Wednesday, March 17, 2010

More Goddamn Death

MESSAGE TO DEATH: Motherfucker, you need to quit gobbling up all our best people. Why don't you go after somebody we could do without? I mean, Dick Cheney has been sitting on your doorstep for years now. Look, I can understand why you'd be reluctant to let him in-- I wouldn't want him in my place either. But you know better than anyone how inevitable you are. You're gonna have to man up and do it one of these days. Dude, you knew the risks when you put on the uniform. And what about all those goddamn Baldwin Brothers? Or Doctor Phil? You really must start doing some fair and balanced reaping.
I would tell you to drop dead, but I confess I can't see how that would work.


Influential guitarist, singer Alex Chilton dies

(AP) NEW ORLEANS — Singer and guitarist Alex Chilton, known for his influential work with bands the Box Tops and Big Star, has died. He was 59.

Chilton's longtime friend John Fry says that Chilton died Wednesday at a hospital in New Orleans after experiencing what appeared to be heart problems.

Fry, the owner of Memphis-based Ardent Studios, says he has spoken to Chilton's wife and that she's very distressed. Fry said: "It was just a sudden and unexpected event."

Chilton had been scheduled to perform with Big Star on Saturday at the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas.

The festival's creative director, Brent Grulke, says Chilton's gift for melody was second to none.

Gulke says: "Alex Chilton always messed with your head, charming and amazing you while doing so."

As the teenage singer for the pop-soul outfit the Box Tops, Chilton topped the charts with The Letter in 1967. The band's other hits were Soul Deep and Cry Like A Baby.

His work with Big Star had less mainstream success but made him a cult hero to other musicians, as evidenced by the title of the 1987 Replacements song, Alex Chilton. Big Star's three 1970s LPs all earned spots on Rolling Stone magazine's list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

Chilton said in a 1987 interview that did not mind flying under the radar.

"What would be ideal would be to make a ton of money and have nobody know about you," he said. "Fame has a lot of baggage to carry around. I wouldn't want to be like Bruce Springsteen. I don't need that much money and wouldn't want to have 20 bodyguards following me.

"If I did become really popular, the critics probably wouldn't like me all that much," he said. "They like to root for the underdog."

In 1977, the Cramps demoed several tracks and headlined at CBGB's in July but things really began to gel when Nick Knox (Nick Stephanoff) joined on drums the following month. The Cramps met Alex Chilton, formerly of the Boxtops and Big Star, who pronounced them "the greatest rock'n'roll group in the world".

In October, they were down at Ardent Studios in Memphis with Chilton, producing deranged covers of Jack Scott's "The Way I Walk", Roy Orbison's "Domino" and the Trashmen's "Surfin' Bird" alongside their own composition "Human Fly". Ork Records, which had released singles by Television and Richard Hell, couldn't quite get the financing right and the Cramps eventually issued these four tracks on two separate singles on their own label, Vengeance, in 1978. The Cramps' logo, inspired by the Tales from the Crypt comic, helped them gain further attention.

Touring as far afield as Canada and the West Coast of America, the group's live show created quite a buzz and the Police manager Miles Copeland snapped up the rights to the singles for European release as the EP Gravest Hits on his Illegal label in July 1979. He also brought the band over to Europe to support the Police on tour.

After an unsuccessful attempt at recording an album in New York, with the British guitarist Chris Spedding producing, the Cramps went back to Memphis and Alex Chilton, this time also using Sam Phillips Recording Studio (formerly Sun) as well as Ardent. The resulting sessions became Songs the Lord Taught Us, one of the best damn albums of all time. (Pierre Perrone)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Kid Congo Powers in OKC

Kid Congo Powers and the Pink Monkey Birds played in Oklahoma City on March 15, and I was there. I had heard from a number of people that Kid is a really nice guy and a joy to meet in person, and it's true. If I had done everything he's done, I would be a total superior elitist asshole about it. Hell, I'm an asshole now, with the pitiful few things I have managed to do...
So I guess let's thank God that I am not Kid Congo and he is.

Kid Congo, Oklahoma City, 3-15-2010
(Photos by Susan Wallace)

Anyhow, the club was small and seedy, and it smelled like small, seedy clubs everywhere, and that's the way I like 'em. The turnout was not very good, which probably had a lot to do with the fact that it was both Monday night and Oklahoma, neither of which have a reputation for excitement. But the ambiance struck a chord in me. It reminded me more of the gigs we used to play back when I was in a band than a big deal rock and roll show, and that made it special. We played more than one gig where my band outnumbered the audience-- and we were a trio. It wasn't quite that bad for the Pink Monkey Birds Monday night. In fact, it wasn't bad at all. It was intimate and friendly and I could have danced all night, if I could dance. And if they had played all night. Which I wouldn't have minded. Kid and his cohorts gave it their all and a massive good time was had by all.

On a more serious note, if you get a chance to see the Pink Monkey Birds in or near your town, or anywhere at all, take it. If you knew what you were missing, you'd never forgive yourself for it. And if you didn't know what you were missing, you wouldn't forgive yourself for that, either.

Your Humble Blogger has a brush with greatness.

Former Cramps, Gun Club, and Bad Seeds guitarist Kid Congo Powers and his band The Pink Monkeybirds play a song from their most recent album 'Dracula Boots' (available on LP and CD from Inthered Records) at Oklahoma City club The Conservatory March 15, 2010. Go see this band live. (Vidiocy by Perry Amberson)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Poison Ivy 1992 Interview


Originally posted February 7, 2009

I have been really torn up about Lux Interior's death in the hospital a few days ago, and thinking about Lux and Ivy the last few days motivated me to hunt through my filing cabinet for this old interview transcription.

