Not only did Lux Interior have one of rock history’s campiest and memorable aliases, but together with his wife, Poison Ivy, he founded one of the coolest and most innovative punk bands of the ’70s: The Cramps. Since their formation in 1973, the dynamic duo has been credited as innovators of genre-clash psychobilly. Retrospectively, The Cramps’ continued discography offered the most psychotic, if not best, rockabilly revivalism and kitschy punk demeanor you’re likely to encounter anywhere.
Lux Interior (Erick Lee Purkhiser) passed away February 4th this year at the age of 62 from pre-existing heart problems. It is with that background that I in reverence wish to remember one of the most classic moments in rock history caught on tape. Swedish journalist Fredrik Strage had this following clip as number one on his “The 100 Best Rock Moments on YouTube” list, a list for whom he was awarded the Grand Journalistic prize of “Renewer of the Year” in 2008.
But this isn’t about Strage and his list. This is about how The Cramps, in three and a half minutes, summarize and confirmed my seventeen year old view on what rock and roll is. In 1978, the same year that the band released their debut single, they were invited to play live at California State Mental Hospital in Napa. The doctors at the mental hospital must have been in a scientifically exploratory mood because June 13, 1978 is perhaps the only documented occasion on which punk rock music has been tested for a therapeutic purpose.
Filmed with an ancient Sony Portapak video camera by punk-documenting collective Target Video, Lux Interior comes across as the pot-smoking lovechild of Mick Jagger and Elvis Presley as he howls his way through Jack Scott’s 1959 single, “The Way I Walk”. He stands close to the “audience” and sings the message right into their somewhat indifferent faces. Everyone attending seems to have a jolly good time, whether they twist and bob in place, trot along to the swinging rhythm, or imitate Mr. Interior. (Whatever you do, don’t miss the guy seen right after the 2:20 mark in the video, not to mention his friend beside him).
A qualified guess would be that early punk rockers might have blended in with the hospital crowd, but this isn’t shown. I’m convinced that under the arousing influence, The Cramps’ cramp-inducing punk n’ roll, mental illness and a socially provocative punk subculture state of mind float together like one. This YouTube makes for an historically-important document for music culture–punk rock in particular–making the original videos filmed by Target Video a collector’s item. In fact, a DVD re-release from 2004 of the entire twenty-minute gig can be bought at Amazon.