Thursday, October 21, 2010


What can I say about Lux Interior? What kind of a eulogy can I give him on what would have been his 63rd birthday? How can I explain why the Cramps meant so much to me and still do? Frankly, I do not know. That is to say, I can't quantify it, I can't give you a formula. What follows has been assembled from a couple of earlier posts, and a few other things I've written on the subject. Looking back, I think I did a fairly good job of saying what I wanted to say, so I thought it might be appropriate to bring it out again. I've put it together and filled in some of the cracks with more or less fresh insights. I hope it says something to you.
My painting in honour of Lux's Birthday
SlimGil DeLuxe

by Chuck Miller

I was born in Akron, like Lux, and I lived in Cuyahoga Falls, no more than a few miles from the Purkheiser residence in Stowe. It is entirely possible that child-me and young adult Lux passed one another on the street now and then, neither of us aware of what destiny had in store. Erick Purkheiser may have glanced at that dopey-looking little redheaded kid bouncing along and never dreamed that his future activities would affect that child's life in ways both subtle and noisy; profoundly rewarding and profoundly dangerous.

Of course, it ain't about geography. Lux and Ivy could have come from Idaho or Wisconsin or the moon or Planet X, and the result would have been the same. And in fact they WERE from all those places, and quite a few more. They pulled together such a diverse array of inspirations and influences that they were from everywhere.

It is perhaps easier to say what the Cramps were NOT than to try to define what they were. They were not punk rock or psychobilly or any of that. They were unique in a way that very few things ever are, and there was never a pigeonhole built that could hold them. They were sui generis. What kind of music did they play? Cramps music. What kind of a band were they? They were the Cramps kind. Where can I find their records? Under "Sacred Music" of course.

The first time I actually SAW the Cramps in action was in the movie "Urgh! A Music War." As you know, they contributed a blistering rendition of "Tear it Up," which not only eclipses every other performance in the movie, it eclipses every other performance in the fucking history of the fucking world. At the time, though, I did not quite see it that way. It was frightening. I was a bit stunned. What is this I am seeing? Is this man having a nervous breakdown on stage? Is this like one of those clips of Elvis when he was too fucked up to remember his lyrics? And look at that poor guitarist! She must hate this guy. I mean, if looks could kill...

Obviously I knew nothing at that point. I was staring directly into the sun and trying to make sense of what I saw, but I lacked the vocabulary for it. However, instead of blinding me, this sun began to pull my eyes open. It would take me a while longer to complete enough of a paradigm shift to accommodate the Cramps, but once I did, there was no going back. The interesting thing is, it was not so much a process of discovery as it was of recognition. The Cramps spoke to something that was already in me, dormant and undernourished. The change was not instantaneous. Nothing worthwhile ever is. And when it had been accomplished, I could finally answer the question posed by Lux in "Garbageman."

Yeah, I DO understand!!!
And what's more, I have understood for a long time, though I didn't know it because I had never had it shoved into my face and shaken like that. I knew that this was the purest form of what it was, and what it was was what I wanted.

I, like Lux, ended up playing in a band that was a de facto homage to my inspirations-- mainly, in my case, the Cramps themselves. I did not come up with a stage name, but I had a person in me that only came out on a stage in a club late at night, and it's a damn good thing. This person would do or say absolutely anything. He wasn't me, and yet he was. Possibly he was more me than the one who walked by day.

And I did not consciously invent him. More like I discovered him living down in my basement, so to speak. Which makes sense, when you consider the fact that most of us spend about 90 percent of our time refraining from doing whatever it is we REALLY want to do.

Many observers took Lux's stage persona at once too seriously and not seriously enough, without really understanding just what they were seeing, and they got it hopelessly confused with the man behind it. Which it both was and was not. In many ways, I suppose it was the purest distillation of what Erick Lee Purkhiser really was. As with all great fiction, it was closer to the truth than mere reality; it was authentic on a level the "real world" seldom reaches.
To say that Lux was my favorite singer would be like a Christian saying Jesus was their favorite guy that got nailed up on a cross. Technically true, but missing almost all of the emotional subtext.

We mourn his passing, and rightly so, for he was a rare bird whose like will never be seen again.

But leave us always remember and never forget: What Lux was to a set of vocal chords, Ivy was/is to an electric guitar.

The Cramps without Lux Interior would be like Elvis Presley without Elvis Presley. However, as Lux himself knew full well, there is no "I" in Cramps but if there were, it would stand for "Ivy." That doesn't make much sense, but sense is not what I'm shooting for. I'm trying, in the most roundabout way possible, to say that the Cramps were, essentially, a duo. Drummers and bassists and second guitarists could come and go-- and there were some great ones-- but in order to have the Cramps, you have to have Lux AND Ivy.