It's an interview I did with Poison Ivy Rorshach of The Cramps back on February 23rd, 1992; she was in Providence, RI, on tour at the time, and I was in Ottawa, writing for Trans FM (which was the magazine of CKCU 93.1, Carleton's University radio station). Portions of this interview appeared in the paper at the time.

CKCU had a weird little rubber-lined booth there at the station that you'd squeeze into, and then you'd pick up the phone and speak to whomever at the appointed time, and the interview would be recorded and theoretically ready to air.

I freely admit here at the outset that I asked really dumb questions, and said really embarrassing things - not the least of which was describing The Cramps' back catalogue as sounding "hollow" right at the start of the interview.

Luckily, Ivy must have realised I wasn't actually mean or ignorant, just incredibly clumsy with words. Things improved thereafter and, in retrospect, the first lady of rock'n'roll guitar was very generous with her time indeed.

My sincere best wishes to her at this time, and my greatest respect to the greatest couple in rock'n'roll, Lux & Ivy.

Pius: On the new album "Look Mom! No Head", you've achieved a very full sound - and I guess that's very much your doing as you produced it. Obviously the bass shows more prominence, because you didn't have bass until recently --

Ivy: Well, we did since "Date With Elvis". I played bass on "Date With Elvis" and... the other one on that. But we didn't have a bass player like this one though (Slim Chance), so that makes a big difference.

Pius: There seems to be a move away from the more hollow sound of your earlier albums. Was this intentional, or was this just the way things worked out?

Ivy: Um, OK. I guess I don't understand what hollow means in relation to sound.

Pius: Well, I think it's a really cool sound on the first few albums. It's hard to describe.

Ivy: For us, "Songs The Lord Taught Us" - we felt, even though the production on that is fascinating, it didn't showcase The Cramps for what we are, which is a tough rock'n'roll band. It didn't get what we do live, which is rock. It didn't really capture that.

It definitely had a creepy atmosphere, and that has a certain kind of appeal to it. But, at the same time, it didn't really show us for that (rocking sound). And then after ("Songs The Lord Taught Us"), we didn't know much about production either, and we were limited by budget restraints.

Pius: Do you ever think about going back to a creepy sound?

Ivy: We kind of like trying to do it all at the same time. I think we want the presence too, cuz in our early stuff, you couldn't - I think the vocals really suffered on our early stuff. You couldn't hear what Lux was saying or singing. I think there's just more presence now. But yeah, we've always liked to have a creepy edge to our music.

Pius: How did you hook up with the two new members (bass player Slim Chance and drummer Nickey Alexander) of The Cramps?

Ivy: Through word of mouth, mainly. We had met Slim Chance before, when he was in a band called The Mad Daddys. He was the bass player, and I really loved his bass playing in that band. We'd met him before cuz we knew the singer in that band.

We were just trying to get members who were really dedicated. We'd got to the point where we felt like Lux and I were kind of carrying the thing. The rest were acting like a back-up band. We just wanted it to feel more like it did when we started, like a real gang.

Pius: So have you got that now, do you think?

Ivy: Yeah, I do. I know I do (laughs). Those guys are crazy. Yeah, we're able to do songs now we couldn't do before. We'd wanted to do "Hipsville 29 BC" for years. We were never able to really get in a groove with it in the past.

Pius: And has the new line-up changed your live show?

Ivy: Yeah, it has. It really has. I know I go out on a limb more than I used to be able to. I feel freer and we play off each other more than we have in the past - in that sense. But, in other ways, it hasn't changed. It's still just us, you know. We've always gone out there with no props and just ourselves.

Pius: How did you decide to get the Reverend Horton Heat to open the show?

Ivy: We were made aware that they were available, and we had seen them do a show in Los Angeles at the Blue Saloon, and it was a real wild show - so that sounded like it would be a great opener. They're pretty frantic. They're all over the place (laughs). Guy lays on the floor and plays guitar and stuff.

Pius: Do you listen to a lot of Sub>Pop?

Ivy: Ah, not a lot. To be honest, I prefer the more Horton Heat kind of sound. I do like some of that music...a lot of the bands from that area (Seattle) seem like they're trying maybe too hard to be original. Too many chord changes and things that aren't really set in a groove that I can hear. But, you know, some of it's good stuff.

Pius: Do you play "Alligator Stomp" live?

Ivy: Yes, we do.

Pius: And do people ever actually, you know --

Ivy: Do the Alligator Stomp? (laughs)

Pius: Yeah.

Ivy: In some places they haven't. It seems like it hasn't totally caught on. They do something, but it's not like what we think the Alligator is, this dance where you literally have to be on the floor and knock people down. It was a dance that was (laughs) semi-popular in Cleveland back when the Dead Boys and Pere Ubu were in a band called Rocket From The Tombs.

I think this guy David Thomas, who used to be Crocus Behemoth, I think he started it or something. But it was this Ohio dance. People were doing it there. It was called gatoring.

Pius: Cool. That's one of my favourite tracks on the new one.

Ivy: Yeah, it's fun. It's fun to play.

Pius: Is there any one place where you consistently have the weirdest crowds?

