By Benjamin Leatherman
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Troy Farah
By Roger Calamaio
By Mark Deming
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Brian Palmer
It's a Saturday night in 1980 at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in Los Angeles. Chelsea, the Dead Kennedys and X have all come and gone, disgorging an awesome load of punk rawk to the dripping crowd that packs the hall. These are three groups at the height of their powers; what band could follow such a triple wallop and possibly satisfy this exacting audience of fucked-up, slam-dancing, snot-hawking punkers?
The Cramps take the stage.
Front and center is Lux Interior, the quartet's tall, glowering singer. He moves and looks like a slightly more graceful version of Lurch. Lux is bare from the waist up, his pasty, slab-white pallor offset perfectly by skin-tight black-vinyl pants that are having a rough time concealing a good four inches of Mr. Interior's butt crack. But maybe that has something to do with the microphone that is wedged down the front of his trousers.
Lux stalks the stage in front of his guitarist and "soul mate" Poison Ivy Rorschach--whose stage presence rivals the Sphinx for detachment--as ashtray-eyed drummer Nick Knox kicks into a plodding, slave-ship beat. Lux wrenches the mike from its crotch pocket and begins to wail/sing some kind of rockabilly dirge into the smoke-filled room as the crowd weaves like drunken zombies. After just one verse, Lux is contorted and drenched in sweat, pants inching ever lower; Ivy's guitar is breathtakingly out of tune. The music oozes along like molten lava.
Then Lux is on his knees, crawling the stage like some retarded animal. He shoves the eight-ball-size head of the mike completely into his mouth and starts growling and dry heaving with each rhythmic inhale/exhale. With great awkwardness, he scales the huge stacks of the sound system at stage right, finally making it to the top, where he teeters on a great black speaker cabinet. Is the guy really crazy? Will he slip and plummet to the concrete floor, the cabinet dropping on top of him? Half of the mob below edges out of the way, the other half screams for him to jump. Lux stares down like a trapped beast, mike still halfway down his throat, and lets loose with a vein-popping howl that lasts until the music grinds to a halt.
And that's what happened during the first song.
Despite the passage of 15 years, a Cramps gig is still a delicious slice of sleazy, pent-up-and-moist rockabilly theatre. The band's rhythm section may have changed a few times, but Lux and Ivy have remained as true and constant as a 4 a.m. test pattern. The couple has been together since the late Sixties--when he picked her up hitchhiking in Sacramento--sharing a passion for cheap horror movies, Fifties and early-Sixties cultural flotsam, and rockabilly, a far-from-hip genre back in those groovy days of long hair and bell-bottoms.
"We were going to all the glitter things, Lou Reed, David Bowie and T. Rex, and that was really fun," says the soft-spoken Lux from the couple's home in Glendale, California. "In San Francisco and northern California, where we were at, it was like the people in the crowd thought they were the bands; they were twice as wild as whoever was onstage. Those shows were very formative for us."
But the fun could not last forever, and what is now the scary subgenre known as "classic rock" kick-started the Cramps. "When [the glitter] started to die out, what was left was the Doobie Brothers and Crosby, Stills and Nash, the worst things imaginable," shudders Lux. "There was nothing that was really like rock 'n' roll left. We were real excited by the idea of starting a rockabilly band; it's timeless music that really hasn't got anything to do with the Fifties--or at least we didn't think it should have. It was exciting music that no one was doing. We felt like if anyone was going to do it, it was going to be us."
After moving their mission to New York by way of Ohio ("We didn't have a band yet but we had the name in Akron"), the Cramps debuted at CBGB on November 1, 1976. Forbidden to play at the club again, Lux and company took their talents to the fabled Max's Kansas City, where the musical illness of fun that the critics dubbed "psychobilly" began to fester.
Tours with the Clash, Ramones and Police followed, as did albums like Songs the Lord Taught Us, Smell of Female, Bad Music for Bad People and Look Mom No Head!. Flamejob is the latest addition to the Cramps family of battered music, and it holds its own with songs suitable for dancing or staggering like "Naked Girl Falling Down the Stairs" and the demonic rockabilly of "Inside Out and Upside Down (With You)."
But there's something a bit different this time around, at least on the album's liner notes. A quote by the late, brilliant surrealist artist Man Ray:
"Each of us, in his timidity, has a limit beyond which he is outraged. It is inevitable that he who by concentrated application has extended this limit for himself, should arouse the resentment of those who have accepted conventions which, since accepted by all, require no initiative of application . . ."