The first memory that sprung to my mind when I heard that Lux Interior had died was of a moment during one of The Cramps’ many shows at the (also recently deceased) Astoria. Can’t remember exactly which one: there were loads, and they were all amazing. Anyway…
Lux is onstage, PVC pants, slicked-back rockabilly hair, menacing and ugly/beautiful, flanked as he has been all his life by his astonishingly sexy, sequin-skirted bride/greatest-punk-guitarist-of all-time-bar-maybe-Johnny-Thunders Poison Ivy.
They’re tearing through the instrumental freakout bit of a version of The Count Five’s garage-rock classic ‘Psychotic Reaction’ at a fucking ludicrous velocity. He’s shakin’ his still skinny hips like a teenage werewolf, swigging from a bottle of cheap red wine. All of a sudden, out of the chaotic mass of flesh in front of him, someone throws a trainer towards his head.
Lux carries on shakin’ his hips and, without missing a beat, catches the missile, pours it full of red wine, and swigs it empty. He throws the shoe back in the crowd, carries on playing. It’s just a moment, one of many in a night, nay a lifetime, dedicated to degenerate rock ‘n’ roll showmanship. But it stays with me, perfectly encapsulating what he and his band represent in my mind.
There are loads more: Kathy from our office was just this minute recounting the time she saw The Cramps in Leicester in 1984, how Lux came on stage in a pair of PVC trousers that split all of 30 seconds in to the show, and how she watched as they split further and further as the night went on. Not that Lux gave a shit. She said: “They were a band who, when you saw them, you genuinely felt like anything could happen.”
A few words about The Cramps: on a basic, headline level, one of the greatest most dangerous, anything-could-happen dark-hearted rock and roll groups ever. More specifically, the band with the most clearly defined, most vehemently adhered to set of aesthetics ever.
They took B-movie horror shtick, aligned it with wildest rockabilly sensibility and made something fantastically wild and exciting that they dubbed “psychobilly”. You can read the detailed history somewhere else. You can get the detailed discography somewhere else. It doesn’t really matter, as all their ideals did not involve much in the way of musical development.
“Every time we release an album,” Lux told – of all publications – Loaded magazine way back in 1998, “we get people saying, ‘Oh, it’s just the same as all their others. Why can’t they grow up and evolve?’ Well, we feel like we arrived when we started. It’s not that we were ever using The Cramps to arrive at some future evolutionary point. It might not to be to everybody’s taste. It’s for those who can identify with being a misfit, a hoodlum, a fuck up, a weirdo. That’s why we called the new album ‘Big Beat From Badsville’. ’Cos you really have to come from some sort of Badsville, you’re just not going to be equipped to deal with it.”
It’s the signature of all the truly great bands, all the bands that truly matter. There’s an assumption in modern music that it’s all about being “interesting”. Dunno about you, but to me that is the absolute antithesis of what rock ‘n’ roll is about. Rock ‘n’ roll is about purity of ideas, about getting the crazy ideas out of your head and into the world in the most untainted, brash, least thought-through manner possible. The Cramps never thought much about what they were doing. They just fucking did it, because they couldn’t not do it.
Let’s leave the last word to Erick Lee Purkhiser – aka Lux Interior:
“We’re always asked how long we can keep going. But it’s not really an issue for us. Besides, what else could we do? We must be among the world’s most unemployable people. If we hadn’t been in The Cramps, I can’t imagine the trouble we’d be in. We often find ourselves wondering about the difference between what we do and being locked up. It’s a pretty thin line. Rock ‘n’ roll is the greatest way for weirdos like us to find a purpose in life. In that sense, our goal has never really changed. We just want to carry on getting away with it. Not getting caught – that’s our only ambition.”
Mission accomplished. Goodbye, Garbageman.