Ivy: Umm, golly... Spain is the weirdest, Barcelona. They're, ah (laughs), they're very high. We're told that they take mescaline there, which is something you don't hear about anywhere usually. It seems like Lux'll just do some minor gesture with his hand and a wave of people'll fall backwards or something. It's a really strange kind of energy and there's people sitting on each others' shoulders and stuff.

Their culture was very cut off for years under this Franco regime, and now they've just gotten the equivalent of London in the 60s, Swinging London. They're just, uh - all flaming youth there right now (laughs).

Pius: A lot of the bands I talk to say they prefer playing in Europe to America.

Ivy: We don't. We love playing America. In a way, we're happiest here. There's great crowds here and it feels more like home, like...(sighs). In some ways it's similar, but in some ways, Europeans understand our background more, the roots of our music. Oddly enough, most Americans don't seem to know their own history.

But, at the same time, somehow it feels better, just for the moment at hand, that America feels like it's got more of a rapport. It didn't at first, you know. I mean, it took Europe - popularity in Europe - to bring attention to us in America. But now that we've got it, it's... I don't know, I just love playing America.

Pius: Do you have a favourite place to play there?

Ivy: I really like New Orleans, cuz I like the city a lot too, and then I like the crowds. There's a club there called Tipatina's and it's always just like a sweat bath. It seems really hellish in a good way.

Some of the smaller places up north... We feel really excited about being in New York again, and it was good - but we were more excited the next night when we played Trenton, New Jersey. It was (laughs) like a wilder rock'n'roll crowd, and a grimier venue and everything, and it just felt like old times.

Pius: Is it important to you that your albums be available on vinyl? Are you a vinyl purist?

Ivy: I wish they were. The only way they're available on vinyl now is through import - because you can't really make the record companies here do it. They claim to lose money and I guess it's true, because they don't even have the outlets to sell it themselves.

It's just evolved to that point. I certainly do miss it. I think it's even more important that people see a 12" cover. That gives more importance. I think the package is important.

Pius: Do you prefer to buy vinyl?

Ivy: I love both. I do like the way some things can sound on CD, but in some ways I prefer vinyl. The one thing I do like about CD, it's not the format itself, but see - the CD market has caused record companies to reissue a lot of old blues and old material that probably never would've come out and never would've been possible for anyone to acquire on vinyl even, because it would just be too hard or collectible.

Now it's available, and I think that is influencing culture. I'm hearing a lot of bands... I keep wondering if that is why bands are getting into guitar more. Maybe it is giving young people a chance to hear that kind of music. So, you know, there's a good side to it too.

Pius: Are you still collecting?

Ivy: Any form. Vinyl, CD, everything we can get our hands on, at all times.

Pius: Can you just run down a few of the ones that have most impressed you of late?

Ivy: There's a Bo Diddley CD called "Rare & Well Done", it's quite good. Some stuff I'd never heard, and I'm a big Bo Diddley fan too. The Howling Wolf box set's real good. I'm trying to name stuff that people can find, you know.

I could name rare stuff, but - oh yeah, the Trashmen have CDs out. One's the Trashmen live, you know the Trashmen who did Surfin' Bird? One is a live performance on a CD, and another is some rare album or something that's come out on a CD. This label called Sundazed, they offered a CD called "Surf 'N' Drag". It's called "Surf 'N' Drag Volume One". It's been out like three years and there's no Volume Two but anyways, it's really good.

Pius: The new album was recorded in Hollywood. Do you still live there?

Ivy: Yeah, we do, yeah.

Pius: This is kind of a dumb question, it's just personal interest, but have you ever met Winona Ryder?

Ivy: No, I haven't. I like her movies. I really like her vibe. She seems kinda eerie. I really liked Beetlejuice, real kind of Charles Addams vibe to it.

Pius: Why did you decide to have Iggy Pop guest on "Miniskirt Blues"?

Ivy: Well, we got lucky with that. We'd desired to have him do it, this duet on that song, and we'd met him the previous year. Done some festivals together and found out he was also a fan of ours. We're of course big fans of his. And then later when we wanted to see if he'd be involved in the song, we couldn't get a hold of him because he was touring.

So we just went ahead in the studio in Hollywood. And when Lux went out to buy some wine, he ran into Iggy buying some beer! He was rehearsing next door at S.I.R. for some tour or festival that he was gonna be doing, and he came and stopped by the studio, and when he got there, he said, "is there anything you want me to sing on?" So we didn't even have to ask him, cuz we kind of weren't sure if we should. He just did that song real briefly, one take. Got outta there, said, "gotta run".

We just thought it would suit him cuz we were just trying to make a really heavy, grungy Stooges-kinda thing. That was fun.

Pius: I don't know if this is a touchy subject, but one of the funnier things I found in reading "The Wild, Wild World of The Cramps" was the various theories on what might've happened to Brian Gregory. Have you heard anything new, or --

Ivy: No, and a lot of that initial thing was hype from the record company, when they thought they still had him signed as a solo artist, and they were trying to hype a solo career cuz they thought he'd want to have one. It turned out, he - you know, I mean, that didn't, umm - no, I just, I mean, he had drug problems and stuff, and just faded away.

Pius: It's probably an understatement to say that The Cramps have some unconventional, albeit more pure, ideas about rock'n'roll. I always hear you really hate the idea of benefits or things like that, or politics. Would you mind talking for a bit about what rock'n'roll means to you?

