Tag Archive | John Lennon

Rip Them Down, Hold Him Up

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.

Rumors Of Crawdaddy’s Death Have Not Been Exaggerated

This is one of those things that makes my head throb, my chest sting, and my testicles ache. Crawdaddy.com, the Internet extension of legendary rock rag Crawdaddy!, is ceasing publication on July 22. The controlling bean counters have long been displeased with C-Dad’s relatively low traffic, but instead of investing a little time, energy, and moolah to improve the situation, they just went out and bought an already proven Internet winner. Hence, the return of indie music chronicle Paste Magazine, which Crawdaddy.com will be folded into.

I’ve been contributing to Crawdaddy.com since around the time it launched in 2007. It was enormously exciting to be included in a new chapter of this storied magazine’s saga. After all, Crawdaddy! was America’s first journal of rock n’ roll criticism, a volume whose silly name belied the groundbreaking and forward-thinking writing its pages contained. William S. Burroughs and John Lennon, C! contributors from way back when, generally didn’t lend their names to crap. I can’t tell you how thrilled I felt being Geordi La Forge to their Mr. Spock and Bones McCoy, as it were (Crawdaddy! founder Paul Williams would of course be Captain James Tiberius Kirk in this goofball metaphor that doesn’t even really make sense considering the mag first returned after its initial 1979 fold in 1993; guess that makes me Quark, or maybe Seven of Nine?).

It’s not for me to say if Crawdaddy.com matched the Crawdaddy! of yesteryear, but I can say firmly and proudly that between 2007 and now we produced a mountain of engaging, thought-provoking, and emotionally charged content. I am honored to have shared space with such great scribes including but not limited to Andres Jauregui, Dan Weiss, Denise Sullivan, Howard Wyman, Allie Conti, Mark Prindle, Ryan Wasoba, and Jocelyn Hoppa. Jocelyn was actually Crawdaddy.com’s Editor-in-Chief when I joined up; she did a great job running things and I’ll be forever grateful to her for giving me a shot at a time when I had more parking tickets than published clips.

At some point back there, Jocelyn stepped down and Reviews Editor Angie Zimmerman took over as EIC. The transition was seamless, and for once I could say I had a job where the new boss was just as awesome as the old boss. How often does that happen? Approximately never.

The best part about writing for Crawdaddy.com was the freedom. Our work was only edited for grammar, spelling, and factual information. We could write anything about anything, so long as it pertained in some way to rock / pop music, and I don’t mind telling you we were paid in the neighborhood of handsomely. That was, to steal a phrase from J. Springfield, an embiggening feeling. I’ve worked for other places that pay significantly less yet watch their content like the most conservative of hawks, desperate to adhere to a certain established mold. How sharply frustrating it is to hear from an editor that you can’t write x opinion piece because it might upset the corporate dictators, or to see a colorful phrase excised from your work because some stuffed shirt deemed it “uncouth.” Dried up stinky dog shit like that never happened at Crawdaddy. In the end, you were the judge, jury, and executioner of your own work.

That luck was also our downfall. The corporate dictators never looked at Crawdaddy.com beyond the visitor statistics. They couldn’t monitor our content because they didn’t know what it was. We could have been printing pages from Mein Kampf or a 1984 Toyota Celica owner’s manual and they wouldn’t have known. They just saw we weren’t getting hits, and hits equal revenue, and what we were doing obviously “wasn’t unique” or we’d be getting more traffic than every porn site combined.

I think anyone who spent more than a few minutes perusing Crawdaddy.com, whether they liked it or not, could ascertain that we were doing something unique. It wasn’t a catalog of list-based journalism or trend-riding link bait. Obviously part of the blame here lies with The Social Network, a movie that convinced a lot of old white men that websites are only worth a damn if they can get you blown in a men’s room.

But I kid Aaron Sorkin. It’s not his fault Papa left us for someone younger with bigger tits SEO. I guess that’s just business as usual. It’s still heartbreaking, though, because Crawdaddy! has such a rich history and recently it felt like the website was really growing and reaching more faces awash in LED glow. Now everything we did over the past four years is going to be relegated to a dusty wing of an already too-cluttered web presence. It feels like the end of Raiders, but the inevitable sequel isn’t so inevitable.

I’ll be blogging like regular over at Crawdaddy.com for the next two weeks, so keep tuning in for the requisite updates about Glenn Danzig, Axl Rose, and archaic ’90s rap groups. The motivation is faltering, but I know many of you out there are fans and appreciate the C-Dad, and that keeps me from spending my days face down in the bathtub marinating in a small pool of warm Sprite and my own filth. Thank you sincerely for your support.