As you've probably heard by now, another of our musical generation's dwindling icons checked out of the Hotel Terra Firma this week: Lux Interior, frontman extraordinaire for The Cramps. I'd be hard pressed to name another band of any stripe that was more prolific and consistent. The Cramps probably put out more records than Elvis, and while some were maybe better than others, none of them sucked, and that's a detail which earned them the distinction of being a band that newcomers could properly approach with any record they happened to blunder into. Besides, the most committed fans were likely to be more interested in the band's incendiary live shows anyway -- Splitting hairs over the relevance of Gravest Hits vs. Big Beat from Badsville was never an argument that gained much traction, at least in my particular weirdo circles.
Although I had plenty of opportunities to see them perform, it's one of those things I never got around to, and I credit my own laziness as the only real excuse for this grievous error in judgment. When I was 16, I had a Cramps poster featuring the above album artwork plastered on my bedroom wall (which I later learned had scared my young nieces something fierce.) Sometime during the summer of 1988, I used a knife to extract the "Bad Music for Bad People" banner slogan from the poster, and mounted it in an outward-facing direction on a friend's car. There it dutifully served as a sign of committed fandom, as well as a kind of warning to others.
My non-attendance at the band's routine visits to Trenton's City Gardens notwithstanding, I was well aware that the Cramps were an utterly peerless live act, and a few quality minutes on YouTube will assuredly convince you likewise. Definitely check out the holy-hell-did-this-really-happen? clip of their 1978 performance at the Napa State Mental Institution if you've never seen it. I know the phrase is shamefully hackneyed, but it is truly the stuff of legend.
No doubt, the internet is now lighting up with Lux n' Ivy tributes like some kind of demented Christmas tree, but rather than adding to the pile of frantically foisted MP3s, I'd like to point towards something a little more unusual: A recording of Lux Interior's 1984 radio broadcast entitled The Purple Knif Show. This one-off evening behind the mic of an L.A. radio station clearly demonstrates the unique way the Cramps zeroed in on detritus from the past in order to create an alternate history of pop culture. That history, in turn, became a roadmap that zillions of others would seek to emulate in the years that followed. Like watching old noir flicks and suddenly understanding where countless film clichés originally came from, Lux's considerable skills in the DJ chair come across like a lurid, tell-all biography of the band he dedicated his life to.
Here's an excerpt.