A few weeks back, the illustrious lead singer of the “psychobilly” band The Cramps passed on. I considered writing about Lux Interior’s death the day I heard the news, but figured there were plenty of news sources that would do a better job of telling the story. Then I realized I had my own tale that might pique some interest.
I was 17. I had a ’68 Impala with a 327, a leather jacket and a greasy mop on my head. I’d been turned on to old country and R&B after stealing piles of 45s and 78s from my Great Uncles’ house after they passed away. Two days locked in my room with a record player and I traded the Germs, Jesus Lizard and Minor Threat for Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Fats Domino.
With my musical horizons expanding into completely uncharted territory, I started digging for new material like a mad man. Anything with an upright bass was a given. The crappier the recording the better. If there was a Sun Records logo on the package, I’d head directly to the record store cash register without batting an eye. Armed with this basic set of criteria, I discovered all sorts of bands that not only had living members, but were playing shows at the local bars in town. Big Sandy and the Fly Right Trio (before they were the Fly Right Boys), Kim Lenz and the Jaguars, Johnny Dilks, etc. Naturally, it was only a matter of time before I stumbled onto The Cramps.
Like many, it started with Bad Music for Bad People and before I could stop myself I was on a mission to pick up every album they ever made. Like a junky, I couldn’t get enough of that creepy, Crampy stuff. Soon the true declaration of my fan hood came when I sat down with a razor blade and made a template of their name out of cardboard and painted it on my leather jacket in bright orange. My love for the band was now public.
Then the opportunity of a lifetime appeared on a bunch of over-sized yellow posters stapled to telephone poles all over town. The Cramps were coming to the Bottleneck—a small live music venue in my hometown. There was just one problem: I wasn’t old enough to get in to the 18 and over show. Undeterred, I bought four tickets anyway and kept my fingers crossed for a month in preparation for the big event.
As I recall, I drove that fateful night. A carload full of kids—all racking their brains trying to come up with a story for the doorman. Everyone practiced their excuses:
“ID? Oh, I left it at the bar last week.”
“My ID?” while digging through pockets, “I must’ve left it at home.”
“ID? Dude, I’m in here all the time, don’t you recognize me?”
As I listened to everyone recite their act, my heart was pounding in my chest. I was certain no one in my car wanted to see the show as badly as I did. Hell, I don’t think anyone in town wanted to see the Cramps as badly as I did. Soon the big moment came.
“ID,” demanded the doorman.
“Um, aaaa, I left it in thaaa…CAR!” I said with my eyes half open.
“That car?” he said, pointing out the door to my big beautiful Impala sitting prominently on the street.
“Yeah,” I replied, cursing myself for my stupid excuse and the decision to take a spot directly in front of the venue.
“Nice,” he said, wrapping my wrist in an underage bracelet. I was in.
I was numb until they came on. All I remember is fighting my way to the stage. Poison Ivy and the rest of the band wore silver velour outfits and their faces were completely without expression. Lux came out and put on one of the best damn shows I’ve even seen. Like a sweaty acrobat in black leather, he crawled around the stage and slithered through the crowd, slowly shedding his clothes until there was nothing left but a leopard print g-string.
I’ll stop there. If you love the band and were ever lucky enough to see them, you know what I’m talking about. If not, then you truly missed out. Either way, you can still buy the music and take in this unidentifiable, sexually-charged, deep-fried, horrible-but-wonderful, scary-but-likable band that changed lives and influenced musicians on down the road.
Lux, although we never met, I did see you in your underpants once. Whatever you’re up to these days, I hope you’re satisfied with your accomplishments. While I doubt you’re resting and I suspect it isn’t peaceful, I hope you can always find yourself some new kind of kick—wherever the universe takes your soul. Thanks for the good times and great tunes.