What a Lovely Way to Burn

Taking a time out from my best-of-2008 extravaganza to remember Lux Interior (21.10.46-04.02.09), a man-thing scholars debate whether came from the crypt, a UFO, a trailer or just straight out of the gutter—a deviant freak-hero who truly earnt his status as icon. Now that Lux has had his last kind of kick, my thoughts go to Poison Ivy Rorschach, his partner-in-crimes, nameless and shameless, for an eye-popping near-four decades—such an unlikely romance of the Ages, mired as the two were in filth. (But a cute, comic book filth, too, in-between the bona fide craziness.) It truly is one for the books: After Lux'n'Ivy, who can still say you can't be an indulgent libertine and a hopeless romantic at the same time? A decadent, hedonist reprobate in the throes of love?

I only got to see The Cramps once, in London in 2006. As I'd suspected, they weren't as subversive as I'd imagined they once were when I was listening to my fav tracks off of Gravest Hits, Songs the Lord Taught Us, Psychedelic Jungle and Off the Bone. But at a time when Nick Cave was being «stately» (in an attempt at growing old with dignity) and Iggy Pop was like a walking advert for organic health shakes, Lux Interior was still prancing around on stage, doing undignified things for a man at any age, sporting a too-tight leotard-type get-up he was definitely too old and out of shape to be seen in (even in front of the mirror in the privacy of his own home, much less in front of the exquisite and sexy Poison Ivy).

Which was precisely one of the things that made it great. Lux was just being Lux, and how could he be a parody of his former self when he'd always cultivated the tasteless? Sure, their performance might not have been as vital as they used to be in their heyday (like when they performed live at a mental hospital in 1978), but you could argue—The Cramps' obsession with youth culture notwithstanding—that Lux was being even more Crampy in his later, refreshingly undignified years.

And maybe some of the infamous edge had, not so much worn off, but been softened on purpose by Lux as he stood up there that night, after years of health-and-safety defying antics. That's understandable. (Would anything else have even been possible?) But how many people aged 59 stagger about on a stage with a bottle of red wine lodged in their mouth, drinking with no hands and sucking suggestively at the bottle, dribbling the Bacchanlian's favourite blood-like elixir like an exhibitionist splosher degenerate, the natural centre of attention in any crowd?

The answer, of course, is only one 59-year-old.

I originally wrote a lot more, but let's not get maudlin. Here's a little compilation I made with Lux and Ivy in mind. Their extremely knowledgable taste in bizarre, basic and ballsy music is well documented (check out the three volumes of Songs the Cramps Taught Us and eleven(!) volumes of Lux and Ivy's Favorites). So instead of all the usual fare, I've compiled a few songs I know they liked and many songs (or cover versions) I imagine they might like. I'm no rockabilly enthusiast, so I'm making up for that by including loads of their beloved garage-psych and a little exotica and novelty music. It's a guide to The Cramps—their background and their context; their influences and their influence—without actually including any of their music. (This doesn't seem like an appropriate time to distribute their output for free.)

Whatever the contents, the comp was made with this in mind: Lux Interior never stopped a-rockin' and a-rollin'!
Gonna take a week off
Gonna go to Hell
Send ya a postcard
Hey, I'm doin' swell!
Wish you were here
Aloha from Hell

I'll be dancin' thru the flames
Like a devil in disguise
You can hear me sing
But not by satellite
You can hear me sing
Aloha from Hell

I'll be glad to get away
Up here everything's so swell
You know some like it hot
And down there it's hot as Hell
Don't forget to write
Aloha from Hell
IVY EYES [.zip file]
[Download disabled.]

1. Vincent Price: «Music, When Soft Voices Die»
The eeriest voice ever, loved by ’50s revivalists and goths alike, recites a fittingly haunting poem by Percy Bysse Shelley.

2. Eartha Kitt: «Two Lovers»
Conceived by rape and born on a plantation, raunchy and sharp-minded autodidact Eartha Kitt passed away on Christmas Day. Kitt had been an eloquent and elegant champion of sexy freedom and tolerance in the risqué tradition of Mae West since the 1950s, The Cramps’ favourite decade. And she was the first Catwoman on TV, so I’m imagining they admired her. This song showcases the exotica leanings any fan of kitsch ’50s culture delights in (including The Cramps of course). RIP.

3. Screamin’ Jay Hawkins: «Little Demon»
The godfather of hysterical screams in popular music, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins sowed so many illegitimate seeds there’s an international association for those who can prove they’re his offspring. Lux Interior would focus more on honing the frantic delivery that made Screamin’ Jay Hawkins a timeless novelty artist, rather than on heroic evolutionary feats. This song's got a great lyric, about the «cat» who «took the fruit out of the frutti».

