running words around
design education and visual communication
authored by chris m hughes

Rock's Gravest Hit

Saturday, 14 February 2009

The recent death of Lux Interior, the lead singer and founder of the Cramps, comes just weeks after the passing of another rock legend of similar ilk, Ron Asheton of the Stooges.

Interior was 62, Asheton 60, which may seem relatively young, but that these two guys even made it into the 1980's let alone the end of the 20th Century is amazing, and their contribution to the sound and ethos of modern guitar-based rock music is huge.
The Cramps, typical poster
Lux Interior’s real name was Erick Lee Purkhiser, something I was completely unaware of, even though I’ve been a fan since the early 1980’s. I was a 14 year old schoolkid, and heard ‘Human Fly’ on the John Peel radio show and it blew me away.

Lux had that amazingly camp leather-trousered gaunt proto-goth look, and together with his uber-sexvamp wife and musical collaborator - guitarist Poison Ivy Rorschach (a.k.a. Kristy Wallace) - the Cramps delivered wild theatrical performances and equally insane 50's-inspired punk music.

For the Cramps, how things looked was just as important as how things sounded. They devised their own unique visual image, combining comic-horror b-movie shlock, soft porn camp and a surfing rockabilly '50's style. As well as producing some memorable record covers, posters and t-shirts, they also gave us the ultimate b-movie typography with their cartoon horror font-style.

With LP titles like 'Smell of Female', 'Look Mom No Head', 'Bad Music for Bad People' and 'Gravest Hits', and songs like 'Bikini Girls with Machine Guns', 'I Ain't Nothin but a Gorehound' and 'Hot Pearl Snatch', the Cramps pretty much invented bad-taste psychobilly rock. And they had a great time playing it very loudly for nearly 40 years.

The Cramps sound was at odds with much of what was around at the time, but the approach was pure punk, and the Cramps sprung from the 1970's New York scene that also produced Television, the Ramones, Blondie and Patti Smith.

I was fortunate enough to see the Cramps twice - in 1985 and again in 1991 - both times in Glasgow.

On the 1985 tour, their LP ‘A Date with Elvis’ had just been released and they almost had a hit single with ‘Can Your Pussy Do the Dog'. I remember they had a new girl bassplayer. I forget her name, but she wore a leopard-skin bunny suit with suspenders, a cleavage lower than sea-level, and a back-combed spikey quiff. She could only play about 3 notes but did fine for most of the set. By 1991 she had gone and their new bass player was the aptly named Slim Chance. So it went with the bass players (and the drummers) but the core duo remained and were still gigging as recently as 2006.

Lux Interior probably did dozens of photo shoots in graveyards, now he’s finally on location permanently. It's a big loss for music. I can guess what the funeral and it's attendees looked like; I just want to know what song they sent him off to.