I’ve been listening to the Germs nonstop for the past couple of days. Here’s a piece I wrote for Crawdaddy! about their singer’s legacy, published around the thirtieth anniversary of his death.
A lot of pop culture historians like to point out the fact Germs frontman Darby Crash’s dramatic suicide in December of 1980 was rendered almost inconsequential when the most popular member of the Beatles was shot less than 24 hours later, but the truth of the matter is Crash’s death would have been overshadowed even if John Lennon proved entirely bulletproof. After all, December 7th is the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack. Bring 12/7 up in front of any American and across the board the response will be more or less uniform: “Day that will live in infamy, 1941, FDR, World War II, shitty Ben Affleck movie.”
Never have I heard anyone say, “December 7th? Say, isn’t that the day Darby Crash and Casey Cola shot each other up with fatal doses of heroin in somebody’s pool house?” I don’t even say that, and I adore the Germs as much as clumsy puppies, double rainbows, and fresh morning dew. If Sid Vicious couldn’t permanently dethrone the groundhog after February 2, 1979, Darby Crash had no hope a year later against the most important piece of Pacific Theater in our nation’s history. Fact: Jimmy Carter did not declare war on opiates because they killed the guy who sang “Sex Boy.”
It’s no accident that I bring up Sid Vicious; many people over the years have written Darby Crash off as a hand-me-down version of that doomed Sex Pistol, just another barely educated weirdo in a dog collar on too much dope. The inherent difference between these two boy-men, though, is that Sid Vicious (at least towards the end of his life) didn’t seem to give a flying fuck about anything, whereas Darby Crash seemed to really care about something. What, exactly, is open to interpretation, but it cannot be overstated that the unapologetic slur of drunken pain and disgust Darby employed in most Germs songs wasn’t the sound of half-assery. That was the sound of a human being desperately trying to convey his message against a typhoon of inner demons.
Crash probably didn’t realize it at the time, but that was a staggeringly awesome subversive move. Singing in such an obviously terrible way forced fans to decode his actual lyrics from the drugged-out death cat moaning. When they did, what a shock it was to be confronted with the unexpected poetry of Darby Crash’s astute, mature songwriting.
Darby’s lyrics weren’t the knee-jerk “fuck this, fuck that” reactions you find in so many other punk bands. There was more honesty, more naked doubt. Look at “No God,” where he says he’s “peered in every window where I saw a cross” and admits he’d “pray to anything” if only there were some tangible evidence beyond what’s been “handed down…by some thoughtful blur.” Similarly confused feelings are expressed in “Communist Eyes,” wherein Darby invites the listener to the Soviet way of life despite his own personal misgivings. “I open my books but the pages stare…it’s a double edge,” he repeats of the hammer and sickle.
On the other hand, there were times where it was crystal clear what Darby Crash wanted: a religion based around his own divine greatness. He apparently looked at Germs fans as his loving congregation, asking the faithful in “Lexicon Devil” to “gimme gimme your hands, gimme gimme your mind” while promising to “build you up and level your heads.” Crash gets more to the point in the creaky mess “Forming,” begging listeners to “rip them down, hold me up, tell them that I’m your gun…pull my trigger, I am bigger than…”
Bigger than what? Bigger than any of Darby’s disciples or critics expected, probably. The Germs never played outside of California, but their music and message still managed to creep its way around the country (and the world) for years after the fact, due in no small part to the chipped tooth enigma that was front and center leading the playful/pointed cacophony.
The most notable mainstream artist to ever claim influence by the Germs was of course Kurt Cobain; you can certainly hear the Darby-esque approach Cobain took trying to mask his words with inaudible mumbling and/or howling screams of pain in any given Nirvana song. Kurt’s fandom was certified in September of 1993 when he invited Germs guitarist Pat Smear to join his multi-platinum grunge band. Sadly, eight months later Cobain would take another cue from Darby Crash and shoot himself in his Seattle greenhouse, claiming in his suicide note that he’d rather burn out rather than fade away.