Ivy: It isn't so much against benefits, just using rock'n'roll as a political platform is not the purpose of rock'n'roll.

I also am very suspicious of the motives of...celebrities who use their celebrity to promote that. It seems like what they're really trying to promote is their own celebrity. I think it's pompous, you know, besides being corny. Maturity begins at home, and I think you should really take care of what's around you first, and that no one should question that.

A lot of big causes, that "We Are The World" thing with Ethiopia - for all the money raised, they couldn't even get it to the people because of the politics in that land, you know? There's just so much going on in our own country. I almost think people would let someone starve who's sitting right next to them and not, you know...

Also, it's just not the purpose of rock'n'roll to sing about something like that. Rock'n'roll is a certain type of music and it celebrates being in the body now. It's Bacchanalian. Whatever we're concerned about, we should take care of, but I don't think it should be a public platform.

Pius: Do you consider rock'n'roll a lifestyle as well as a form of music?

Ivy: Seems to be, yeah. It's a real all or nothing kind of thing, it has to be. I mean, we're always The Cramps. We're at different intensities. We're at our most intense when we're on the stage, we're most concentrated. We're at a different form of intensity in the studio and maybe we're less intense on some other occasion. People say you have different sides to you, and I don't feel like that. I think it's just different intensities. It's just stepping on the gas here and there.

Pius: What do you think of the allegations a lot of rappers are making that white rock'n'rollers really ripped off blacks in the 50s?

Ivy: It's unfortunately naive and it's an example of Americans not understanding their own culture. I've heard that criticism about Elvis Presley in particular, which is really a shame. He didn't rip off anybody. He actually was incredibly original. He synthesized many styles of music in a very innocent way, and no one was doing what he was doing.

He was a freak, he was from outer space, he was a pioneer in his day. It's a shame that he's not recognized as that, that he's been trivialized so much. I think it's misplaced frustration to blame him for something like that. I can understand the frustration, but I think they're misdirecting their wrath. I just wish people understood the origins of rock'n'roll more than they do.

Pius: He's becoming a scapegoat.

Ivy: He certainly is. What he did was phenomenal, no one else had done it (laughs). There wasn't anyone, black, white or purple, who was doing what he was doing. It's a shame that that's just one more way he's been trivialized.

You know, people focused on his health problems or his mortal failings to begin with as a way of putting him down. And now this is just one more new way. I think he was too intense for anyone to realise how significant he was. It'll probably take a hundred years for people to look back and realise.

Pius: A lot of the strength of rock'n'roll innuendoes - especially sexual innuendoes in the 50s and early 60s - came from the conservatism of the time. The Cramps have made an art of (lyrical innuendo), and I was thinking about this last night, and I thought it was really funny - because you've got things like 2 Live Crew, where people are being so blatant, and yet The Cramps are very subtle and I think it works. Do you ever think about that?

Ivy: Not consciously. I think what we do is natural. Sometimes I see bands being so blatant, I think they're trying to be outrageous. We don't try to be outrageous. We're just expressing ourselves in a natural way.

That blatant language (sighs) - it almost seems like, if you can't think of something to say, then that's a cheap way out or something. It's just easy to swear, and somehow it doesn't seem (laughs) romantic enough or something. We feel we're more traditional, like Howling Wolf or something. It should also be seductive. There's a point where something's so blatant it won't be seductive anymore.

Pius: Do you think that's why it still has that power? Because people still want that?

Ivy: I think so. I think that's why a lot of blues songs can appeal to me now, something that was from the 50s. Because of that same kind of innuendo that you're talking about. It's sexy, rather than confrontational. It's just more seriously about getting it on, rather than getting in a fight.

Pius: The Cramps have always had what I guess is a healthy fascination for serial killers. This may sound funny, but do you have a favourite?

Ivy: A favourite killer? Is that what you mean?

Pius: Yeah, yeah.

Ivy: For me, I would think Ed Gein. It sounds strange, but in a way he was just culturally different from the people in his area. He was reading a lot of books about cannibalism and headhunters and other cultures - the things that he did are actually common practises in some primitive cultures and in other countries, or maybe in another era. And since he was living alone, he was a total loner... In a way, you can almost look at it that that's what he was doing.

Then the thing that's amusing about him is that he never denied what he was doing. People would say, "gosh, we haven't been able to find Mary Hogan", and he'd say, "oh well, Mary's just hanging upside down in my shed right now". And they'd go, "ha ha, you're so funny", you know. And he knew that he could joke that way - so he had like a sick sense of humour (laughs) about the whole thing.

He was in a town full of really boring, dumb people and it's almost like (laughs) he had to amuse himself. Strange as that sounds, in a way it almost sounds like he did what he had to do. I don't feel that way about more vicious... There was just something about him that didn't seem vicious to me. He's just hunting for dear (laughs).

Pius: Have you ever heard of Starkweather? Charles Starkweather?

Ivy: Oh yeah. Yeah, I read that book. That's an interesting story. He ended up worshipped by all these girls.

Pius: I thought that might be a more Cramps type guy, cuz he was --

Ivy: Real, yeah, James Dean kind of era. And again, I think he was driven crazy cuz he was insulted so much for being short and having - didn't he have a speech impediment?

Pius: Yeah, and bow legs.

Ivy: So he was just ridiculed to the know. I think he was driven beyond the brink.

Pius: Are you still really into horror movies?

Ivy: Oh yeah, all the time. Last night we watched "The Unearthly".

