Thursday, February 5, 2009

Lux Interior, 1946-2009

Lux Interior (born Erick Purkheiser, second from left), leader and voice of The Cramps, died yesterday from a heart ailment at the age of 62. Formed by Lux Interior and his wife, guitarist Poison Ivy, The Cramps were the crucial link between Elvis, Fifties rock ‘n’ roll, and the late Seventies punk era, the period in which aberrant, unconventional readings or interpretations of early rock ‘n’ roll were both allowed and encouraged. Lux’s vocal style got Elvis wrong in the same way that Elvis got Dean Martin wrong (if there were one singer he wanted to sound like, Elvis famously said at the beginning of his career, it was Dean Martin), thus allowing him playfully to explore the image of himself as Elvis returned to life as a zombie—serendipitously, the band’s first Alex Chilton-produced singles were recorded right around the time of Elvis’s death. But despite the band’s so-called “psychobilly” posturings, juvenile gothic trappings, and its aura of sexual decadence and fetishism (Lux often wore high heels on stage and occasionally would get up close and personal with audience members of both sexes) lifted straight from from the New York Dolls, The Cramps played straight ahead rock ‘n’ roll, heavily influenced by the guitar stylings of surf and garage band and the so-called “dirty boogie” of Link Wray, and, perhaps most important, an aesthetic derived from low-budget horror movies. The Cramps’ first LP, SONGS THE LORD TAUGHT US (1979), recorded in Memphis at Sam Phillips’ recording studio and produced by Alex Chilton, remains their strongest album in my view, because it isn’t hampered by deadly self-consciousness or self-parody. True, the album contains songs with titles such as “I Was a Teenage Werewolf,” “Sunglasses After Dark,” “Zombie Dance” and a pretty good cover of Johnny Burnette’s “Tear It Up” (check this out), but they are all good rock 'n' roll songs despite the titles; they had a distinctive sound. My personal favorite track by The Cramps, though, is probably “Goo Goo Muck,” from PSYCHEDELIC JUNGLE (1981). For various reasons, I lost track of them after A DATE WITH ELVIS (1986), the last album of theirs to which I gave a serious listen, but The Cramps circa 1979-1984 will always remain one of my favorite rock ‘n’ roll bands. An interesting article on Lux Interior can be found here.

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