Listen: How Come You Do Me / The Cramps
Listen: How Come You Do Me / The Cramps
Above: Lux being Lux (The Academy, NYC, 11/25/94) (Photo: Dan Blackstone)
Above: The Cramps, Toad’s Place, New Haven, CN. 1998 (Photo: Duane Sherwood)
Below: A postcard from John Peel in response to receiving The Cramps FLAMEJOB package.
It took a bit of coaxing to get me to my first Cramps show. They played a club in my college town of Rochester, N.Y., and I wasn’t particularly into their first album, which they were touring at the time. The argument putting me over the edge was based on logic. There wasn’t really anything else to do that night, a typical problem. Coincidentally, we had mutual friends in Eric and Mel Mache from New York City. Eric recommended we go along, see them and say hello. So why not? Thank you Eric. It changed my life. I’ve never been the same.
Why did any band other than The Ramones even bother to get out of bed in the morning to compete? The truly informed didn’t. The Cramps created a sound and a theater that scared off all the competition. It would indeed be silly to imply any part was bigger than the sum, but these parts were bigger than anyone else’s and hence the sum was historical, seminal, other worldly, untouchable. Like Ivy, Lux was a one off. Many have and are professing him to be the greatest front man ever. I agree. His perfect combination of spontaneity, teetering on the edge but never losing control has gone unmatched.
Did you ever see Lux do or say the same thing twice? No.
Did you struggle to watch his every move yet still need to watch Ivy, Kid, Bryan, Candy or Slim? Yes.
Did you relive every show in your mind for days and even years after? Yes. And we all still will.
If you never saw The Cramps, you will forever live in B.C. I am deeply sorry for you.
I was lucky enough to begin a long personal journey with them after that first show. It floored us all, and we were only too happy to say hello and invite them back to our apartments (another friend lived on the same floor) for some food and record playing.
The first of endless and unique Cramps experiences happened that very night. There was a strange noise in our bedroom where Corinne was trying to sleep, having an early wake up call the next day. She came out to the living room where the band and a few friends were gathered, saying something was making a flapping noise, it was giving her the creeps and could we investigate.
Lux and I went in to check it out. It was a bat. How did a bat get into the bedroom? To this day, we have no idea. At the time, The Cramps image was very graveyard/skull & crossbones/old Hollywood’s dark side. The bat seemed strangely relevant as that aura was rumored to follow them around.
Lux segued into an involuntary mode, capturing it in a glass casserole dish. We all had a look, then he set it free out the kitchen window. This actually tells you everything about him. He was instinctive, logical, fearless, strategic, courteous, kind and gentle all at once, truly a person beyond the beyond. We had ordered two pizzas, they never came, it was a quiet city in the late 70′s. Nothing was open, so The Cramps retreated to their hotel hungry, but content and pleasant.
They came back through town again a year or so later, summer ’81, this time to promote PSYCHEDELIC JUNGLE. Kid Congo was now in the band, it was one of their classic lineups. Duane Sherwood, a friend like myself from their first time through, and I met up with them prior to the show. We were beyond ecstatic at the mere thought of seeing The Cramps that night, not to mention spending some time together. We went to the venue in the late afternoon. It was a gorgeous June day. The equipment was there but the band had wandered off looking for food, so we waited. Soon, edging their way over the hill leading down to the club were, initially, three spiked/halos of hair, two black and one orange, immediately materializing into the full bodies of Lux, Kid and Ivy. Nick followed, sans the big hair. Even when not trying to make an entrance, The Cramps always would.
They seemed pleased to see us, and did some catching up, even though we didn’t really know them that well. Welcomed into the dressing room as they got ready, Lux and Kid were using industrial strength spray from a case they’d brought along to put their hair in order for the show.
