photo: Mick Hutson/Redferns
Five years ago, rock 'n' roll lost a true underground legend: Erick Lee Purkhiser, aka Lux Interior, aka the Mad Daddy, the Voodoo Idol, the Garbage Man in the Goo Goo Muck. For 33 (and a third?) years, Lux served as the rantin'-and-ravin' frontman/madman of seminal shockabilly band the Cramps alongside his wife, guitar goddess Kristy "Poison Ivy Rorschach" Wallace. When he passed away on Feb. 4, 2009, of aortic dissection, he was only 62. But Lux crammed several lifetimes of rough, off-the-grid living into those 62 years.
"We really are different from most folks. We've had a hard life. We've been through a lot of things," Lux told Yahoo Music in 1997, back when the Cramps were about to release their seventh studio album, Big Beat From Badsville, which — despite all its smart-alecky double entendres and riled-up whoopin', hootin', and hollerin' — told raw, intense tales of life on the fringe, just like such previous carnal cult classics as Songs the Lord Taught Us, Psychedelic Jungle, Off the Bone, Smell of Female, and Bad Music for Bad People.
"A lot of times people talk about us, because we go out and have a good time, that we're kitschy and campy. We're being who we are; it's a real natural thing for us onstage. We had a hard life and it's not appreciated, just because we have fun when we play, because we like rock 'n' roll. Yet some 16-year-old kid will get up onstage and go, 'Oh, my dad beat me, I left home, blah blah blah.' And they're considered really intense, heavy people. I'm tired of being taken as a lightweight, silly thing without any substance."
In the years since Lux's death, the Cramps have received the sort of critical acclaim that often eluded them in their heyday. Lorde even recently wore a Cramps T-shirt on the cover of Rolling Stone. But not being taken seriously was a problem that Lux and Ivy encountered for years. Because they had a wicked, irreverent sense of humor — with song titles like "Creature From the Black Leather Lagoon," "Bend Over I'll Drive," "Two-Headed Sex Change," and "Can Your Pussy Do The Dog?," and album covers that looked like banned posters for XXX exploitation flicks or the covers of pulp fiction dimestore novels — they were frequently dismissed as a shticky, frivolous burlesque act. What was tended to get ignored was the darkness and borderline psychosis in their music...even if they once famously played a concert for patients at the Napa State Mental Hospital in 1978.
"It's something that's never been said with the Cramps," Lux revealed in '97. "I've been in jail for selling dangerous drugs. I've taken every drug in the book. I've been in all kinds of trouble. My best friends in school are all in jail or dead now. One of my best friends was one of the guys who shot those people at Kent State. He would've shot anybody for any reason. He also dropped a cement block off of an expressway onto a car one time and almost killed someone. His best friend, who I hung around sometimes, blinded a guy — he took his thumbs and pushed this guy's eyeballs in. These were the hoodlums that I knew.
"We don't talk about this, but I think it's time we do, because I'm tired of all this taking us for less than we are. I want people to know this. Over the past 20 years, people have come up to us and said, 'You guys should have a Saturday morning cartoon show!' Well, no, we shouldn't. We've been described as 'cartoonish' for our whole career. There's some book that came out with all of these bands listed in it, and it says, 'The Cramps give a funny, one-step-removed view of the real rockabilly culture.' When [our album] A Date With Elvis came out, this paper in England said we were making fun of 'that fat guy who ate the peanut butter sandwiches.' We are not making fun of Elvis! This is the music I grew up with. This is the only thing I've ever known. So it's humiliating to us to be thought of as intellectuals who thought of this 'art' idea, of appropriating this 'weird' music that has nothing to do with us."
The Cramps never got that Saturday morning show (which was obviously for the best), though they did receive props for their video "Bikini Girls With Machine Guns" from those ultimate animated bad-tastemakers, Beavis & Butt-Head. That mention, along with a random appearance on a Halloween episode of "Beverly Hills 90210," was as close as the Cramps ever got to the mainstream. But that was just fine with Lux.
"I like being a cult band, because I'd like to think that people who listen to us have been through something. I'd prefer that than being a big, huge band that all kinds of people like. I'd like people to understand that we are not like them," Lux proclaimed.
Truth be told, there was never anyone like Lux — not in the '50s, not in the '70s when the Cramps first played CBGB, and certainly not today, five years after his death effectively ended the Cramps' three-decade run. There will never be anyone like him, in fact. So rest in peace, Mr. Interior. And rest in pieces.
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