Remembering the Cramps' Lux Interior: Matchmaker, Symbol, Expert Driver

One of the best performance videos of all time

I met one of my best friends seeing the Cramps live. This is probably one of the highest compliments you can pay a musician of any age, genre, or scale, aside from having actually conceived a child to a band's record--and frankly that involves premeditation, and if doesn't, it likely involves misjudgment or Massive Attack, and in any case, if you're making babies to the Cramps, you are a couple of sick fucks. But meeting a best friend at a band's show and ending the night with a rare understanding between complete strangers--We Need to Be Friends Immediately--seems to reflect on the performer, in retrospect, because it involves serendipity and miracles, artists as sublime conduits and unsuspecting heroes. In this instance, the spindly, psycho-sexy, leather-pants-wearing Lux Interior as Wesley Autry. Without Lux on October 16, 2004, I wouldn't know K, or eventually met J and S, or ended up here, and I most certainly would've gotten run over by that train.

Actually, that night in Boston, the Cramps played the old classic "Drug Train," a two-minute-plus "Johnny B. Goode"-styled hootenanny in which Lux plays conductor, woo-woos like a steam trumpet, and tries to wrangle innocent bystanders on board by bragging about the VIP section: "I've seen Elvis with your Mother/On the drug train." This is exactly what I came to love about the Cramps: ludicrous, debased, Presley-obsessed, and totally inappropriate. Right now, the track "Can Your Pussy Do the Dog?" is the most popular Cramps ringtone on iTunes. And their other song titles also shriek volumes: "Eyeball in My Martini," "Don't Eat Stuff Off the Sidewalk," and "Dr. Fucker M.D. (Musical Deviant)." So brilliant, so stupid. And let us consider "Bend Over, I'll Drive" from 1991's Look Mom, No Head, in which our hero Lux repeatedly demands his beloved lean over so he can take the controls. It's very romantic, especially since Lux's pillow talk stinks of necro fetishism: "Bend over, I'll drive/Is this the way Grace Kelly died?" This is wax-museum foreplay, werewolf flirtation, the sound of filthy hitchhiker seduction.

According to Cramps lore, picking up a hitchhiker is exactly how Lux Interior met his spikey-heeled sidekick, wife, and guitarist Poison Ivy Rorschach. She also supposedly funded the Cramps' first record with money she'd made as a dominatrix. But far-and-away the greatest footnote in the Cramps legend is their 1978 live show at the Napa State Mental Hospital. Before Pitchfork TV, and Girl Talk on a rollercoaster with a camera, and all those supposedly innovative scripted scenes of bands playing rooftops, lofts, and dog parks (guilty), the Cramps booked a show in a California asylum. Someone there from a punk collective Target Video had a camera, and the grainy black-and-white footage is unbelievable. Lux is open-shirted and electric, the room is a mixture of patients and covert fans. It's tough to discern who's who, mostly because there is no fourth wall: audience members wander the stage listlessly, hug-assault Lux, grab him for mid-song solo dances. "We drove 300 miles to play for you people," Lux tells them. The immediate response, "FUCKKKK YOOO!" He continues, "Somebody told me you people are crazy, but I'm not sure about that. You seem to be alright with me." Inmates running the asylum, as it goes, I once watched this entire performance on a date.

The date, the best friend, the asylum video--all this means is that I liked the Cramps more than I ever probably would have, left to my own devices. I'm fully aware, they more or less wrote the same three songs over and over and over. And that, with all that thonged-out lady ass and horrorcore iconography, they really should have been metal. And that some of their schtick was just plain gross. But Lux Interior sang about being a teenage fly, drank beer out of a sneaker, performed in his skivvies, and enticed his wife by telling her to bend over so he could drive. Genius. Especially since it was the way Lux Interior died.

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