This time, the set was even more jaw dropping than the year before. Nothing was compromised, didn’t matter that they were in a small town, the power was unstoppable. Lux was now on stage and his uncontainable gift was unleashed. The ceiling tiles were dismantled, he sliced himself with glass, removed pretty much every stitch of clothing, this was just how it was, nothing fake, pure raw uncensored Lux.
The Cramps were still at their beginning stages then, not playing big venues, often not working with responsible and respectful professional promoters every night. This show was no exception. A local amateur had brought them in this time, offering transportation from New York, then on to Cleveland to begin the originally scheduled tour itinerary. This was a last minute fill in date. Despite selling out the club, and honoring exactly what they been contracted to do, he chose not to be upstanding and return his professional responsibility, therefore unreachable the next day.
The Cramps were stranded with no credit cards or vehicle to get them on to Cleveland. My phone rang around 11 AM. It was Ivy. She said “Kevin, we’re in trouble. Will you help us?” After a quick update from her, I put the phone down, rang Duane and we high tailed it over to their hotel, each in our separate cars to pick them up and figure out the next move. We all came back to my house. I had an American Express card and literally $110 in the bank. I offered them the use of my credit card to rent a vehicle, the look of relief on Ivy’s face will never ever be forgotten. She promised they would pay for the car in cash once they got to Cleveland and hooked up with their crew. I trusted them. And they didn’t go back on their word, I never for a second thought they would. Our friendship was sealed. Little did that promoter know, he did the band and I the biggest favor ever via his unprofessionalism. He did not have the last laugh.
The whole day was not terrible though. Duane took Lux, Ivy and Nick junk shopping. Kid and I stayed back taping the new Siouxsie & The Banshees album. Kid was thrilled that I owned it, as it had just been released. When they returned, Lux spent some time going through my records, trading obscure anecdotes about many of the singles, seeing the sparkle in each other’s eyes as we drooled over the vinyl. His knowledge was frighteningly deep. He was not a fake. The band treated us to a late lunch before heading out of town. We saw them off, and still relive it to this day.
I would travel to New York and Toronto religiously to catch shows over the next few years. Never did this most important band, the true kings and queens of rock and roll, make me or any of their fans feel uncomfortable, or like second class citizens. By ’84 I had relocated to New York, working A&R at Elektra, then Island. I always wanted to sign them, but could never get the green light.
Then in ’92 I started my own imprint, The Medicine Label, through Warner Brothers. Timing is everything and things happen for a reason, it’s true. This was no exception. Had I been able to do a deal with them prior to Medicine, I would have always been struggling to get them the deserved attention within the label. Now I was in charge of the budgets, and could call some shots. The timing was right. Lux and Ivy agreed and we got into business together. It was one of the greatest periods of my professional and personal life. I knew they were all things good and honorable, but to experience their integrity, self respect, flawless instincts, dedication to their art, confidence in their self image, protection of their musical accomplishments, all done with great dignity, taught me much about business and life. Lux and Ivy included myself and Duane, who came to New York to work with me at Medicine, on the making of the eventual FLAMEJOB album. They had never shared this process with anyone before. I am forever honored.
Lux would spill brilliance at every turn, the littlest things had his mark all over them. He once sent along some works in progress on cassette, labeling it ‘The Cramps On Drugs’, crossing out ‘Drugs’ and writing in ‘Medicine’ above it. One of hundreds and hundreds of brilliant ideas constantly flowing from him. Lyrically, his mind was of a higher form of life.
From DRUG TRAIN: “You put one foot up, you put another foot up, you put another foot up, and you’re on board the drug train.”
From INSIDE OUT AND UPSIDE DOWN WITH YOU: “From your bottom to your top, you’re sure some lollipop.”
When the album was finally finished, Lux and Ivy had me over to their house in Los Angeles to hear it. The three of us sat in their meticulously clean and fantastically furnished home, and listened to FLAMEJOB together. They glowed with pride and they deserved to, having made their best album yet, full of all the fire it’s title accurately describes.