Pius: Have you seen any newer ones lately?

Ivy: I guess the last new thing we saw was "Naked Lunch", which we both liked a lot.

Pius: Do you go to the movies a lot, or rent them mostly?

Ivy: We go to them when we can. We don't get to see much when we're touring, but as soon as we get off the road, we like going to the movies. We liked "The Addams Family". It seemed like not many people did, but we thought it was good.

Pius: You and Lux met through hitch-hiking. Is this something you'd recommend?

Ivy: No, not now. And I know it sounds odd to say that, I was doing that. It was the mid-70s in Northern California. Even at that, looking back, I figure it might not have been that bright - but at the time it was pretty common practise. It seemed like a natural thing to do. It was kind of a time and place situation. No, I wouldn't advise, no. (laughs) Stay away from bars, pills and freeways.

Pius: Do you ever see a time when you won't want to do The Cramps?

Ivy: Not that I can think of. We don't plan our future as much as a lot of other bands, but I think that makes us enjoy what we're doing right now more. Maybe that makes us last longer - because we're digging it. That was the thing, getting the new members, we just wanted to make sure we were digging it right now.

Ivy and Lux, 2004- The Eric Blair Show

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Everything That Rises Must Converge

Lux Interior's Astral Ascension: Jonny Whiteside's Report from the Ceremony

The death on February 4 of Erick Lee Purkhiser, BKA Cramps singer Lux Interior -- singer, writer, artist, 3D photographer, daredevil, shape shifter. Mojo Man from Mars, Ding Dong Daddy from Diddy Wah Diddy (as his surviving longtime partner in crime Poison Ivy described him) was as numbing and unacceptable a trauma as can be imagined, a black hole of tragedy that pulled the hearts of innumerable fans and friends down to the bitter deep end, but there had to be a formal farewell.

A public observance was unthinkable. Just picture the teeming, tearful confederacy of scum who'd show up. But Ivy hit on the perfect spot. Tucked off Sunset Boulevard in Pacific Palisades, the Self Realization Fellowship - Lake Shrine, a fave Elvis hang when he was in town during his mid-60's extracurricular spiritual quest, is an unspeakably beautiful setting and was ideal for Lux Interior's send-off, administered via an appropriately offbeat ceremony, the Astral Ascension.

Held on February 21 inside a reproduction of a 18th century windmill, the trans-denominational service was performed before an ornate sandalwood altar with a backdrop of six portraits -- Jesus, Krishna and the Fellowships own assorted founding gurus; the mood was muted, bleak, and Ivy's entrance brought a flood of tears; clad in form fitting leopard print, she placed a Hurrell-style glamour portrait of Lux beside the rostrum where speakers would address the crowd of 50 or 60 people.

Minister Brahmachari Dale explained their hope-filled transitional view of death, read from the Bhagavad-Gita, recited the 23rd Psalm, and exhorted attendees to concentrate on sending messages of love to Lux's spirit -- and damn, kiddies, it felt like he was right there in the room (when Ivy was arranging the service, she mentioned a similar predisposition, and the coordinator replied, "Oh, he will be there").

Next, a musical interlude, Mary Mayo 's "For All We Know," an evocative, psychedelic R&B ballad with simmering bubble sound effects and eerie theremin runs; musician and longtime Lux and Ivy chum Dave Stuckey spoke first, and his recollections brought booms of laughter: "We had gone to see [R&B star] Young Jesse at a very fancy French restaurant, and when Lux sat down at the table, he immediately picked up the elaborately folded napkin and put it on his head. It made a very nice hat." At a Swap Meet, Lux came across a huge table of bootleg rock videos, one of them a Cramps tape. As Stuckey described it, he said "Watch this," approached the seller, who was busy organizing his wares, held up the video "and asked him -- in that voice -- 'How much for this one?' The guys eyes bugged out and he stammered "It's . . it's . . free."

Self-Realization Center - Lake Shrine, scene of Lux Interior's Ascension Ceremony.

Former Mumps keyboardist Kirstian Hoffman, who had first allied himself with the couple at CBGB's almost 35 years ago, spoke next and began by pointing first at Lux's photo and then the portrait of Jesus, saying "I want to put this picture over there." He also drew gales of additional yucks by talking about what a great visual artist Lux was, a fact emphasized when he produced a long player album by NYC rockabilly revivalist Robert Gordon, whose head shot cover art had been magnificently vandalized, a la Mad Magazine, with blacked teeth, a van dyke beard and a Rat Fink style swarm of flies (Lux's ire was raised by Gordon's choice to cover Cramps staple "The Way I Walk"). Hoffman also read a message from guitarist Kid Congo Powers (on tour in Europe), an affectionate, slightly skewed homage that reinforced just what a profound affect Lux had made on the lives of anyone who saw him perform or was fortunate enough to know him.

Dale proceeded; a flower ceremony, a fire ceremony, the Astral Ascension Prayer, a closing benediction and a final song, the Charades' version of 1939 Duke Ellington hit "Flamingo." A severely cramped doo-woppy arrangement fraught with trashy guitar that, taken with the song's surrealist lyrics, provided a perfect coda. The stunned crowd, including Russ Meyer biographer Jimmy McDonough, comic-Sponge Bob voice Tom Kenny, In the Red Records' Larry Hardy, Johnny Legend, Charmin' Allan Larman, a slew of local underworld rock types and 3D camera buffs (an abiding passion of Lux's), wandered outside.

