Sunday, February 08, 2009

Lux Interior Dies; Viva The Cramps

Odds against most people ever hearing of The Cramps. Saying that their songs were almost designed not to be played on the radio is an exception. I still remember hearing WXRT out of Chicago playing "Can Your Pussy Do the Dog" and that was about it. When WTTS announced Lux Interior's death, they played "Bikini Girls With Machine Guns" in the background. That was the closest they ever came to playing The Cramps - so far as I can ever recall.

But Lux got his obit in The New York Times: Lux Interior, 62, Dies; Lead Singer of the Punk Band the Cramps :
"The Cramps were founded in New York around 1976 by Lux Interior (born Erick Purkhiser in Stow, Ohio) and the guitarist Poison Ivy (Kristy Wallace) with a distinct musical and visual style. As connoisseurs of seemingly all forms of trashy pop culture from the 1950s and ’60s — ranging from ghoulish comic books to Z-grade horror films to the rawest garage rock — they developed a sound that mixed the menace of rockabilly’s primitivist fringe with dark psychedelia and the blunt simplicity of punk."


Taken aback by the question, he replied: “Rock ’n’ roll has absolutely nothing to do with music. It’s much more than music. Rock ’n’ roll is who you are. You can’t call the Cramps music. It’s noise, rockin’ noise.”
Even The Rolling Stone got into the act. But give Rolling Stone credit for putting photos and songs online for listening here. The Guardian has photos also. Do read the Village Voice piece here more for the comments than for the main article.

I saw them twice in Indianapolis. Think of performance art with loud guitars, a wildman onstage, and one wickedly humorous view of the world. IRS Records put out an anthology decades ago called "Bad Music for Bad People" and that caught the sense of humor. How many punk bands had a sense of humor? Maybe the Sex Pistols. Certainly, The Ramones. But only The Cramps could turn their jaundiced eyes on our whacked out world and come back with satire and not pure bile. Listen to The Clash's "White man in The Hammersmith Palais" and then listen to The Cramps' "Garabageman". Then consider that Lux and wife were married for 36 years. Contradictions, the lifeblood of satire, they understood and embraced and had one hell of a good time singing about them.

"In his 1984 review of Cramps comp Bad Music For Bad People, Kurt Loder wrote, “This is rock & roll the way it never really was on the radio, but the way you always dreamed it could be — drooling horrorama lyrics, great cheesoid guitar riffs, postlobotomy drum-bashing and a singer for whom inhibition is the dirtiest ten-letter word of all. Slurp it up, sleaze fans.”"
No, this was not Bon Jovi or Def Leppard. They were having a lot more fun. Here is how The Stone reviewed Fiends from Dope Island:
The Cramps: Fiends Of Dope Island : Music Reviews : Rolling Stone: "Now that Lux Interior and Ivy Rorschach's strictly retro sound as performed by the current wave of garage rockers is literally all the rage, the Cramps still hold one card those other bands don't: Outrageousness. Twenty-five years on, the Cramps have managed to take their voodoo bash and tiki trash thing into the outer limits without messing too much with the back-to-basics sound they forged in punk rock days. They don't wanna grow, and they haven't... Fiends of Dope Island doesn't just slip into darkness, it lives there, though at times the Cramps' hallmark nod and wink seems absent. But if you dig the Cramps scene, baby, this is it in all its perverted and shocker-ific glory."
The Guardian also gave Lux an obit, Lux Interior, founding member of the Cramps, dies aged 62:
"Lux Interior, the founding member of garage punk band the Cramps, has died aged 62. Interior, whose real name was Erick Lee Purkhiser, passed away on 4 February at Glendale Memorial Hospital in California. He had suffered from a previously existing heart condition.

Interior was the theatrical, macabre frontman of cult punk-rock group the Cramps. He founded the band in 1973 with his wife, Poison Ivy, whose real name is Kristy Wallace, and quickly became a staple of the New York punk scene. The band's music fused their love of horror B-movies with rockabilly and surf rock, and their influence can be heard in bands such as the White Stripes, My Bloody Valentine and the Horrors."

"In his sleeve notes to the rarities compilation How to Make a Monster, Lux complained about those who regarded the Cramps a joke. Lux and the Cramps were serious about rockabilly, horror, foot fetishes, sci-fi B-movies and 50s kitsch. They were all about keeping it pure, raw and minimal, but could never be described as revivalists.

They deconstructed rockabilly gems such as Surfin' Bird, Jailhouse Rock, The Way I Walk and Love Me, and made them throb with playful menace. They came from a similar place to the Gun Club, whose declared mission was to 'destroy rockabilly', but the Cramps (for whom the Gun Club's For the Love of Ivy was written) didn't crash and burn or go through reinventions. Rather like the Ramones, who came from the same CBGBs scene in New York, Lux Interior and Poison Ivy clung to their buzzsaw sound and never diluted it.

Like the sexploitation, hammer horror and B-movie imagery they maintained to the last, the Cramps' treasure chest is almost bottomless – from Tear It Up to Ugh! A Music War to the ridiculously camp surreality of Naked Girl Falling Down the Stairs. So has Lux Interior joined the ranks of the living (or surfin') dead? Next full moon (on Monday), you might just hear him howl."

Go read it all. You can get a link to the show at the Napa State Mental Hospital. It is better than anything I could write and will write here.

Not every album was so good. I have particular fondness for the EP "Gravest Hits". Along with the Stones' Exile on Main Street and Zevon's The Envoy, it helped me survive 1982. Look Mom No Head and Smell of Female were not so great. But that is only in comparison with their own records. There just was nothing else to compare them with. And what were their best? Stay Sick and Songs the Lord Taught Us. Stay Sick has the best parody of Bob Seger's "Old Time Rock and Roll" ever thought of:
They did that god damned rock n' roll -
The kinda stuff that don't save souls -
Ain't nuthin' good about it that i know -
Yea i dig that goddamn rock 'n' roll now king tut put it on a chart,
Noah took two on his ark, even before van gogh had art, adam and eve did it in the park now these days 'bout all you got is bull,
Ya got yer rockheads and your croissant rolls,
In days of old,
When knights were bold, they tied a sock around their jelly roll
And you could dance to all of it. Condolences to Poison Ivy.

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