More than once, while slogging around in the pit of music journalism, I have encountered descriptions of Lux Interior that included the phrase "Elvis from hell," and/or "Elvis on acid." I have never been to or from hell, with Elvis or anyone else, so I really can't speak to that. But I have been on acid more times than I care to-- or can-- remember, and I have to take issue with that one. For one thing, it's just pure laziness. How many times can someone go to the cliche well? The Cramps were totally unique, and they deserve to be written about in a totally unique way. (On my more grandiose days, I flatter myself that I'm the guy to do it.)
I haven't done it in a long time, and most likely never will again, because it is more ordeal than enjoyment. It gets into your head and does things there that have never been done before. It is very interesting, which is why I felt compelled, but can be very frightening at times, more because of what it implies than what it actually does.
Be that as it may, the phrase "on acid" is frequently applied when one wants to create an analogy about something that may lie outside the reader/listener's experience. Thus, someone may tell you that a certain performer behaves the way some other, better known performer presumably would if he or she were tripping. It is incredibly overused verbal shorthand for "really, really, really fucking strange." That might apply to Lux, but I believe "on acid" should be retired. Since Lux is known to have taken acid now and again, there were many times when he was like "Lux Interior on acid." Well, not merely like it, he was it. That is something better imagined than witnessed, I should think.
But whence Elvis?
Of course, acid does different things for different people, so my experiences are not universal, but I believe they're pretty typical, based on other people I've observed. Very few of them get up and prance around, screaming like mad apes. I myself would become unnaturally quiet and low-key, remaining in one place for hours on end, thinking thoughts in that language that is only available to you when you're there. The inside of your head is the theater in which the trip plays out, and nothing external matters much. The world is like a painted backdrop in a movie-- not quite real, not quite a dream. Mainly a source of things for you to laugh at uncontrollably, but nothing to worry your pretty little head about. Frenetic physical activity and deliberate exposure of oneself to the scrutiny of others are unattractive prospects. My favorite to-do was staring at the pages of comic books, particularly "The Watchmen," until the panel borders dissolved and I was sitting there in the room with Rorschach. Quite an adventure for me, but not much of a thrill for an audience, had I done it on stage.
Elvis (who in his later years tended to be rather sedentary anyhow) probably would not, were he to have dropped acid, have looked or acted remotely like Lux Interior. I imagine he would have spent a great deal of time in bed or on the toilet, contemplating his navel or anything else that was handy. Indeed, Elvis on acid might not have been appreciably different from Elvis on the usual painkillers and carbs, to the casual observer. I don't know what Lux did when he was tripping, but it's entirely possible that Elvis was like Lux Interior on acid.
Lux might have been something like "Elvis shitfaced drunk and cranked up on black beauties," but that's kinda like the identity of Jack the Ripper or how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop: The world may never know.
Anyhow, Lux Interior was such a unique character, he's pretty much impervious to analogies. The best description of him would, I think, go something like this:
"Lux Interior is like Lux Interior on whatever Lux Interior happens to be on at a given time."
A bit of a tautology, I admit, but can you do any better?
The Cramps' Lux Interior was a twisted E---- from h---
Posted by Owen Adams
Thursday 5 February 2009
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. Some 30 years ago, with the King still warm in his casket, Lux rose like a zombie from the primordial swamp as a twisted, grotesquely libidinous, werewolf E---- from H---, and the mask – if it was a mask – never came off. The Cramps went one step further than punk rock: they didn't merely go back to basics, they stripped rock'n'roll naked and flaunted it in its lethal distilled form: as a relentless sex beast, a psychotic release, a nihilist post-apocalyptic celebration, the ultimate in trash culture.
I was a teenage psychobilly fan with a blue flat-top, armed with Songs the Lord Taught Us, Psychedelic Jungle and Off the Bone, and the green-skinned Lux Interior on my Drug Train poster was like a super anti-hero, a deviant who would happily give a fuck in public (sic). His wife, guitarist Poison Ivy, a bad-girl in full, burlesque glory on the Smell of Female cover, was his perfect lusty counterpart. It was her dominatrix work that funded the Cramps' early releases.
The last Cramps gig review I read described Lux masturbating on stage and climaxing on the mike to Love Me as the set concluded. (Is this true? Because it has the smell of apocrypha about it. As far as I know, the only performer who is documented as having done such a thing onstage is Daryl Dragon, a/k/a "The Captain" of Captain and Tennille, last year in Branson Missouri. Reviews described it as "underwhelming" and "morbid."-- Chuck) A typical show (Boston, 1986) found him clad in leopard-skin briefs drinking wine from an audience member's shoe and French-kissing a random person in the crowd for a full 10 minutes with the microphone in their mouths.
Lux actually wore his interior on the outside, it seemed – any skeletons that might have lurked in his closet were paraded on stage. But the most legendary Cramps performance was captured on a handheld camcorder, their 1978 gig in a California state mental hospital – bringing psychobilly salvation to the beleaguered, and the starting point for Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard's recent ICA film, File Under Sacred Music.
No one managed to equal the Cramps stylistically, they were in a different league to the laughably macho Meteors and most of the British psychobilly scene, though Billy Childish's Thee Headcoats and Nick Cave's Birthday Party echoed their gothic-psychedelic edge.
In his sleeve notes to the rarities compilation How to Make a Monster, Lux complained about those who regarded the Cramps a joke. Lux and the Cramps were serious about rockabilly, horror, foot fetishes, sci-fi B-movies and 50s kitsch. They were all about keeping it pure, raw and minimal, but could never be described as revivalists.
They deconstructed rockabilly gems such as Surfin' Bird, Jailhouse Rock, The Way I Walk and Love Me, and made them throb with playful menace. They came from a similar place to the Gun Club, whose declared mission was to "destroy rockabilly", but the Cramps (for whom the Gun Club's For the Love of Ivy was written) didn't crash and burn or go through reinventions. Rather like the Ramones, who came from the same CBGBs scene in New York, Lux Interior and Poison Ivy clung to their buzzsaw sound and never diluted it.
Like the sexploitation, hammer horror and B-movie imagery they maintained to the last, the Cramps' treasure chest is almost bottomless – from Tear It Up to Ugh! A Music War to the ridiculously camp surreality of Naked Girl Falling Down the Stairs. So has Lux Interior joined the ranks of the living (or surfin') dead? Next full moon (on Monday), you might just hear him howl.