A reception followed at Silver Lake's Edendale Grill, much grimly carouse, a looping slide show of Lux baby and childhood shots, candid snaps (i.e. Lux wearing panties on his head -- they made a very nice hat) and assorted live combat action photography. Muted chatter ensued and in an unexpected twist, I met the guy who was driving the day he and Lux famously pulled over to pick up a hitchhiker, who turned out to be Poison Ivy. "I only knew Lux for about three years, but I knew Erick very well," he said. "Back then, I was his psychedelic partner, you might say, and a few years ago I got an e-mail from him saying "you don't know who this is" -- of course I did -- "but do you remember when we picked up that really pretty girl hitchhiker and your dog Wheezer jumped all over her? Well I've been jumping all over her for the past 35 years and we have a band called the Cramps."

A first hand account of that fabled meeting was a knock out, but the finality of the day's tone overrode all else. As Poison Ivy herself wrote in the service-accompanying program, "Lux seemed like a creature from another world, with one foot already out of this dimension. As much as we might wonder 'Where are you now?' we can also wonder 'Where on Earth did you come from?' Now that's a mystery!"


May 14, 2007


For more than 30 years, The Cramps have been held together by the bond that is Lux Interior and Poison Ivy Rorschach.

Lux and Ivy are the dream-team of b-movie voodoo nightmares (a good thing), trash psychobilly rock n roll, complete with all the props and the musical stylings to support that fantastic freak show that's better than all the monster movies you've seen at the drive-in combined.

A woman of few words but volumes of style and a guitar repetoire that keeps growing, Ivy has kept the Cramps sound together while Lux takes his stage show to new heights of mania. They haven't lost a bit of steam and still look as cool as they did when I first saw them when we were all kids.

classic cramps outtake

I first saw the Cramps in 1977 and was completely enthralled by their complete conviction and the last time I saw them, in 2004, they had a whole new generation of garage punk rockers in the palm of their hands. They were playing much bigger rooms but they still delivered a show as intimate as if they were playing a 300-seat club.

If you love the Cramps as much as I do, you should track down (if you don't already have) Target Video's great DVD of the Cramps Live at Napa State Mental Hospital.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Greatest Band of All Time

I've gone on at length in other posts about how cool is is to know now that I lived, as a child, oblivious to what would one day be, a very short distance from the future Lux Interior, in those dimly-remembered days when neither of us had drawn much attention to himself one way or the other. Here is the testimony of another buckeye who feels that same mystical, geographic kinship...

Guest Writer: Rebecca Carlisle-Healy
God Damn Rock and Roll: The Cramps
From: August 10, 2005

For me, The Cramps start in Ohio. I don't know if history supports me on this, because creation stories are alluringly murky at this point, but it my belief that The Cramps formed in 1972 in Akron, Ohio. This is plausible, as Lux Interior nee Erick Purkhiser grew up in Akron, but legends conflict enough to indulge theory. Was it Akron or Sacramento? Was it hitchhiking or art class? Although true evidence suggests that Poison Ivy Rorshach and Lux Interior physically met in California, in my heart I know that their spirits' union---the holiest of all unholy unions--occurred in Ohio, the land of my own maternal home.

There's something about Ohio that brews some of my favorite creation. It's an often overlooked state, but it has quietly bred some of the greatest popular figures in our time-off the top of my head-Devo, Dean Martin, Gloria Steinem. Yeah, so that's a mixed bag, it does demonstrate a certain fecundity. But it's like magic happens when you mix low brow, Midwestern, and working-class with indian and the underground railroad. If you are born weird in Ohio, you have to forge your own way to what seems cool to you with scraps and cut-up bits, whatever happened to filter through the trees and burial mound hills. For Erick Purkhiser, this was Ghoulardi, a local late-night horror host, comic books, and rock and roll music.

It is this stuff that The Cramps are made of. Culling all that is trashy, demented, and rejected, Ivy and Lux formed an aesthetic of dime store junk and the cheapest of thrills. Their true genius is not in their originality, but in the rough aping of the lost culture of pulp camp and trash. They are librarians of Americana's dregs. TV horror emcees, mid-century poster princesses, crudely drawn comic zombies--whatever bore a B was thrown into the wash unsorted, and what came out of the dryer smelled like cigarettes and was made of spandex. Ivy wears it in promotional photographs and album covers, a cheetah-woman in fishnets and patent stilettos. When Lux wears it, it looks like leather pants and scratches on his chest.

lux.jpgBut for all the posturing and the sex, The Cramps aren't even that cool, at least in the traditional sense. They're too clever to be cool. As much as Lux looks like Iggy Pop's evil twin when he's cut and bloody on stage, he lacks the dreamy vacancy that makes a dumb ruffian beautiful. The Cramps are self-caricatures, smart alecks, wiseacres. You can put sunglasses on that and it's hot, and it's simpering, but it's also just dorky. Their predilection towards corny jokes and kitsch makes it hard to know where to put them in punk history, even though their 70's New York arty punk resume would seem to put them at the top of everyone's must-have list. An example: in some of my research, I came across a "psychobilly" website whose Cramps write-up attempted to justify its inclusion on the site in such a way that made it obvious that the site's author did not realize that The Cramps themselves had coined the term. It seems like the band missed this fame and cruised straight into infamy. It's as if they didn't know that the party was over, and the now-sober revelers are looking upon their seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time antics with embarrassment.

