Thursday, February 05, 2009

A De-Lux World

Lux Interior (Oct. 21, 1946 - Feb. 4, 2009)

Chris Campbell just alerted me to the sad passing of Erick Lee Purkhiser, aka Lux Interior, frontman extraordinaire of cult psychobilly rockers The Cramps. Lux was 62 and reports suggest he died from heart complications. It's hard to explain The Cramps if you've never seen them, so I've included their definitive live performance from the great (and still unreleased) music documentary Urgh! A Music War (UK, 1981).

As you can see, Lux successfully merged the personas of Elvis, Iggy Pop, Bela Lugosi and Alice Cooper into one bare-chested pogo stick of flesh and crammed 'em all into a pair of Jim Morrison's tight-fitting leather pants - which he had trouble keeping up above his kneecaps!

My pal Tom Lehr turned me onto The Cramps back when we were in college and I can still recall my first "exposure" to Lux in Washington, DC at the old 9:30 Club (then known as the Atlantis Club). This was probably their April 1978 appearance there, so I guess the lead guitarist was occult kook Bryan Gregory, who died following a heart attack in 2001 (since Gregory usually buried his face under a Veronica Lake-style cascade of white-streaked hair, I can't visualize his face with absolute certainity!). The place was packed and, as was the punk fashion at the time, fans were wont to storm the stage after getting riled up in the mosh pit. What struck me about Lux was that he was scary and unpredictable: some guy got up onstage while Lux was singing and Lux nonchantly turned around, bashed the guy in the head with the mic stand and kicked his bleeding ass off the stage! I remember thinking that the poor sap probably suffered a concussion. Needless to say, that ended the stage storming.

In 1977, fellow cult star Alex Chilton (who produced their early recordings) christened The Cramps "the greatest rock'n'roll group in the world." They were kind of like The Who in that they balanced the intensity of their manic frontman (who by himself matched the combined energy of Townshend, Daltry and Moon) with the deadpan calm of a two-headed John Entwisle, in their case Lux's gum-chewing honey "Poison" Ivy Rorschach and stoic one-handed drummer Nick Knox (Knox actually had two hands, but one was perpetually holding a cigarette while the other pounded out The Cramps' signature plodding caveman beat, like a metronome drenched in molasses).

I also caught The Cramps when they visited Baltimore's Marble Bar in March 1983, a visit captured in a great Flickr photostream by "Jack Of Hearts" (I wonder if this is former Katatonix bass player Jack Heineke?), as shown below. (Whoever "Jack of Hearts" is, he has some awesome photos of shows and bands playing around Baltimore in the '70s and '80s at gone-but-not-forgotten rock venues like The Marble Bar, Parrot Club, etc.).

The Marble Bar turned Luxurious in March 1983

This was back when The Gun Club's Kid Congo Powers was playing guitar alongside Ivy. My former bandmate Adolf Kowalski - Baltimore's answer to Lux Interior (hey, he had the hair!) - and I were planted right in front of Lux (whose leather pants were hitched up on this occasion) when, in the midst of singing "Human Fly," the singer reached out and snatched Adolf's sunglasses off his face and plopped them onto his. I think he later tossed them off and they got smashed under the crush of the crowd. Adolf didn't seem to mind - after all, Lux Interior merely stole his cheap sunglasses (a much better rock star interface than getting your head smashed by a mic stand!), which Adolf took as a compliment to his fashion sense.

On another local note, I would be remiss without mentioning that Frederick, MD's own resident artist extraordinaire Stephen Blickenstaff famously drew the Lux caricature that appears on the cover of The Cramps 1984 LP Bad Music for Bad People.

Steve Blickenstaff's Good Art for a Good Band

Oh well, time to dig those Cramps records out in remembrance of a great rock and roll star, a wildman who gave it his all every time he took the stage. Until his heart gave out. I think the UK's Guardian summed up his passing best when they wrote: "It's hard to think of Lux Interior as dead, despite what reports say. Then again, it was always hard to think of him as alive."

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