Jenny Lens, Pleasant Gehman, Joseph Rees and more remember Lux Interior
The death of Cramps frontman Lux Interior prompted many punk luminaries to share their memories of his life and work. Henry Rollins weighed in last week, and here are a few more thoughts from musicians, writers, photographers and scene mavens who knew him or were shaped by his music.
Jenny Lens, L.A. punk photographer
The Cramps were unique and so far ahead of their time, most people still haven't caught on to them. They were theater of the highest caliber, just as much high art as low art, a tradition as old as mankind itself. Primitive, alien and yet a part of us, not apart from us. They affected me so much I couldn't take many live photos. Now that's saying something!
The Screamers and I headed to the Chateau Marmont after a Whisky show. I had a large, blue Chrysler New Yorker, which all the punks, including Dee Dee Ramone and later Sham 69, loved because I could fill it full with punks and drive all over town. I remember the party room being very crowded, so some of us headed towards the pool. Tomata du Plenty told me to take off all my clothes because a group of us were going to swim in the nude. I said they would throw us out, but I saw others strip down, and I joined in. I remember laughing and having so much fun until the angry management did throw us out.
I photographed the Cramps at the fabled Tropicana Hotel, inside their room full of bones, crystal balls, and a mannequin with an X on its forehead; as well as outside, by lamplight. Lux held his crystal ball in most shots.
My favorite memory is when a 15-year-old kid I photographed backstage at the Ramones, August 1976, told me a few years later he was invited to play with the Cramps after making his professional debut in the Gun Club. Brian Tristan rechristened himself as "Kid Congo," with Pleasant Gehman's help. He's now known as KC Powers. The kid who danced in his cradle before he could walk had been in two of the most legendary bands, the Gun Club and the Cramps.
You want to know what the Cramps were like, on- and offstage? Psychedelic, hypnotic, mesmerizing and entrancing. They are the rare band which I loved so much but couldn't shoot. I was bewitched, bothered and bewildered and surrendered to them.
Lux and Ivy played in L.A. so often we thought of them as part of our L.A. punk community before they moved to L.A., where they remained. Everyone who knew them can attest to their kindness, friendliness and decent behavior. That's saying a lot, because performers, writers, photographers and fans during L.A.'s early punk days weren't always nice to each other nor to me.
Cole Alexander, guitarist, the Black Lips
I remember when I was in high school, somebody showed me video of the Cramps playing in a mental institution, and it was so amazing because you couldn't distinguish who was in the band and who was crazy. At one point when a girl got on stage and went bonkers, Lux let her passionately scream into his microphone. He made music that the bedlamites could dance to.
Pleasant Gehman, writer, musician and dance instructor
I was close to the Cramps from very early on in their career (I met them in 1977), the first time they came to California. I, along with many others, thought they were the best thing EVER to happen to rock and roll!
On their first trip to Southern California, Kid Congo, Jeffery Lee Pierce and I brought them around to all the "hot spots," like thrift stores in Watts, Sharon Tate's house and Gold Star Studios, then we'd go see them every night at the Whisky A Go Go, where I worked as ticket-taker.
My roommate Kid Congo Powers (in his pre-Cramps days) and I would actually go back and forth on the bus from L.A. to New York and back again, and we probably saw the band hundreds of times. We were under-age kids then, still in our teens. There was a time in the late '70s that Lux and Ivy were like our punk rock parents -- they would have us over to their relic-filled apartment in New York and play us all sorts of rare rockabilly 45s, show us vintage horror movie stills and men's magazines from the ‘50s, educating us in the finer points of American Trash culture.
When I think of my teenage years, I don't think of proms or going to the beach; I think of losing my mind at Cramps shows. Dancing into a frenzy, screaming my head off until I was unable to talk for the next three days. There is a bootleg from a Cramps Max's Kansas City show (I think from 1978), and between every song, you can clearly hear Kid Congo and I screaming at the top of our lungs, "CRAZY NIGHTMARE! I'm having a CRAZY NIGHTMARE!" over and over between songs, like a pair of lunatics.