Now, we only have Ivy. And we must continue to cherish her. The Cramps are no more and will never be again. But we still have a kick-ass nasty red-headed guitar heroine by the name of Poison Ivy Rorschach.

Back in about 1990, I had the very great good fortune to interview Poison Ivy for a little entertainment paper I worked for at the time. When I say "little," I mean just that. It was extremely local, given away for free at libraries, laundromats, college campuses, etc., in Mobile Alabama. Not exactly Vanity Fair, it was almost as prestigious as the Thrifty Nickel. Most of the writing was as boring and crappy as the small, parochial "music scene" it covered. (I also played guitar in a band called the Church of the Chainsaw, which might just as well have been a Cramps tribute band.)

So, I had a grandiose idea. I was going to try and get an interview with someone who was actually famous. I selected a few artists I really liked and wrote to their record companies or publicists. The Cramps, of course, were on the list. The very top, in fact. Some time went by and I heard nothing from anyone, which I had more or less expected. I had almost forgotten the whole business when one day, while I was at work, the phone rang. I answered, a female voice asked to speak to Chuck Miller, I admitted I was him. The caller said, "This is Poison Ivy of the Cramps."

Since reaching adulthood, I have never once shit in my pants. But if I had, that would have been it. I knew It wasn't a joke because any of my friends would know that they'd be signing their own death warrant with such a stunt. I got my shit together, got a tape recorder, and we talked for more than an hour. It was the highlight of my journalistic career, if not my whole fucking life. I wish I still had that tape.

Another thing I've never done is have a religious experience, but, again, that came very close.

I have interviewed a few more celebrities since then, but that was the only time I ever came away from it feeling that I had just talked with someone who genuinely appreciated my interest and who thought I was just as important as she was.

Years later, I got to meet both Lux and Ivy face-to-face, for all of about 15 seconds, at a club in New Orleans while they were making their way to the stage. I seriously doubt she actually remembered me, but she very sweetly pretended that she did. I shook hands with Lux and stammered out some incoherent but sincere expression of my admiration and devotion. To which he replied, "Thank you." Those were the only two words ever spoken directly to me by Lux Interior, and I have no doubt that he meant them as much as I mean it now when I say, rather belatedly, "You're welcome, Lux. And thank YOU."

I always had the impression that Ivy was the brains of the outfit. But not in a creepy Colonel Tom kind of way. More like an "I know that what we are doing is some incredibly great and unique shit, and I intend to take good care of it" way. She built and maintained the framework that allowed Lux to be the magnificent beast that he was. She was his foundation. Had there not been an Ivy, right now there might be only a handful of people mourning the death of that weird old Mister Purkhiser who ran that used record store out by the airport. Would young Eric ever have found the freedom to gleefully bounce around nearly naked on a stage in a pair of high heels? Maybe, maybe not. And had he not, how much poorer our lives would have been.

Now, I am not seriously suggesting that anyone here is likely to forget or even discount her. But with everything that has been written about Lux, a lot of it by me, I want to take the opportunity, now that some time has passed, to express my gratitude, admiration and appreciation to the Cramps' other half.

I have a friend in California with three daughters, all under the age of 15. They are lucky kids indeed because they all got to see the Cramps in 2006. The youngest was less than a year old. The two older girls were enthralled with Ivy. She touched something deep inside them. There is still a lot more sexism in the music world than anyone wants to admit. There are a few basic molds into which most female performers squeeze themselves. There are way more Pussycat Dolls than there are Girlschools or Runaways, more Brittneys and Jessicas than Candy Del Mars. Where can a young girl look to find a guitar heroine of her own? Not many places. But one of those places was the stage before which those girls stood on that day. And they will carry that with them for the rest of their lives.

They saw a little glimpse of freedom, a hint of their own potential, just like I did so many years before. Someone telling them, without words, that they could do this too, if they want. I don't talk too much about the trappings, you'll notice. The cheap horror movie sensibility, the kitsch, the camp, the fashion. It happens that I love most of these things myself, but the truth is, they are just details. Not all that important. It could have been anything. They could have dressed as giant lobsters and played polka, and they still would have been the Cramps.

The Cramps demonstrated that it is possible to live a life untainted by compromise or surrender, that it is possible to be, not so much what you think you want to be, as what you really ARE at your core, no matter what that is, in a world that encourages anything but. It is a lesson that few will ever grasp and even fewer will ever live. But, thanks to the Cramps, some of us poor suckers will at least have a chance.