4. John Zacherle: «Dinner with Drac»
Zacherle was a schlock-horror TV host in the 1950s and ’60s. I imagine the coupling of vintage bad TV, horror and early rock’n’roll would be irresistible to The Cramps. «Igor! The scalpels go on the left, with the pitchforks!»

5. Mae West & Somebody's Chyldren: «Shakin' All Over»
In 1966, the 74-year-old sexpot film legend rounded up a few garage-dwelling teenagers and corrupted them into
recording lusty, garage rock versions of The Beatles, Bob Dylan, etc. «Shakin' All Over»—as played by the more subtle Johnny Kidd & The Pirates—is often cited as an influence on The Cramps. I prefer this wilder version by far; just picture West's saggy flesh, shakin' all over… Was there ever a sexier septuagenerian? Also, I like how golden oldies such as this one master the art of ingenious subtlety; in 1966 they'd sing, «Quivers down my backbone / I got the shakes down my knee bone / Tremors in my thigh bone…»—whereas nowadays, they'd just rap «Face down, ass up / That's the way we like to fuck!»

6. John & Jackie: «Little Girl»
Early rock’n’roll and tongue-in-cheek (not that cheek!) sex-ooze in perfect harmony, this one puts me in the mood.

7. The Frantics: «The Whip»
I know Interior and Rorschach liked The Frantics. This is my favourite of theirs. It brings to mind that time in Gold Coast's Warner Bros. theme park, where a lithe woman—squeezed into Catwoman's tight, black, full body leather suit—strode down the street, cracking a huge whip. As the Pulp Fiction «gimp»-like music of this track perfectly illustrates, I contemplated leaving everything and everyone behind and becoming her slave-thing, but was ushered away by my girlfriend…

8. Mohammed Rafi: «Nain Milakar Chain Churana»
Like everyone who hears it, Lux and Ivy loved Mohammed Rafi’s «Jaan Pehechan Ho». This one’s not bad, either.

9. Nervous Norvus & Kenny Burt’s Cavemen: «Stoneage Woo»
Nervous Norvus a.k.a. Jimmy Drake was one of rock’s weirder phenomena. He made novelty records, seemingly in all seriousness, in an idiosyncratic style no one’s possessed, before or since. Drake never scored a hit with his genre-defying style, but he kept trying, oblivious to the limitations of novelty music. The Cramps, like Mark E. Smith, were big fans of his song «Transfusion», but this one's just as representative of Drake’s nervous energy.

10. Billy Jo Spears: «Get Behind Me Satan and Push»
The Cramps are rockabilly connoisseurs, but apart from the occasional song, I could never get with that style of music. It always just makes me laugh. (Which might be the intention.) Like this song. But I love the attitude of «sassy lassie» Ms. Spears.

11. Ken Nordine: «Crimson»
Lux and Ivy professed a liking for Ken Nordine—a kind of Kafka, had the troubled bureaucrat made up stories for 5-year-olds. I'm sure Lux'n'Ivy would approve of this track, where, not very typically, Nordine's pleasing radio ad voice (the inspiration behind today’s ridiculous movie trailer narration) is set to surf accompaniment. This short track is one among many where Nordine explores the character of various colours. And crimson, as the man says, is sick—«sick and red!»

12. The Human Expression: «Love at Psychedelic Velocity»
The kind of naïve, dating and transparently calculating marketing strategy behind naming a track something so ridiculous as «Love at Psychedelic Velocity» is the kind of thing The Cramps, like so many kitsch revivalists, found irresistible. The track’s got great energy, though, and the type of sonic approach that would inspire The Cramps. Great fun—and the attitude!

13. Los Saicos: «Demolición»
The Cramps were professed fans of ’60s fuzzbucket proto-punk rockers The Sonics, and The Saicos have been labelled «The Sonics of Peru». Legend would have it that the Peruvian psychos never heard any of the American garage-psych records, but rather innocently tried—in their unskilled and technologically wanting manner—to make music inspired by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Animals et al. And they ended up with this crazed surf music. The vocals are inciteful, urging you to take to the streets and overturn cars and throw bricks through shop windows. «TA-TA-TA-TA-TA-TA-TA YA-YA-YA-YA!»

14. The Leathercoated Minds: «Psychotic Reaction»
When I saw them live in 2006, The Cramps played this song in a rendition faithful to Count Five’s original one-hit garage wonder. But The Leathercoated Minds’ singer’s decrepit scatting is in full keeping with The Cramps aesthetic.

