Punk fans still in mourning over the January 6 death of Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton may be wondering if some sort of morbid "Dead Punk Of The Month" club might be forming, as news broke yesterday of the passing in Glendale, California, of Cramps lead singer Lux Interior at age 62 from longstanding heart problems.
Since the Cramps' 30-plus-year existence was centered around the twosome of Interior and his wife, lead guitarist "Poison" Ivy Rorschach, it's hard to imagine the band continuing--although given the duo's well-earned reputation as the founding parents of horror rock, I wouldn't count out Lux from figuring out some way to rise from the dead and come back to maniacally haunt us still-around mortals. And I mean that in the nicest way.
Back in 1980, well before the appearance of such PG-rated trifles as Michael Jackson's "Thriller," the decidedly R- (and at times X)-rated Cramps were not just whistling but yowling in the graveyard, extolling the virtues of the "Zombie Dance," with pleasant-dreams lyrics like this: "Nobody hang around Zombie dancing school/They do the swim face-down in the Zombie pool." That was one of their tamer numbers, too.
A kind of grade-D (as in "demented)" rock version of Gomez and Morticia Addams, Akron native Interior (born Erick Purkhiser) and Sacramento's Ivy (born Kristy Wallace) came in on the ground floor--in their case more like the catacombs--of New York's downtown punk explosion in the mid-1970s. Between Lux's ghoul-gone-wild vocals and slimy stage antics and Ivy's provovative mesh 'n' heels outfits and chainsaw guitar riffs, the Cramps looked and sounded like a mad scientist's rock lab experiment gone horribly wrong.
"Psychobilly," somebody called them, and like a knife between the shoulder blades, the classification stuck. What truly set the Cramps apart, though, was their sense of humor. Twisted as it was, the smile lurking behind such phlegmatic (accent on the phlegm) fare as "Goo Goo Muck," "I Was A Teenage Werewolf," and "Don't Eat Stuff Off The Sidewalk" helped the Cramps gain a loyal following among the CBGB/Max's Kansas City denizens--a following they never really lost through three decades of cult-sized infamy.
While the Cramps never had any bona fide hits--about the closest they came was 1990's self-explanatory "Bikini Girls With Machine Guns"--Lux, Ivy and the assorted henchmen and henchwomen who moved through the group's ranks (most notably late guitarist Bryan Gregory and drummer Nick Knox) never had a problem drawing a crowd. Indeed, as recently as this past November they were out on a characteristically blood-curdling tour that found them gleefully grinding out such Cramps classics as "Burn She Devil Burn,'' "Creature From The Black Leather Lagoon," and the ever-infectious "Eyeball In My Martini."
I'll drink to that one in your honor, Lux. And if somewhere down the line anyone asks what the Cramps were all about, I'll simply recite the band's perfect motto: "Bad Music For Bad People."