Darby Crash actually did both, burning out and almost instantly fading away thanks to impeccably bad timing. That was actually sort of a good thing—Sid Vicious was just popular enough when he died to become an immediate fashion accessory, popping up on t-shirts and purses and, Jesus, now I’m sure his scowling face can be purchased on an iPad cover. Even John Lennon, that paragon of peace and humanity and other non-monetary concepts struck down so quickly after Crash, has now stalked New York City billboards shilling for iTunes. Darby, on the converse, remains purely an artistic figure (at least in the sense we’ve never seen his image sewn onto a hoodie on sale at the Gap). He’s still trapped in the grooves of the records, waiting to convert, offend, or disgust anyone willing to listen.
Whatever you stood for, Darby—freedom of indecision, the power/cult of the self, getting drunk as an act of terrorism—it’s still (mostly) in effect. In the next life, though, you might wanna check the calendar before you draw the final curtain.
I was walking home from the gas station. I don’t remember what I went there to purchase. Let’s say gum, or an iced tea. I hadn’t even crossed back over the parking lot before a light gold colored car pulled in front of me. A guy about my age poked his head out the window.
“Hey, Pakistan?” he asked, as if Pakistan is my name.
“Pakistan, right? You’re from Pakistan?”
There was no menace or sarcasm in this guy’s voice. He seemed genuinely convinced I was from the Land of the Pure. Straight outta the Gulf of Oman. My reaction was utter confusion; I’m Polish, and I couldn’t look more Polish if I tried. Mashed potato complexion. Relatively shapeless body. A general air that screams, “I have intimate knowledge of Lech Wałęsa and pierogi.”
“Uh, no, I’m from Connecticut.”
“Oh,” the guy responded with disappointment. “You know people from Pakistan, though, right? Like around here?”
I looked off into the distance, squinting. Do I know people from Pakistan around here? Is this code for something?
“I don’t know anyone personally from that area, no, but I think maybe there are some people…”
Silence fell between us. The guy seemed perplexed. I was absolutely perplexed. Eventually he thanked me and drove off.
I’ve considered putting up a sign in the neighborhood, a sign with my picture. “Dear Friend, if you look like this and your country of origin is Pakistan, a nice man in a gold car is searching for you. Text for more info.”
The Empire Strikes Back was released thirty-five years ago today. Our planet seems unanimous in the belief that Empire is the best of the Star Wars films, which of course it is. Dramatic and dream-like yet so human and accessible. Breaks off a lot of the clunk from the first film, avoids the retreads of the third. And those tauntauns sure are some wacky snow-stompin’ bipeds.
Nutty two-legged space camels. Crying out with their distinctive sad gurgle. Filled with weird blue macaroni guts. Namaste, tauntauns.
Please celebrate The Empire Strikes Back’s birthday responsibly, by which I mean do not turn your customized Boba Fett helmet into a gravity bong.
I wrote this piece in 2012 when it was Dave’s 30th broadcasting anniversary. My feelings remain the same. I’ll only add: it confounds me that Dave would continue the show for so long when his posture behind the desk (especially in the past few years) has suggested the emotional investment of a death row inmate…until I remember one of my favorite Dave remarks:
“Anything worth doing is worth overdoing.”
You overdid it, Dave, and as perverse at it seems we respect you for it.
See you later.
I saw Fury Road, and it’s just as great as everyone says. The action is hard without being dour, the pace is quick without being dizzying, every character seems instantly iconic, they cram in a few sharp yuks, and in general this entry does not violate the fast n’ loose Mad Max mythos.