So, the music. The band's 4-piece lineup shifts with the tides, and only Ivy and Lux have remained constant. Their sound varies with the change, but it's typically a stripped-down drummer, Lux on vocals, and a second guitarist to drone, buzz, and feed back Ivy's plucky, more sauntering licks. Drummer-beast and second guitar-beast have too many aliases to list, but they seem to effectively understand the party for the time being. And let not your notice slip that Ivy is not relegated to the bass, that eye candy's trifle, but a capable musician in the heavily manned world of rockabilly-garage-punk, making her 1-note call as lead. And she's eye candy, Poison Ivy, plain and slim beneath kohl and leotard. She stoically two-steps in her role as the ultimate bad girl vixen, somewhere between a smirk and a sneer.

ivy.jpgLux is more plainly obscene in his role as the sinistral. He plays a mascara-smeared wino with his pants around his ankles, prancing and writhing and he cusses and spits out lyrics so stupid they're brilliant. An Elvis croon gets lost in an animal's guttural slobbing and extended sexual hyperventilations. A microphone is blowjobbed, and a stage floor is thoroughly humped. But beneath it all, you are aware that all of this is parody, a front for the kind of witty theatrics that far pre-date rock 'n' roll. "Can Your Pussy Do the Dog" is about fucking, right? No. Oh, no. It's the courtesan's dry humor in another era when men wore high heels. It's like if Momus fell in love with Ricky Nelson instead of Japan.

I'm really not ready to provide you with an album-by-album chronology, or to highlight the finer points of their low-light career. I appreciate The Cramps as a broad, sopping mess of decade's worth of material, all of it throbbing snarky on basically the same note--funny, weird, and beautiful. But even that, though true, might be too much to say, because in the end, they are just a simple rock 'n' roll band; and maybe The Cramps are just Lux and Ivy's elaborate homage to the greatest bands of all time. But either way, I am glad they are from Ohio.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

I am a total asshole...

... for a lot of reasons-- you can ask anyone who knows me-- but the latest of these is the fact that February 20 was the birthday of Poison Ivy Rorschach, and I let it go by without putting one goddamn thing about it on this goddamn shitty fucking blog. The fact that I was off-planet on that date is really neither here nor there. So, I am declaring March to be my PENANCE MONTH. I shall put forth a pitiful and inadequate effort to make some kind of amends.

Poison Ivy Rorschach was born on February 20, 1953 in Sacramento, California, USA

I hope she has come to terms with whatever she needs to come to terms with, and that this birthday was happier than the one before it, which must have been rough.

“Lux and I have always been reckless and sought out thrills, taken risks, probably blown our minds in certain pursuits. It's only from living this way that we come up with this stuff.”

Slacker Chic of the Week: Poison Ivy Rorschach

Written by slackerchic on Jan-19-10 10:25am

Once upon a time, in a magical, far-away land called Sacramento, there lived an awesome chick by the name of Kristy Marlana Wallace. At the ripe age of 19, Kristy met a strapping young gentleman by the name of Erik Lee Purkhiser, who would later become her husband. Deciding that "Kristy" and "Erik" weren't quite edgy enough, the duo decided to change their names to-what else?-Poison Ivy and Lux Interior and form a punk band that would later come to change the face, style and sound of rock and roll. After dubbing themselves "The Cramps", Ivy and Lux packed up their stuff, got the hell out of dodge, and after a few travels, ultimately ended up in NYC.
The rest, as they say, is history. Although they went through several band members throughout their 33 years in the music biz, Ivy and Lux remained true to The Cramps and true to each other until Lux's shocking death from an aortic dissection in early 2009. After his passing the group naturally disbanded, leaving Poison Ivy without a lover and without a band. However, as sad as the last part of that story may be, Ivy remains an inspiration for many reasons to the past, present, and future punk rockers of the world. Her unique sense of fashion, combined with her ability to wail on the guitar is the stuff that legends are made of. Quite frankly, there will probably never be another chick quite so cool. She did what she want, how she wanted, without worrying about appealing to a mass audience. In short, she always has been and always will be one of a kind. And while most might not see things this way, I find her love affair with Lux to be among the most romantic of all time. Forget Tristan and Isolde. Screw Romeo and Juliette. Give me a guy who loves his girl the way she is any day of the week. A dude that encourages his lady to go balls to the wall. Someone who isn't afraid to let his woman shine. Likewise, Ivy had the common sense and self esteem to recognize that she was a beautiful and unique snowflake, who deserved a man who appreciated all the amazing contributions she brought to the table. So here's to Poison Ivy, one of my biggest influences.

Kristy Wallace (born Kristy Marlana Wallace February 20, 1953, San Bernardino, California) better known as Poison Ivy (or Poison Ivy Rorschach), is a founding member of the American garage punk band The Cramps. Wallace was married to Cramps' singer Lux Interior (Erick Purkhiser), with whom she had been for 37 years, until his death on February 4, 2009. - Wikipedia

Merry Christmas! Today’s pick is one of those names that’s perfect for a December baby, but just as charming if your darling daughter arrives in June.

Our winner of the Name of the Day poll is Ivy.

It’s not “Rudolph” or “Silent Night.” ”The Holly and the Ivy” is the kind of carol that will send everyone scrambling for a song sheet. Holly and ivy have been used to decorate churches for centuries and just like many a Christmas tradition, their use in winter celebrations predates Christianity.