15. The Missing Links: «Mama Keep Your Big Mouth Shut»
Surely, The Cramps would approve of this obscure Australian garage album track: Attitude, bursts of noise & feedback—all to a melody and lyrics by their darling Bo Diddley.

16. The Third Bardo: «Lose Your Mind»
In a transparent and pathetic attempt at breaking big, this song is a replica of The Third Bardo’s previous (moderate) hit, «I’m Five Years Ahead of My Time»—a song The Cramps liked to cover. The song's sentiment is a good idea, though, and with a fuzz guitar like that...

17. ? & the Mysterians: «96 Tears»
Largely forgotten today, this is one of rock history’s most important hits, its raw simplicity inspiring a whole generation of non-musicians to play anyway—and Lux interior to whimper, on 1979’s «Human
Fly»: «I am a human fly / And I don’t know why / I got ninety-six tears and ninety-six eyes!»

18. Suicide: «Radiation»
According to Suicide singer Alan Vega, ’60s garage rock sensation «96 Tears» forms the basis of this song, just as it inspired The Cramps' own «Human Fly». Although they sound different, the two bands shared an affinity for early rock'n'roll, screams and yelps, the gutter, and punk (which they helped kickstart in New York back in the '70s when they'd play CBGB's and the like).

19. The Birthday Party: «Release the Bats»
At this point—1982—The Birthday Party was probably the closest-sounding band to The Cramps. The tongue-in-cheek, rockabilly-meets-goth stylings and gutter lunacy were something they definitely had in common, not to mention the hysterical vocals and ejaculations of white guitar noise. While Lux Interior attempted to sound like Charlie Feathers, and Alan Vega as Gene Vincent, Nick Cave here gives it the Elvis treatment.

20. Thee Headcoatees: «Strychnine»
The Sonics' original was an old Cramps favourite. Here's a version by Billy Childish's grotty version of Spice Girls, his unskilled protégés Thee Headcoatees, which would launch Holly Golightly's career.

21. The Fall: «I'm a Mummy»
Bob McFadden & Dor's bandwagon Beatnik novelty song, «The Mummy», was yet another Cramps favourite. But it’s still a bizarre choice for a cover version, if you ask me. But then Mark E. Smith does resemble the living dead—a Working Class Ho-Tep.

22. The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion: «Dang»
Jon Spencer moved to New York to start an art rock band in the vein of Swans, but ended up playing stuff like this obviously Cramps-influenced rockabilly punker, replete with Theremin, the staple of any '50s schlock sci-fi B-movie. Pure Cramps.

23. The Stooges: «You Better Run (version 2)»
The Stooges were a huge influence on The Cramps, what with the poor man's decadence of their street hedonism and their deranged sense of theatrics (publicly cutting yourself with glass, dressing up in fetish clothing, covering yourself in peanut butter). I used to put this song on a lot, and my girlfriend at the time—a bigger fan of Iggy Pop than I—would roll her eyes every time, not quite ready to embrace his ad lib about rape. But that’s a good thing; offensiveness is a hallmark of relevance, and I'm glad to see Iggy's still got it after all these years.
(Only about a month before Lux Interior passed away, and at around the same age, influential Stooges guitarist and, er, Nazi fetishist Ron Asheton died of a heart attack. RIP.)

24. Black Lips: «Buried Alive»
The inappropriate title aside, this track's perfectly in sync with The Cramps, what with the Tales of the Crypt-like lyrics coupled with wild and jangly raga rock that's as psychedelic as it is garage.

25. Grinderman: «Honey Bee (Let's Fly to Mars)»
Eschewing his high-fallutin' goth poetry and exchanging his piano for the Farfisa organ (which has been the staple of garage rock ever since
? & the Mysterians came out with «96 Tears»), Nick Cave reconnected with his libido and created an album full of scuzzbucket sexual frustration, with former Cramps sticksman Jim Sclavunos beating the skins. Cave's buzzing on this track sounds like a nod to Cramps classic «Human Fly».

26. Megapuss: «A Gun on His Hip and a Rose on His Chest»
The Cramps loved rock’n’roll pioneer Bo Diddley. Here, Devendra Banhart and Greg Rogove take the quintessential Diddley beat (and melody of «The Story of Bo Diddley») and set it to offbeat lyrics—a combination which in another age would've cast this in the category «novelty music». I mean, «Fuck the taxes / In their IRSes / … Fuck the pastors / Touching our baby boys' asses»(!)

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