gone) Starwood club, Darby Crash committed suicide by intentional overdose of heroin. His death was overshadowed by the murder of John Lennon the following day, but for those in the punk scene, Crash's death was a terrific loss of his inspired, intelligent lyrics and his whimsical yet tough bravado.

Now, twenty-eight years later, the Germs are internationally celebrated as an influential and important music group. Pat Smear went on to join Nirvana in their final year, before Kurt Cobain's suicide, and afterward played with the Foo Fighters and cohosted MTV's House of Style with Cindy Crawford.

What We Do Is Secret follows the rise and fall of one of L.A.'s most notorious bands, focusing on Darby Crash's five-year plan to become famous then commit suicide -- which no one took seriously until it was too late.

We talked with writer-director Rodger Grossman as he led a caravan of cars of the surviving members of the Germs from their induction at Hollywood's RockWalk to a reunion gig downtown

What drew you to this project? To me, Darby was the beating heart of the L.A. punk rock scene, and by telling his story, you're really telling a bigger story -- the birth of punk rock. In Darby's story there's a sad, lonely, sexually conflicted boy who had dreams of being worshipped and loved, and that, to me, was fascinating.

You've been working on this film much longer than the Germs were together. What saw you through so many ups and downs? It's been 15 years of struggle. Darby's friends, Darby's bandmates, sat behind me, and I felt an obligation to see it through for them.

Above: Darby Crash

In your film we see Darby have homosexual desires, but it's never consummated visually or even confirmed through dialogue, and one could even leave the film believing that he died a virgin. Was this intentional? His relationships with guys was something we spent a lot of time thinking how to approach. We decided it wasn't really what the movie was about. It certainly was a major issue for him that we needed and wanted to address. I worked very closely with one of the producers of the movie, who is gay, on how to address [his sexuality] sensitively and honestly. People in the audience who are gay have come up to me and told me that they loved the way the movie dealt with it -- in an honest and matter-of-fact way.

Do you have a sense of how Darby felt about his sexuality? He was very private about it. It was not something he discussed. I think he was very conflicted. I worked very closely with Darby's friends on this movie, and they felt it was important that we address it, but they didn't feel he was comfortable enough about his sexuality for it to be a movie about that.

An impressive accomplishment of this film is that it catalyzed a reunion of the surviving Germs members. How did this come about? We had an aborted production. A financier funded preproduction but didn't follow through on the rest of the fund. We had put the [actors playing the] band together and rehearsed them, and the Germs were really impressed. We had a wrap party for this movie that never happened -- which was very Germs-esque. The actor-Germs -- we call them the Baby Germs -- performed, and during the course of it the Germs reunited onstage with Shane [West, who plays Darby Crash in the film], and they had so much fun that they decided to keep playing with Shane, and they've been doing it ever since.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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