Oh, and perhaps the most import thing-- I never eat stuff off the sidewalk. No matter how good it looks.

-- Chuck Miller

The photos above, sent in by SlimGil DeLuxe, show Our Founder Mister Interior in the studio, giving voice to "Rayo X," a super-wrestler in the animated film Los Campeones de la Lucha Libre, the English-language version of which was released earlier this year.
Los Campeones de la Lucha Libre is described by the American Cinematheque’s website as “A feature-length animated action-comedy” in which “Masked mayhem ensues when a team of wrestling heroes is caught in the middle of a struggle between a gang of barbarians right out of Mad Max and a legion of monsters inspired by the golden age of Mexican horror films.” There’s a bit on the animation company’s blog about Lux Interior’s role:
We needed a creepy, unearthly yet endearing voice for Rayo X, and after testing many actors, it was apparent that the role was made for Lux. Working with him was both a blast and an honor…Tomorrow night will be a sadder experience hearing his voice ring out at The Egyptian, and a little unnerving when Rayo utters Lux’s favorite line in the movie ‘Ah, the heady stench of death‘.

Some of you may not be familiar with SlimGil's great Crampcentric artwork. Below you will find a few examples. You can see more on his MySpace page:


Erick Lee Purkhiser (October 21, 1946 – February 4, 2009), better known as Lux Interior, was an American singer and a founding member of the legendary garage punk band The Cramps from 1976 until his sudden death in February 2009 aged 62.
Born in Akron, Ohio, he grew up in its nearby suburb of Stow and graduated from Stow High School. He met his wife Kristy Wallace, better known as Poison Ivy, a.k.a. Ivy Rorschach, in Sacramento in 1972, when he and a friend picked her up when she was hitchhiking. The couple founded the band and moved from California to Ohio in 1973 and then to New York in 1975 where they became part of the flourishing punk scene.
Lux Interior's name came "from an old car commercial", having previously flirted with the names Vip Vop and Raven Beauty, while his wife's name change was inspired by "a vision she received in a dream". The couple called their musical style psychobilly, originally claiming it to have been inspired by a Johnny Cash song, (One Piece at a Time), and later saying that they were just using the phrase as "carny terms to drum up business."
Interior was also a visual artist, in particular he was a 3D camera collector and enthusiast with which he created artworks and collages.
The Cramps gave their last show in November 2006. When asked why he continued to play live well into his middle age, he told the LA Times:
"It's a little bit like asking a junkie how he's been able to keep on dope all these years, It's just so much fun. You pull in to one town and people scream, 'I love you, I love you, I love you.' And you go to a bar and have a great rock 'n' roll show and go to the next town and people scream, 'I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you.' It's hard to walk away from all that."
In 2002 Lux Interior performed the voice of a character on SpongeBob SquarePants - the lead singer of an all-bird rock band called the Bird Brains. SpongeBob voice Tom Kenny attended his memorial ceremony.
Lux Interior died at 4:30 a.m. on February 4, 2009, in Glendale, California. The cause of death was aortic dissection. He is survived by his wife Ivy and two brothers, Michael Purkhiser and Ronald "Skip" Purkhiser. The memorial service for Lux was held on February 21st at the Windmill Chapel of the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine. This was a very private ceremony but a report of it, agreed to by Ivy, was posted for fans by long time friend Jonny Whiteside on the blog of LA Weekly and later in the print edition. Lux's brother, Mike, also provided insight into his relationship with Lux in a newspaper article.

The Cramps roots can be traced back to 1976 when, according to legend, Erick Purkhiser picked up hitchiker Kristy Wallace in Ohio. They discovered a mutual love of old-time rock'n'roll and classic SciFi B-movie matinee fare... The rest, as they say, is history.

They soon decided to form a band. Akron Ohio was not the place for a band like The Cramps to "happen" so the couple packed on up and moved to New York City, drawn by the lure of what they read and heard was happening at a club called CBGBs... Erick took the stage name "Lux Interior" from an ad he saw describing an automobile ("Lux" as in the advertising abbrv for "Deluxe") and Kristy took the name "Poison Ivy Rorschach", from a dream she had (of course, everyone knows that a Rorschach Test is the ink blot quiz a shrink gives folks). Lux would be the singer, Ivy the guitarist. The band was soon rounded out by Bryan Gregory on guitar and Bryan's sister Pam "Balam" on drums. Pam quickly dropped out and was replaced by Miriam Linna. After recording one demo and playing a few gigs, Miriam left to join Nervous Rex. Her replacement was Electric Eels drummer Nick Knox (Nicholas Stephanoff).

