The Cramps were one of the first "punk" bands I ever heard - I started with the Dead Kennedys and Flipper, followed by Black Flag, and all that anger (some political, some not, it seemed) kinda made sense to a formlessly pissed-off junior high school kid, but then one day someone gave me Bad Music for Bad People, which is still one of the greatest titles of all time, and something kinda...popped in my head. It was the unbelievable groove their music had, those simple Poison Ivy riffs - her name was perfect because her riffs seemed to crawl up under your skin and live there - and the minimum-maximum beat of Nick Knox (you can have your motorik rhythms, I'll take the Cramps' unstoppable throb). Everything they recorded in those initial few years, from Gravest Hits and Songs the Lord Taught Us and Psychedelic Jungle through A Date With Elvis and the live albums Smell of Female and Rockinnreelininaucklandnewzealand - is absolutely essential American rock 'n' roll, as focused and conceptually perfect and awesome as it gets. When whoeverthefuckitis says "Ladies and gentlemen, live from the Peppermint Lounge, the Cramps!" and the band launches into "Thee Most Exaulted Potentate of Love" on Smell of Female, my heart rate doubles and my skin prickles up, and let's not even get into what happens when I hear the opening riff of "Garbageman" or Lux shouting "Igahtehyawhudis" at the beginning of "She Said."
I didn't get to see the Cramps live until 1995, when they toured in support of Flamejob, an album I still have never heard. They were as amazing and terrifying as I'd hoped they'd be. Lux climbed the amplifiers, stuffing the microphone down his throat and howling as he humped the top of the stack; meanwhile, Ivy cranked out those immortal riffs from her side of the stage, totally impassive, never even glancing in her husband's direction. She knew, I guess, that he was totally in control of his out-of-controlness and that any permanent damage he or the audience suffered would only be psychological. I've gotten to see some impressive frontmen over the years, guys who really knew how to captivate a crowd: Rob Halford, Bruce Dickinson, Chuck D, Angelo Moore, Iggy Pop (with and without the Stooges), Henry Rollins, Perry Farrell, G.G. Allin...but Lux Interior was easily the best of 'em. I still listen to those early Cramps records all the time, and they still kick just as much of my ass as they did when I was 13.
Rollins remembers Lux, in the L.A. Times:
In my opinion, when it comes to being a frontperson, you should say, "That person could never hold a full-time job. Just give him a microphone and get out of his way." And that was Lux -- he was definitely that uncontainable personality. And that voice -- the guy could really sing. Nothing sounds like him. He had that gender-bending kind of "What is he?" thing . . . He was kind of crazy, and you gave him some room because he might get some on you.