Saturday 7 February 2009

Interior Monologue: How The Cramps Took Over The World

Darkside Mirrors (Japan)

I’ve only got a few of their records, and if memory serves, I only saw them live once. And on that occasion I remember enjoying them but thinking that they weren’t as good as I had been led to believe…

…yet when it was announced this week that Lux Interior, the lead singer of The Cramps had died, it really struck me as to how important this band were. And I say ‘were’, because I can’t conceive of any band calling itself by that name which did not include the manic Mr Erick Lee Purkhiser gurning it up at the front.

I listen to dozens of new acts each week, always seeking the next tune that is going to knock my socks off. And each week a goodly proportion of those acts share some DNA with The Cramps in general and Lux Interior and Poison Ivy Rorschach in particular.

This ‘Cramps gene’ in music is distinctive and indelible. The band may have sought inspiration from primitive 50’s rock and roll and the playful, licensed transgression of the American Halloween and those old Universal Pictures horror movies, but they themselves were the role model for similar souls the world over. Jean-Luc Godard famously said that to make a film all you need is a girl and a gun. Millions of would-be musicians looked at the Cramps and knew that all you needed was a voodoo beat, some hair dye and the guts to let it all rip.

Their appeal is world wide. Every country has its own scene where girls empower themselves in black and boys transform themselves with eyeliner and pound out primitive rhythms in small dives. It’s not evil, it’s not pretentious, it’s just good clean nasty fun. It’s all about the music, but it’s also all about the performance.

There are many bands that were bigger, that sold more records. But very few that were as inspirational to as many. It is to their testament that you can use the name ‘The Cramps’ to search for bands on the internet who define themselves in relation to Lux and Ivy and whoever else was around them at the time. And that all these bands are worth listening to, if sometimes only once.

I may be like an inmate in an insane asylum, flapping and scratching at swarms of ants that aren’t there – but I see The Cramps EVERYWHERE. In the make up and thumping drum beats of An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump, in the fuzzed guitars of Kasms, in Nick Cave’s lope, in every front man who ever threw himself into the crowd, in every clothes shop in Camden and any seedy club from Harajuku to the Lower East Side.

The Cramps are now gone, although only in the corporeal sense, because their spirit is all pervasive…

…When I saw The Cramps, it was circa ‘Smell of Female’, when they were possibly as near as they ever came to the mainstream. I remember them playing on a stage that seemed too big, under lights that were too bright. They looked uncomfortable.

I’d have loved to have seen them in a dark club, with Lux beating his chest, howling at the moon and crawling into the crowd. And in my mind’s eye, I feel that I have.

See what I mean…

Damn Laser Vampires (Brazil)

Damn Laser Vampires

The Drop-Out Wives (Blackpool)

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