Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Heavy Rotation on My iPod: The Cramps

I have been fascinated by The Cramps since 1982, when I heard their early single "Uranium Rock" from the International Record Syndicate's compilation album (that is right; two, 12 inch, grooved vinyl discs) that I picked up at the Sandusky Mall.  Also included were the first single by The Police, early music by Danny Elfman, in his old band Oingo Bongo, and a song by The Damned.  I can't remember what else was there, but there was plenty of history.

By then, The Cramps had been performing and recording over five years, having put out Psychedelic Jungle and the more polished Songs the Lord Taught Us.

There is plenty to say about The Cramps, their look, their style of dress, the stunningly beautiful female guitarist, their sound (a cross between rockabilly/roots rock and roll, punk rock, and classic psychedelic), but to me, they were just too much fun not to love.

I was reminded of them this morning while typing the words "Psychotic Reaction" in my facebook status.  "Psychotic Reaction" was originally performed by a garage band  from the 1960s called Count Five.  The cramps covered it on their 1983 live EP, The Smell of Female.
Guitarist (Poison) Ivy Rorschach on the cover of  The Smell of Female

I wanted to hear (and maybe see) them performing, so I found this 1990 clip  at YouTube:

My favorite part is of this video is when singer Lux Interior simultaneously plays harmonica and spanks himself.  Notice Lux's tight leather pants and women's shoes; there was always an offbeat sense of fetishism (that is right, not just fetishism, but offbeat fetishism) around them.  When I saw them in 1987, supporting their album A Date with Elvis,  Lux rolled around the stage with his hands under his clothes, exposing everything the law would allow.  To Lux Interior, Rolling Stone magazine observed in their review of  Bad Music for Bad People,  "Inhibition was a ten letter word."

One of the reasons I found The Cramps so irresistible was their love and respect for low brow culture.  They helped inculcate my appreciation of B movies, bad music and fast women, driving faster cars.  I am talking about my favorite Cramps song, their cover Russ Meyer's 1965's  Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill!, an essential component of American film making.  If you are unfamiliar with the film, watch the trailer here.

In addition to exploitation films, The Cramps also celebrated American horror movies with titles such as I was a Teenage Werewolf and The Human Fly with their typical blend of enthusiasm and humor, "I'm a teenage werewolf, braces on my fangs... my teenage girlfriend got a lot of scars..."

In "New Kind of Kick," Lux extolled, "Life is short, filled with stuff, don't know what for, I ain't had enough."  As a small town kid from Nowhere-ville, Ohio, I jumped on that and pledged to live my life as an exploration; I wanted to see the weird things that no one else wanted to.  "I don't know about art," he sang in "I Ain't Nothin' but a Gore Hound," "but I know what I like."
Lux died unexpectedly in 2009, ending the thirty plus career of The Cramps.  I often wondered if he was creating his own elegy when he sang, "When I die don't  bury me at all, just hang my bones up on the wall.  Beneath these bones let these words be seen, 'This is the bloody gears of a boppin' machine.'"

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1 comment:

Toon said...

Saw them live in 1990. R.I.P, Lux.