I am immensely, hugely, deeply sad. One of the most electrifying rock performers has left the building: Erick Lee Purkhiser, better known as Lux Interior, lead singer of the psychobilly group The Cramps, died this week of heart complications.
I saw the Cramps perform four times but I wish it had been forty or four hundred times. They flat-out fucking rocked and they fucking knew how to put on a fucking show. With his collaborator and soulmate Poison Ivy (Kristy Wallace) on lead guitar, Lux merged roots rockabilly with cheesy B-movie subject matter and made music that was fun, danceable, and wonderfully twisted.
In interviews, Lux revealed himself to be a huge fan of old monster movies and his onstage persona -- a lanky, shambling, wild-eyed and athletic showman -- was a shout-out to horror movie fans everywhere. I always thought Lux would be perfectly cast as a zombie in some horror movie. You wouldn't even need that much makeup. Alas, the closest he came was when The Cramps contributed a fun song, "The Surfin' Dead," to the soundtrack of Dan O'Bannon's cult 1986 horror flick Return of the Living Dead.
In concert, Lux's crazy cavorting always thrilled me to the point of unbridled laughter. By the end of one show at an outdoor music fest in Tampa, Lux was wearing nothing but a g-string and cherry red high-heeled shoes, hanging upside from speaker scaffolding while he gave the microphone what can only be described as feral fellatio. That is showmanship, people.
I last saw them perform a 2006 Halloween concert at Hollywood's House of Blues, Lux wore black leather, huge black sunglasses, and screamed and sang and cackled from beneath a shock of bone white hair. As he aged, Lux became more spectral in appearance but no less physical onstage. He jumped and stalked and twisted his wireframe body like a caged animal set free.
A lot can and should be said about the deviant sexual vibe The Cramps payed homage to both in style and song. Whether Lux was frantically dry-humping the stage or Ivy was blazing a killer solo on songs like "Can Your Pussy Do the Dog?" or "Let's Get Fucked Up," the band's blatant hedonism spoke for itself. But there's something I haven't read a lot about, at least not yet, and that's the fun and playful approach these two core members brought to their music.
Monsters are everywhere in their songs ("When the sun goes down and the moon comes up / I turn into a teenage goo-goo muck") and sometimes they're mixed in with the carnal ("Creature From the Black Leather Lagoon"). Their record and CD artwork was often like a cross between Forry Ackerman's Famous Monsters magazine and some cheapo girlie rag. Ivy always dressed like a stripper from Hell but she never danced or shimmied or spoofed her image, whereas Lux would strut like a speed-addled midnight horror movie host. Stalwart and rarely smiling, Ivy would mostly just walk back and forth playing the hell out of her guitar. He was the crazy one, she was the grounded one, and together they maintained a balance. They were at once darker and more playful than anything film director Tim Burton has ever done, and they never let their anger outweigh the sheer simple fun of kick-ass rock-n-roll.
The Cramps have many fine albums. I think Stay Sick is one of the best party records of all time. But the one that truly introduced them to me, 1984's Bad Music for Bad People, is a classic platter of lo-fi fuzzy stompin' that provided the core soundtrack to my undergrad college years. It's also one of my favorite album covers of all time.
You can and should watch the great video clips collected here. I highly recommend their controversial 1978 performance to patients at Napa State Mental Hospital. The video is grainier than a day at the beach and the sound is muffled beyond distortion, but it captures the crazy raw vibe of their live shows. "They tell me you people are crazy," Lux barks at these mentally disturbed but seriously groovin' people between songs, "but I dunno, you seem awright to me!"
In Lux's eyes, as long as we were dancing, everybody was awright.
Thank you, Lux, for all that great goddamned rock and roll.