Their "minimalist sound" may take some getting used to, but this is pure raw rock'n'roll. Two guitars (they only recently submitted to having a bassist) and a basic trap drum set (Bass drum, Snare and cymbal) were the only instruments. Ivy played lead guitar while Bryan (and his subsequent replacements) played highly fuzzed and distorted guitar riffs, more than making up for the lack of a bass. In New York they became cult favorites and, with Alex Chilton (of Panther Burns fame) they recorded a couple independent singles which caught the ear of Miles Copeland, who signed them to his fledgling I.R.S. Records. Those first singles and a fifth song, were released as GRAVEST HITS. The Cramps toured briefly then headed back to the studio with Alex Chilton to begin work on their first full-length LP, SONGS THE LORD TAUGHT US

Shortly after the LP SONGS THE LORD TAUGHT US was released, Bryan Gregory left the band, taking their van and most of their equipment with him. It's rumored he didn't like the direction the band was going and wanted a more modern sound and thought the lyrics should be meaningful, like The Clash. Obviously Bryan had no idea what it meant to be "Cramped." He surfaced a while later in a band called Beast, releasing three singles. They soon Dumped Gregory, moved to the UK and became Veil, vanishing after a one shot gothic LP. Gregory later worked as either a satanic minister or a porn shop vendor, depending on who you believe. (Bryan Gregory died of heart failure in January, 2001. See the IRS Memorial Page for more details). Gregory was replaced by Julien Greinsnatch, whose time with The Cramps, while limited, was forever recorded on film in URGH! A MUSIC WAR.

Gun Club's Kid Congo Powers, a longtime fan, picked up the guitar duties and the band went into the studio to record PSYCHEDELIC JUNGLE. It was during this time that The Cramps started having problems with Miles Copeland and I.R.S. Records. Royalties, unapproved cover art, and lack of promised support on tour were the reputed sources of the dispute. Ultimately the case was settled out of court, but not without having a severe impact on the band. During the period of litigation they could not record (technically they were still contracted with I.R.S.) so touring became their only source of income. Because desperate fans hungered for new material, fear of bootlegging kept The Cramps from doing new material at these concerts.

Once the case was settled, The Cramps recorded a live set at New York's Peppermint Lounge which was released (on the late great Enigma Records) as the "tastefully entitled" SMELL OF FEMALE. Kid Congo then left the band (amicably) to return to Gun Club. I.R.S., either to fulfill a term of the settlement or as a final kiss-off released the psuedo-greatest hits collection BAD MUSIC FOR BAD PEOPLE.

Then a period of rotating second guitarist/bassist and rotating labels began. Guitarists/bassists who came and went included Click Mort, Ike Knox (Nick's brother), Mike Metoff (formerly of The Pagans and Nick's cousin), Fur and finally Candy Del Mar who stuck around for a while. After she left a fellow named Slim Chance assumed duties on the bass.

Nick Knox, stalwart drummer, had long suffered from vision troubles and after eye surgery left him blind in one eye, decided to leave the band and retire. He was replaced by Jim Sclavunos, and soon followed by Nicky Beat and then Harry Drumdini, arriving at the current line up of Lux, Ivy, Slim and Harry.

In 1989 The Cramps seemed to have smoothed over some of their problems with Miles and I.R.S., as they assisted in the preparation of their I.R.S. catalog for CD release. This apparent reconciliation may have only been for the sake of making sure "it was done right" for The Cramps continued to work independent of any "major label" influence. The Cramps continue to record and perform and have released many albums since leaving IRS. While this site is devoted to IRS Records exclusively, all of The Cramps recordings are worthwhile and, in humble webmaster Mr. Bill's opinion, worth seeking out and owning... Look for the aforementiond SMELL OF FEMALE, A DATE WITH ELVIS, STAY SICK, LOOK MOM NO HEAD, ROCKINNREELININAUKLANDNEWZEALND (a live concert recording), and FLAMEJOB.

In 2001, Lux and Ivy revived their Vengeance Records label and regained most of their non-I.R.S. catalog for reissue. And not only on CD -- they're also available on cool colored vinyl (which makes Mr. Bill have flashbacks to the glorious 80s)!

1 comment:

  1. Nice story/eulogy of sorts. RIP LUX...

    BTW you may dig my Human Fly posting on my blog from the other day: