It's November 1, 1976. A little New York City club called CBGB's is holding an audition night. The audience is buzzing. It can sense that a music scene is developing around the club's new and exciting emphasis on punk" rock.
One of the bands on the evening's bill is called the Cramps. No one's heard of them. But as this new band breaks into song, it quickly becomes apparent that the Cramps are going to be, well, different.
For starters, the lanky lead singer has the curious habit of sticking his microphone down his pants. He tends to jam the mic in his mouth a lot, too. Another member of the band is a decidedly warped figure of femininity, a gum-chomping pseudoslut who scratches tortured guitar chords to the drummer's rockabilly beat.
The singer can't sing, the guitarist can't play and the songs are hopelessly out of tune. But the audience doesn't care. It loves it. The band is called back for a number of encores.
IT'S NOW 15 YEARS later and the punk scene has long since died. CBGB's is little more than a shrine for aging mohawks, and most of New York's new wave" bands are either dead, gone or missing in action.
Except for the Cramps. It seems as if the Cramps are very much among the living. They're still out there pumping their glorified Rocky Horror show, still wowing the young and impressionable. Still confusing most others.
The Cramps have grown from underground oddities to established freaks. Lux Interior (the singer) and Poison Ivy Rorschach (the guitarist) are thirtysomethings now. Lux's relationship with his microphone has matured into a near-ritualized affair of tonguing, sucking and deep-throating the thing, with frequent side trips down his pants. And Ivy, bless her, still manages to make the average biker girl seem like a grinning debutante.
Yes, the Cramps are still around. And they're not going to go away.
I see no reason for us to stop doing what we do," Ivy says over a popping long-distance line from New York. We feel like we were cut out for this-that we're doing what was meant for us to do."
Even so, it can't be ignored that most of the band's fans and friends from those heady New York days have either settled down or passed away. And it's obvious that the Cramps' current crowd is made up mostly of teenagers who think CBGB's is an old alphabet drill on Sesame Street.
Ivy doesn't care. She says the Cramps still aren't going away.
I don't feel old at all," she says. Sometimes the people around me seem old. But some people seem like they're programmed to reject things as they age. They'll say that they used to like us when they were younger, that we were somehow `better' back then. But their perception is distorted over time. Things have gone sour for them over the years, and it's changed how they remember things and how they see things now."
Ivy gets noticeably impatient with such talk. She's not interested in rehashing what old-timers consider the halcyon days of punk and new wave. I don't know what the `halcyon' days of music really were," she says. I mean, was it the mid-Seventies? The Sixties? Was it rock 'n' roll in the Fifties, or big bands of the Forties?"
As far as Ivy is concerned, the glory days are right now. She mentions a recent performance in San Francisco that stands out as a milestone in fan appreciation.
After the show, this guy came up and presented us with the ashes of his lover," Ivy recalls. He said his lover always wanted to be Lux and when he died, his wish was that we would always have some of him around." Ivy says the gift holds a special place at the Cramps' homestead. It's on the mantle," she says, adding, It's not morbid. It's good to have it there to contemplate on. We've got it right next to another present-a human skull. We don't know who that is."
Such creative devotion has kept the Cramps' spinning in their own orbit, churning through the various music movements of the last two decades. Indeed, the band's just come off a wildly successful European tour and there's a full slate of U.S. shows on the horizon. (Along for the ride are bassist Slim Chance and drummer Nickey Alexander. Chance used to play for Panther Burns; Alexander is an ex-Weirdo.)
The Cramps also have just released their eighth disc, the evocatively titled Look Mom, No Head! The album's material differs very little from previous Cramps copy. Look Mom is stuffed with sex, drugs, more sex and lots of cheesy horror-movie themes. Examples include tunes like Blow Up Your Mind," which features Lux eagerly crooning that he's going to Put on a party dress and jack off 'til I'm blind." And then there's the moving love song I Wanna Get in Your Pants," which finds the ever-soulful Lux asking, ÔMay I have this dance?/Can I get in your pants?"
The Cramps have dubbed their particular style of music psychobilly," a kind of rockabilly gone off its rocker. One would think that the band's exceedingly lustful approach would by now have attracted elements of the wrong crowdÏi.e., the easily offended and others on the hunt for obscenity. But then, one would be wrong. Ivy says the Cramps have yet to experience the wrath of the righteous.
What seems to get targeted is the more easily identifiable things like metal, with its leather and studs and talk of Satan," she says. We're more primitive. They don't realize how subversive we really are. To know what we're singing about you have to have lived a little bit, so it's beyond some peoples' imaginations."
It's difficult, though, to figure how much imagination is needed to work out such Cramps classics as (Hot Pool of) Womanneed" and Can Your Pussy Do the Dog?" Newer titles like Bend Over, I'll Drive" are hardly monuments to subtlety, either.
But the Cramps continue to push their little novelty shop of horrors with no more interference than the occasional warning sticker from record stores. Ivy, of course, sees nothing seamy about the Cramps' method of expression. She refers to the band's sensual sensationalism with words like bacchanalian" and Dionysian," big words to help explain why someone likes to put a microphone down his pants. This is Ivy's way of saying that the Cramps are too proud to be prude.
So many musicians have problems going through with what they've started," she says. I've seen it with people we came up with. They just give up and do something else with their lives.
Others become self-destructive. But they've just bought into some straight person's idea of the rock 'n' roll myth-the formula that says rock 'n' roll somehow equals death. Believe me, it doesn't have to kill you. And it shouldn't wear you out. Music gives you life. To think of it any other way is to fall for a device that's meant to keep rock 'n' roll in its place. It's a form of repression. It's like thinking that you have to be punished for your sins. Obviously, we don't go for that."
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