Rock GPA: The Cramps [part 1]


It was two years ago today that we lost one of the true greats of rock and roll. Of course I’m talking about no one else but the great Lux Interior of The Cramps. His fans were devastated in 2009 when news of his sudden death due to aortic dissection spread like wildfire in the rock and roll community. His widow, the taciturn Poison Ivy Rorsach, has not yet resurfaced and she may have retreated from rock and roll for good. For 30 years, however, The Cramps were enormously influential on rock and roll. No one was ready for their crazed ethos when they surfaced in the late 70s with a mutant fusion of garage punk and rockabilly, held together with the stickiest glue possible; their own selves!

In a move that turned rock and roll traditions on their ear, it was Ivy who was the band’s sneering guitarist. She managed to fuse the clean trebly picking of Carl Perkins together with its antithesis; the evil fuzztone power chords of Link Wray, into an unholy alliance that managed to inject enough voltage to reanimate the stiffening corpus of rock for a new generation of degenerate rock and rollers more interested in honest cheap thrills than a limo ride to nowheresville.

That left frontman Lux as the outrageous frontman/sex symbol in the band; a role which he filled more than capably. His deviant sense of humor found a powerful outlet in his gleeful degeneracy, which was unsurpassed in music with the exception of perhaps Iggy Pop. Every time I saw him I prayed that the g-string he often reduced his stage garb to during the course of a show, would stay on as he climbed the tottering amp stacks in his 4″ black FMPs to attain a height the rest of us watching could only aspire to.

I first encountered The Cramps when I saw their “Garbageman” video on the syndicated Rockworld program in 1980. My friends and I were spellbound at the eerie blend of rockabilly and punk rock they proffered. My friend Charles spared no time in buying their debut full-length album, “Songs The Lord Taught Us.” We listened agog, to the contents therein. At the tender age of 16, in 1980, I didn’t yet have the seasoning to comprehend garage punk and was barely conversant in rockabilly. The band’s approach on that album was two guitars, vocals and drums. No bass! Ivy played the leads and second guitarist Bryan Gregory filled the spaces with feedback. Utterly insane, scary as hell feedback, which my ears would not hear anything comparable to again for another five years, when The Jesus & Mary Chain emerged. Nick Knox just kept the beat.

I finally saw the band when they toured behind their breakthrough “Stay Sick” album in 1990. At the time, ten years of waiting to see a favorite band live seemed interminable to my 27 year old self. The band didn’t disappoint, to put it mildly. There is no one more capable of filling a stage than Lux Interior! He could do it without any video projections or props either! When I met my wife in the mid 90s, I exposed her to what had emerged from her old haunts in Akron, Ohio and from that point on seeing the band became a musical goal for her. When we traveled to Atlanta to see them at The Roxy on their “Big Beat From Badsville” tour it was time and money well spent. We eventually saw the group three more times, the last being when they hit our town in 2004, when they were touring behind what would be their final release, “How To Make A Monster.” Here’s how they legacy shapes up under the Rock GPA® lens.

After tabulation, The Cramps final ROCK GPA® is: 3.15, a very healthy B average.

Next: We examine the lurid body of work The Cramps have left us, album by album…

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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13 Responses to Rock GPA: The Cramps [part 1]

  1. Your Wife says:

    Oh, Jim!

    Loved the Cramps posting especially the graph! I had no idea today was the anniversary of Lux’s passing. Thanks for keeping it all alive!

    Your Wife


  2. chas_m says:

    It remains a shocking loss two years later. If anything, I was sure that Lux Interior was a prime candidate for death by spontaneous onstage combustion. I think we all knew he was going to die before he got old (in both senses of the term), and the Cramps did bubble up from the underground long enough to have mainstream (albeit minor) hits like “Bikini Girls with Machine Guns.”

    I only saw them a couple of times, most notably in ’86 at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta, home to many of my most memorable concert experiences. “Wild” doesn’t begin to cover it. At least their legendary status is secure and will only grow with time …


  3. Brian Ware says:

    Yikes! Now I’ll have to watch my language since we have a girl in the clubhouse…


  4. ronkanefiles says:

    And you were just bad-mouthing west coast bands…


    • postpunkmonk says:

      ronkanefiles – I group The Cramps in with the Ohio contingent: Dead Boys, Pere Ubu and DEVO. DEVO and The Cramps may have moved to the West Coast, but in the case of The Cramps, it can be argued that they made their name in NYC, since they never really gigged in Akron. And they weren’t local on the West coast until several years into their career, no matter how many times you saw Lux at the Pasadena swap meet. Yet I don’t feel comfortable lumping them in with the East Coast wave either.


  5. james says:

    I am giggling at your healthy praise for The Cramps (I am a fan) just days after displaying your unabashed loathing in regards to David Diamond’s tacky lyrics for Terri Nunn.

    Am I to read that you approve of Lux’s perverted rantings, but not Diamond’s?


    • postpunkmonk says:

      james – That was John Crawford’s lyrics, actually, but the difference was – Crawford thought he was being suave and Continental, and was deadly serious. Berlin were having no fun. Today, Crawford is Born Again. I rest my case. No one would look at Lux Interior and say he wasn’t having a great time.


  6. _Vance_ says:

    Whenever I listen to the Cramps for some peculiar reason, I always seem to tie them along with Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds/The Birthday Party. Both mesmerizing and unforgettable groups.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      _Vance_ – Well they were both primeval acts operating heavily from instinct. In later years, Cave has traveled further down the intellectual path than I think Lux would ever consciously venture. So The Cramps team up with Iggy Pop [the godfather of instinctual rock] on “Look Mom, No Head!” was practically a fait accompli. That both artists were involved with John Waters’ “Cry baby” film was further cement for the deal.


  7. Zach says:

    Although our musical tastes intersect quite frequently, I have to admit that we diverge on the Cramps, for the most part. I enjoy the Gravest Hits EP and Songs the Lord Taught Us, and some scattered songs for the rest of their career, but that’s as far as I’ll walk on the Cramps’ aural road. Much like the Ramones (though I despise them), the Cramps are a band best enjoyed in small doses. I understand their psychotronic movie and trash culture fixations just well (though it doesn’t require any serious mental gymnastics to do so), but I find myself mostly embarrassed by their musical output because of the sameness of much of it, plus the very limited musical palette they were dealing with (I’m not much of a rockabilly fan, and garage rock ranks even lower in my book). More than that, it’s the blatant anti-intellectuality of their aesthetic that appalls me. That a group so steeped in the gutter of American culture could find audiences abroad is a mystery that will forever baffle me (and give me another reason to curse out my home country). I suppose my youth (I just turned 32 back in September) and not having been around to see the Cramps live could account for my indifference to the bulk of their work. As I grow into my 30s and beyond, I find myself increasingly bored with more primal forms of music and instead seek more artistically enriching work (like Tuxedomoon, whom I’m listening to now as I type this). A little bit of junk rock is OK to balance out the palette, but much like junk food, a whole diet of it can rot one’s health, be it physical or otherwise. All IMHO, of course.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Zach – At least you cite the absolutely critical Cramps artifacts as necessary. I used to think like you when I was a lot younger. Then, by the time I was 32 [even that was a long time ago…] I got caught up in the rockabilly/garage rock “scene” in Orlando, which was all it had to offer me musically. I went an entire decade waiting for Post-Punk synthesizer bands to either visit or spawn from Orlando, but it did not happen. I worked with what I had and my 90s was spent mostly digging very primeval tunes. To this day I still see every Southern Culture On the Skids show that passes my way. But you’re correct that you need to cleanse the overly synthesized palate at least every now and then with something a little more “fibrous.”


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