There are very few real rock and roll bands left in the world. Unfortunately for me, when life is at its worst, I need rock and roll. Real rock and roll. Jack Scott, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison and the like are great, but as a horror movie loving child of the 80's they didn't quite cut it for me. Roy was busy making pop music with a band that included a member of the band that composed the soundtrack to "Xanadu." No rock and roll to be had there. Luckily for me there was The Cramps.
A band that takes hyper-sexuality mixed with 50's couture, a hybrid of punk and rockabilly, then add a dash of B-movie horror. Just what the doctor ordered.
I first heard "Bad Music for Bad People" when I was working at a record shop in a mall. I was sitting in the storeroom of NRM noshing on a chili-cheese corndog and flipping through the boxes of marred CD's that were pulled from the shelves. These unsellables were basically a perk for the employees that we could purchase at a "discount." (Said discount was an unspoken rule of getting them out of the store without Phil the manager seeing it.) While thumbing past cracked cases entombing Wrex N' Effex and Belle and Sebastian I happened across one with torn, yellow liner notes. The half of the cover that remained revealed an evil eyed cad with a huge coif and skeletal nose. Something in me stirred in a deja vuey sort of way. I knew this band. Across the top, The Cramps was scrawled in a dripping, horror-movie poster font. With a smile of glee as I realized that Phil was off that night, I put the CD in my backpack.
Listening to that CD was unlike any other music experience I had before, and I have had very few like it since. Drums, guitar and vocals. Who needs bass? Raw and real and adorned with flecks of amp gain viscera it was beyond just rebel rock, it was something all it's own.
Poison Ivy's guitar licks mixed simple fret walks with grainy power chord slams with rockabilly scaling with reverb with sex. The vocals were the real magic of the band, however. I have written elsewhere that Lux Interior's vocals were "precursive parody of the ejaculatory vocal gymnastics of a Christina Aguilera." Yeah, that's about it. Check it out:
While The Cramps wrote their own songs, they did many, many covers. The Way I Walk, Her Love Rubbed Off, The Goo Goo Muck and others were high-jacked by Lux and Ivy who owned them by the final chord. The originals of the band went from the obvious, I wanna' get in Your Pants, to the obscure, Naked Girls Falling Down the Stairs (Referencing Duchamp's painting, Nude Descending Staircase.), to the grotesque, TV Set. (I should mention that they also did a song, The Surfing Dead, specifically for the classic horror-comedy, Return of the Living Dead. You can see a naked Lennia Quigley strut her zombie stuff to it.)
The bands live shows were the stuff of legend. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has on display the shattered bass drum head that Lux's head went through during a concert. For many years they were a Halloween mainstay at the Fillmore in San Francisco. Playing yearly to a crowd dressed as monsters, I guess it felt like home to the band. Ivy strumming her stuff in baby doll style and Lux looming across the stage like a scar-less Frankenstein Monster. Perhaps the bands most famous concert occurred a few years before they were really known at all. In 1978 they played a concert at the California State Mental Hospital in Napa. To them, it's just another show for more adoring fans. Oh, and need I mention that they appeared on an episode of Beverly Hills 90210?
Lux died of an aortic dissection in 2009. While the band had many members in the 30 plus years that they played, Lux and Ivy were they core. They had been married for about as long as they had been playing together and I seriously doubt that she will do anymore as The Cramps without him. And one less true rock and roll band will hit the stage.
Still, my iPod is riddled with their music. I can wash away a lousy day by cranking Bikini Girls with Machine Guns and doing as Lux instructs and "stay sick." It does give a lad some perspective to do so. So, the next time life has you by the throat and you just need a little R&R to save your soul, crank on some Cramps and surf with the dead.