I remember sitting in on a recording session for "Bad Songs For Bad People" at A&M studios. I was there with the now-famous interior designer Brad Dunning, visiting Kid, who was a new Cramps member. When they were recording Hasil Adkins' "She Said," Lux shoved a huge Styrofoam 16 oz. coffee cup into his mouth, and sang the entire song like that, drooling spit uncontrollably and spewing out pieces of crumbled Styrofoam as he sang.
I also remember a moment at the Tropicana Motel in West Hollywood, the L.A. equivalent of New York's Chelsea Hotel. The Cramps always stayed in room 100 A, which was a big, dilapidated "suite" with shag carpeting and a dinky little kitchenette. It was on a Cramps night off, with no gig, and we were drinking, smoking pot and watching a cheesy '50s flying saucer B movie with the sound turned off, listening to old records. We started talking about UFOs and Lux gave me a lecture:
"You will NEVER see a UFO," he said somberly, like a dad telling a kid the facts of life. He was so serious, and I was so loaded I almost started to cry because I figured he knew more about this stuff than I did.
"Why not?" I asked, holding back tears.
"Because you WANT to see one," he said. "The only people that ever get to see them are the people that would never, ever in their whole lives want to see one. It would be the last thing they wanted, and they wouldn't believe it could ever happen. You'd have to be some dirt farmer or a police officer in Arkansas to be able to see one."
Then he sighed, and kind of regretfully shook his head at how unfair the world was.
Joseph Rees and Jill Hoffman, documentarians of the Napa State Mental Hospital show
Rees: Back in the '70s there was excitement abound as performance artists, visual artists, writers and musicians were all buzzing over the new directions in art and this new thing called punk rock. We were searching and setting up shows in some of the most unusual and interesting places, like the School for the Deaf in Berkeley, abandoned warehouses, American Indian centers, deserted parking lots, San Quentin prison, and the Napa State Mental hospital in California.
Both the Mutants from San Francisco, the Cramps, and Target Video 77 agreed to perform a free concert for the patients at the hospital. So on June 13, 1978, the show went on. From the moment we arrived, the show began with the Cramps going on first and the Mutants to follow in the outdoor plaza. The patients were pumped with excitement and enthusiasm. From dancing to mimicking the band, all were having a great time.
As I looked through the lens of the camera, I got a rush of excitement as I witnessed what became one of the greatest shows of all time. The patients seemed so happy to engage with the band, and they left all of their problems behind for those few hours. As Lux Interior, Poison Ivy, Bryan Gregory and Nick Knox performed, one patient after another took the stage with them to dance, mimic and strut their stuff. It was a wild, crazy lovefest, and instant therapy for patients, staff and witnesses.
Hoffman: Lux meshed with all the chaos and was the source of the emotions, reactions and lots of laughter. Everyone was getting excited, happy, and forgetting about the “real” world for a while. Lux was so accepting of the audience behavior, be it a patient or a friend. Lux was always a pro, even early in their career. He wore a “scrubs” shirt to perform at Napa, probably to try and make the patients feel comfortable. They, the band, were so awesome, magical, free-spirited and the perfect performance for the setting. Lux truly enjoyed himself that day. I think that show blew his mind, more than any other to this day. I know it did all of us who were lucky enough to be there. With great memories, he will never be forgotten, and will be truly missed.
Brett Gurewitz, founder of Epitaph Records and guitarist for Bad Religion
Although not a hardcore band, the Cramps were an integral part of the inchoate hardcore scene of L.A. in the early '80s. My teenage friends and I in the 'burbs would get jacked on beauties and equal doses of the Cramps and the Germs and try to imagine a side of life as seedy and nocturnal as the ones they sang about. Lux was a frontman’s frontman, that rare inspirational figure to make you want to waste your life on rock 'n' roll. The world will never see his likes again.