The Cramps were never afforded national TV or any radio play of substance. We released ‘Ultra Twist’ as a first single, and when it entered the alternative charts, the band would actually hear themselves on the radio in some cities. Either Lux or Ivy would be sure we knew. And when our publicist Lisa Barbaris, got them on Conan O’Brien, Lux was over the moon. His band was finally going to be on television, a medium he’d been so influenced by as a teenager. Warmed our hearts to deliver this for them, and they always were thankful. He asked if he should tone it down for the broadcast, “God no, go over the top”. Which he did. But to ask first, again proved his respect for others and his responsibility to those he worked with.
It’s impossible to forget the many, many pulverizing moments of Lux on stage, and also realistically impossible to chronicle them all, but here are three:
1 – Playing The Ritz in New York during the LOOK MOM NO HEAD tour, Lux was hit dead center by a hurled high top sneaker. Seamlessly strutting over to it in very high black heels and what was left of a tattered and stage weary matching pair of synthetic pants, he picked it up, filled it with red wine, drank every drop and returned it deep into the shocked audience without flinching or missing a beat.
2 – At Trenton’s City Gardens, where the stage was accessed via a walk from the dressing room through the crowd, usually along the right wall, Lux began the show in a two piece jungle red, thin rubber ensemble, with matching spikes and a string of pearls. As the mayhem progresses, he eventually breaks a bottle of wine, using the glass to slice up his outfit. First of all, the tight rubber pants, although red, had a skin-like implication, so that as he sliced, the unsettling illusion of tearing his own flesh aghast the crowd. As the pants retreated from the damage, Lux was suddenly wearing a few fringes of rubber, much like popped balloons, shamelessly revealing all. Once the sonic annihilation of encore, ‘Surfin’ Bird’, was complete, the band needed to get back to the dressing room. A bit tricky when you’ve now decimated your clothing. Not a problem for The Cramps though. A spotlight suddenly flashes onto that side wall. Lux leads the band through the now parting sea of a crowd, wearing what’s left: the heels and the pearls, and flawlessly returns to the dressing room, Ivy, Slim and Harry, equally beautiful, following behind.
3 – A real feat was accomplished by Lux over a two night engagement in ’97 at London’s Astoria. The second night being the greatest theater I have ever seen by a band in my entire life. And the first night started the process. Lux then slyly began a slow but steady loosening of the stage floor boards near the drum kit via his legendary mic stand iron works. That second night, he continued the process. Even the sight of a shirtless and joyous John Peel being body surfed atop the mosh pit could not top Lux. By the time of the final encore, ‘Surfin Bird’, Lux had chewed up one of Ivy’s boots, teething it puppy style. He picked Ivy’s strings with his teeth, as she lay on her back, arching herself in a yoga stance with Lux between her legs separated only by the guitar, simulating the most erotic oral sex imaginable, all set to a soundtrack of screeching feedback. He had now abandoned all but his g string and heels along the way. Once that sonic crescendo of white noise feedback had been reached, whereby Ivy, Slim and Harry have left the stage, Lux scales the top of the right PA, partial mic stand and 2 bottles of half drank wine in tow. He proceeds to guzzle one, then the other, pitching both onto the stage’s center, where he began the evening. Of course they smash into shards. He then dives from the PA onto the broken glass, microphone in mouth, howling as you would know him to have coined, lands front torso onto the glass, slithers himself snake-like towards the loosened floor, and with mic stand now doubling as a crow bar, proceeds to undo enough of the remaining bits to make his exit into the darkness of his self made floor cave. No one was ready for this. The roar of those 3000 people still makes me tingle. It has to be the ultimate rock and roll moment of civilization, past, present and future. Backstage after the show, Lux is sitting quietly picking bits of glass from himself, and asks humbly, “How was it tonight?”
Lux knew he was an untouchable performer, but he never used his knowledge of this talent arrogantly. He was just the most amazing spirit and always will be.