Saturday, February 07, 2009

Cramps' Lux Interior Dead

THE MUSIC WORLD lost another larger-than-life figure this week as Lux Interior, lead singer and founding member of Psychobilly legends The Cramps, passed away at age 62.

Even among New York City punk bands, there was something so menacing, so authentically fiendish about The Cramps that they stood apart from the scene even as they were a major component of it. In an era when it was good capital sense to pretend to be psychologically unhinged and mentally unbalanced, The Cramps seemed more than a little out there, even while playing up the more campy aspects of their ghoulish, horror movie persona for all it was worth.

The basic Cramps lineup featured no bass guitar, just two guitars and drums and a lean, emaciated, quite possibly deranged lead singer calling himself Lux Interior (real name Erick Purkhiser). The visual focus onstage alternated between the mostly shirtless lead singer and statuesque guitarist Poison Ivy dressed in tight black leather (real name Kristy Wallace, perhaps the original intimidating goth chick). Their signature sound was Neo and Retro at the same time, a blistering combo of 1950s rockabilly and 1960s garage punk. But as Lux himself is quoted in the excellent New York Times' obit: "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."
The Cramps for the most part operated under the radar of FM radio and the mainstream music business. But on their two best full length albums -- Songs the Lord Taught Us and Psychedelic Jungle -- as well as on the essential early compilation Bad Music For Bad People, they were right up there for a while with the best that the Punk genre could offer. It was pop music, sure, but somehow it seemed less like a mere commercial product that you held in your hands and more like a personal companion in your own struggle for identity and search for meaning.

Rudimentary as their musicianship may have been when starting out in 1976, like many fellow punk bands, after 2 or 3 years of steady touring, The Cramps emerged as a riveting live act. Their trademark sound was a primitive, almost primordial beat that seemed to rise up from some dark swamp where the baser, cruder instincts of mankind still lurked. I think All Music Guide nicely sums up The Cramps' trashy appeal: "The Cramps celebrate all that is dirty and gaudy with a perverse joy that draws in listeners with its fleshy decadence, not unlike an enchanted gingerbread house on the Las Vegas strip."

1 comment:

jimithegreek said...

man, true old school punkers.
wait is that an oxymoron?