Long-in-the-making Germs biopic What We Do Is Secret finally arrives
By now, you know about the movie What We Do Is Secret. It's the biopic of the infamous, legendary, LA punk band the Germs, whose lead singer, Darby Crash, did things his own naive, idiosyncratic, pathetic yet brilliant way, changing the shape of the universe.
Crash committed suicide on Dec. 7, 1980, the day before John Lennon got offed, and the latter death obviously received most of the obituary ink that week. It's been an uphill battle for Darby's legacy ever since. In fact, in fact this biopic was something like 15 years in the planning and execution.
The Germs were a bunch of true misfits among the punk-rock aspirants of Los Angeles, circa 1977. Crash (née Jan Paul Beahm), son of an alky mom and brother of a junkie, had hung out with Pat Smear (a.k.a. Georg Ruthenberg) since grade school, bonding when they both got kicked out of LA's University High for bad behavior. They formed their first band, Sophistifuck & the Revlon Spam Queens, with "singer" Crash then known as Bobby Pyn and Smear on guitar. The band attempted to play music that would pay homage to Bowie, Queen and Yes, but they didn't play their instruments too well.
Eventually, the Spam Queens became the Germs, after Crash and Smear drafted Lorna Doom to play bass and, briefly, future Go-Go's singer Belinda Carlisle to do some rudimentary tubwhacking; later, drummer Don Bolles came out from Phoenix to insist that he, too, become a member of the band.
Bolles had heard about the Germs via their first single, "Forming/Sexboy," which has been called the first punk record by an LA band. B-side "Sexboy" was recorded live at the Roxy for inclusion in the Cheech & Chong movie Up In Smoke; the song, which features an unstaged food fight, never made it into the film.
It was Crash's highly developed lyrical/poetic gifts, clearly evidenced in "Forming," that made Bolles and others take notice. He also possessed the ability to dominate a room full of drunk, crazy, punk-rock kids with a seemingly real gift for mind control.
The Germs' music, as heard on the 1979 album GI, wasn't glammy. It was much more volatile, aggressive and haywire—but tightly played and very, very fast, with loads of teen torment, encapsulating everything that was wrong with life—and so interesting because of it for that particular generation of greasy, angry geeks and their girlfriends.
By the time of Crash's death, the Germs had grown in influence and even messianic power. Their stage "shows" were too scary because the kids got inflamed and things got violent and insane, and the band had been banned from LA.
All the while, Crash spiraled higher and higher, pursuing some obscure vision on an ever-receding artistic plane, then lower and lower. He grew very sad, felt a growing hopelessness. A fated last act would end his pain, then, and possibly seal his legend. It was all part of his "five-year plan."
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I talked to Don Bolles and Lorna Doom recently about their time in the Germs and their memories of their departed friend Crash, as well as their feelings on seeing it all played back on the silver screen. Their memories of Crash are fond ones; they miss him terribly.
Don Bolles: Darby said, "Yeah, we're getting popular." I said, "Really? And it sounds like this? This sounds more horrible than what we make in our living room." But it was pretty mind-opening. Then I heard the B-side of "Forming," ["Sexboy"], and you can hear glasses breaking and people screaming, and you could sorta hear, like, noise music that kinda sounded like the Runaways interpreted by Throbbing Gristle.
What was your first impression of Darby Crash?
Bolles: It was one of the strangest conversations I'd ever had. I talked about every imaginable sexual indiscretion that I'd ever heard of. And he just seemed really interested. . . . We bonded on Eno 'cause Eno did stuff with Bowie, so he thought Eno was cool.
Lorna Doom: He had extreme amounts of charisma. I didn't think of it as mind control; he was just extremely charismatic. And he was funny.
Bolles: Darby could be like some kind of shaman. I don't know how he did it. Total crowd control. And then the sound and action was like total chaotic oblivion; you were at that point, and it was kind of where you needed to be. It was like a dervish, like an insane dervish exorcism party. It wasn't just some kind of rock show. The music was sort of like a carrier, loosening the bonds of humanity with these people. . . . Get them out of their humanness for 45 minutes and make them part of some emergent system of chaos and weirdness. Very Information Theory.
This wasn't mind control?
Bolles: We were practicing mind liberation, not mind control. He made himself into this thing—he made himself this shamanic, feverish fucking clown. And it really worked.
Why did he have to die?
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Doom: I was devastated. I will never forget that day. I felt relief for him because he was unhappy. But, even though he had said it so many times to so many different people, at some point, that he actually . . . killed himself . . .
Bolles: He had this image as this junkie guy who was reckless, and he was to some degree, but there were stories that were part of his calculated image. He did once empty out a bunch of capsules and take them to a club, and then asked somebody for a beer so he could take all these pills; then he eats all these [empty] pills in front of all these people, and they're like, "Oh, my God!" That kind of stuff happened. His attention to detail was pretty good.
Doom: Darby would've loved the idea of a glamorous, pretty-boy actor [like Shane West] playing him in a movie, you know? This was all part of that five-year plan that he had. How did he know? He knew he was going to be huge. That was his thing. How could he have known that it would happen this way?
WHhat We Do Is Secret screens at Edwards University Town Center, 4245 Campus Dr., Irvine, (949) 854-8818. Opens Fri.