Ivy is an evergreen, also known as hedera, found throughout Europe as well as Africa, Asia and Japan. They creep and climb, covering the walls of old buildings. Besides the winter theme, Ivy conjures up two other images: a certain air of privilege and accomplishment; and, of course, poison.

Privilege first. Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, University of Pennsylvania, Princeton and Yale are referred to as the Ivy League – an octet of highly selective American universities. Some claim the ivy is a reference to the vines climbing up their august academic buildings, but officially, it’s a sports league. In fact, the first reference comes from sportswriter Stanley Woodward in 1933.

As for poison ivy, it’s actually an unrelated plant – toxicodendron radicans. But that’s a botanical nicety that’s up against pop culture’s use of the name:

  • Poison Ivy is Batman’s eco-terrorist enemy. She’s been around since 1966 and has appeared on the television series as well as the big screen, where Uma Thurman played the role;
  • Punk rock innovators The Cramps is fronted by husband and wife duo Lux Interior and Kristy Wallace – better known as Poison Ivy Rorschach;
  • Drew Barrymore played infamous bad girl Ivy in 1992’s Poison Ivy. Ivy destroys the life of her so-called BFF Sylvie. It’s a cult classic boasting plenty of sequels, each with a flower-powered bad girl – Lily, Violet and Daisy. They could keep going until they get to Philodendron.

There’s also the Operation Ivy nuclear tests from the 1950s, and the punk band who took the name. On a different note, The Ivy is a landmark restaurant in both London and Los Angeles.

With all this backstory, it’s easy to forget that Ivy has also been in steady use as a personal name since the Victorian era, when botanical names were all the rage.

It’s sometimes a surname, and occasionally a masculine name, too. Ivy Ledbetter Lee was John D. Rockefeller’s publicist. He’s known for his encouraging the magnate to lend his family name to Rockefeller Center. We’ve also known a Frederick IV. With Fredericks Senior, Junior and III having used up the obvious nicknames, the boy was dubbed IV – Ivy.

Back in 1881, Ivy peaked at #264 in the US. She’s on the rise again, and might present an alternative to parents in love with white hot Ava. Ivy came in at #301 last year, and we bet she’ll rank higher yet in 2008.

While Rose and Lily are simply sweet, Ivy has an edge. If you can overlook the bad girl vibe [WHY THE FUCK WOULD YOU WANT TO???-- CHUCK], Ivy could be a great choice – old-fashioned and fashion-forward at once.

Congo Norvell

Congo Norvell is a band led by Kid Congo Powers and Sally Norvell. Congo Norvell formed in 1990 after Powers and Norvell met at the deathbed of a friend in Los Angeles. Various incarnations of the band have included Jim Sclavunos, Paul Wallfisch, Brian Emrich, Kristian Hoffman (Mumps, Swinging Madisons), Mary Mullen, Joe Berardi and Jack Martin. Singer Mark Eitzel from American Music Club was featured in duets with Norvell on 1998's "Abnormals Anonymous". (Wikipedia)


Los Angeles' Congo Norvell, the namesake partnership of guitarist Kid Congo Powers (Cramps, Gun Club, Bad Seeds) and singer Sally Norvell (Prohibition), is said to have begun at the deathbed of a mutual friend. After that dramatic beginning, the two set about assembling a band of eccentrics that, by its very nature, would produce eccentric music. So far, so good.

The Lullabies EP is so quiet it nearly lives up to its title, but the four torch songs and druggy apostrophes would not inspire very sweet dreams. Space is a primary instrument, and the songs are filled with emptiness, setting the melodies against vast silences that give them even more of a desperate feel than Norvell's melodramatic way with a melody. "Lullaby" and a cover of Crime and the City Solution's "Angel" are the most successful tracks.

By contrast, Music to Remember Him By is a cabaret show. Norvell's throaty voice and anthemic phrasings are enough to make Helen Merrill fans weak at the knees as Powers' spaghetti western guitar lines play off the theatrical keyboard stylings by Kristian Hoffman (relocated from New York, where he led the Swinging Madisons and played in the Lance Loud-led Mumps) and spare percussion (bongos are a favorite) by drummer Joseph Berardi (James White, Stan Ridgway). Considering all the elements at work, the music is spectacularly understated, allowing Norvell to take a star turn. Alone in the spotlight, she radiates heartache in "My Midnight" and "Drift Away," hitting every note like a spurned housewife drunk on cooking sherry and Jackie Collins. The postmodern coffee-house feel is, at times, an uncomfortably kitschy mix, but it's creepy and compelling just the same.

The Knoxville Girls was something of a scum-rock supergroup, containing as it did Powers, Bob Bert (ex-Sonic Youth, Pussy Galore and Bewitched) and Jerry Teel (Honeymoon Killers, Boss Hog). In the Woodshed is a live disc.

[Scott Frampton]

Lullabies EP10 (Fiasco) 1993
Music to Remember Him By (Basural/Priority) 1994
The Dope, the Lies, the Vaseline (Basura! / Priority) 1996
Abnormals Anonymous (Jetset) 1998
Knoxville Girls (In the Red) 1999
In the Woodshed (In the Red) 2000
In a Paper Suit (In the Red) 2001
Bad English (UK Trans Solar) 2005
Washing Machine EP (UK Trans Solar) 2006
Philosophy and Underwear (New York Night Train) 2006
Solo Cholo (New York Night Train) 2006