On that last point…
The main antagonist of Fury Road is played by Hugh Keays-Byrne, who also played the Toecutter in the inaugural Mad Max. Hugh’s got very distinct eyes and they are in fact the only bit of his face you can see in the new film. His hair is kinda the same too. Thus, it is my belief that his Fury Road character is actually the Toecutter (the same way the Humungus in Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior is thought to be Max’s fallen partner from Mad Max 1). Yes, somehow the Toecutter survived being run over by that tractor trailer. Stranger things have happened.
Following this logic, Fury Road is taking place thirty years after the events of Beyond Thunderdome, in real time, and Tom Hardy is not playing the original Mad Max but Max’s son. The Rockatansky clan isn’t defeated on screen in the first movie a la the Toecutter. It looks like the bikers hit them, and then Max hears they’re dead or near death at the hospital. So again, the child, though a defenseless infant creamed by a motorcycle, could have lived.
This is why the Max of Fury Road is hesitant about giving his name—he isn’t even sure who he is. He’s still piecing it all together. This is also why the film doesn’t make any great pains to say “this is MAD MAX, the LEGEND.” He’s not. He’s Max Junior. Or Sprog, rather, as he was known in 1979.
There are holes in this theory. How could Max’s son be driving his father’s car, the legendary last of the V8 Interceptors, when it was destroyed in The Road Warrior? I don’t know. Maybe everyone in Road Warrior was mistaken about the availability of V8 Interceptors. You know, people find stuff that’s supposedly lost to history all the time. Maybe someone in the Outback hung on to this car like Obi-Wan hung onto that lightsaber on the off chance his pal’s kid would show up one day.
And what of the elder Mad Max? Does he still roam the wastelands? Sure, why not. That would make an excellent sequel. Max versus Max, father versus son. Charlize Theron’s Furiosa wouldn’t know whose side to take. Then Tina Turner could show up with fuckin’ Emil Minty and take this dirty-ass circus to a whole ‘nother level.
Mad Max²: Beyond Fury Road. That’s what I’d call it. License to print money!
“Nuremberg: Nazis On Trial”: Three episode docudrama focusing on the infamous post-war prosecution’s most interesting defendants: the business man who was only sort of a Nazi but still took accountability b/c he knew no one else would, the Nazi second to Hitler who claimed no knowledge of the Holocaust and was apparently very taken aback by what the trial revealed, and the Nazi who believed the Jewish people had hypnotized him into being rude to waiters and that’s why he sided with his country. Fascinating peak into this chapter of history but not the full tale. If you’re anything like me it’ll make you want to read a few books.
“The Amish: Shunned”: Can you believe we’ve had a period of culture we could call Amish sensationalism? This episode of American Experience is far from that—just an honest account of what some individuals go through as they float between strict Amish society and our modern landscape. I felt it in my heart when the one girl decides to return to Amish life but laments how much she’ll miss music.
Supermensch: Alice Cooper’s manager has had a pretty bonkers life. Stumbled his way into working with several icons at once, more or less invented celebrity chefdom, is still searching for love. Mike Myers directed this doc; he definitely needs to direct a few more.
Don’t Stop Believin': Everyman’s Journey: Classic rock band needs new singer, they scour the Internet, find some kid on YouTube many worlds away. Entertaining enough. I was more intrigued by the sight of Neal Schon in a Clash t-shirt. Had Joe Strummer lived would they have collaborated?
Radio Unnameable: The story of free form deejay Bob Fass, another great piece of everlasting New York City weirdness. You WILL be soothed by his dulcet vocal tones, you WILL want to live in the world of harmony and love he tries to create. Also, you WILL cringe the moment you hear Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s forgotten ode to King Kong ’76.
My feud with Chicago is over. I had a grand time during my mostly “hey, why the hell not?” visit this week, taking in various sights (like the staircase from The Untouchables, seen above) and local delicacies (Dinkel’s cranks out a must-taste Woolworth sandwich). My jimmies were hardly rustled at all.
Like MacArthur I shall return. Three trips out there and I still haven’t seen the house from “Family Matters!” Or that big weird mirror thing!