>A Candle for Lux, a Kiss for Ivy

>When it comes to music, my influences are legion, but I don’t intentionally swipe from too many people. Yet if you listen to “Garbageman” by the Cramps, the opening track off their Bad Music For Bad People record, you’ll hear singer Lux Interior croon, “Well if you can’t dig me then you can’t dig nothin’!” I love that line so much that I basically stole it for the chorus of the lyrics I wrote for the opening track on the La Bruja album from Lazerwolfs, a song called “All Together Now.”

I love the Cramps, and it bums me out that Lux died the other day. He was 62.

Hugely influential, the Cramps were never huge. I love everything about them. When I think of bands with a great image that they stuck to, I think of the Cramps. They knew what they wanted to do and they did it, regardless of what was fashionable. They weren’t great musicians and they didn’t sound that great in the sense that gearheads quibbling over the tone of every note would recognize, but they captured a level of energy and intensity that most bands can only dream of. In the liner notes to their 2004 retrospective release How to Make a Monster, it reads:

“When the two of us started the group, we were attempting to jumpstart the evolution of an original pure rock n’ roll/rhythm and blues tradition — a tradition that seemed to be all but forgotten at that time. The term ‘rock n’ roll’, a term which describes a lifestyle and sex act, as well as a type of music, had become ‘rock music’ in an apparent effort by squares to legitimize it. We knew damn well the original sow’s ear was way better. We wanted to be as shocking, sexy and original as the great culture changing rock n’ roll pioneers were during the fifties and sixties — not imitators, but the same kind of rebels that they were in their time.”

The reference to “the two of us” mean Lux and his wife, Poison Ivy Rorschach. Their relationship is what makes me so dreadfully sad about Lux dying. When I told Julia, the first thing she said was, “Oh, poor Ivy.”

The book The Cramps — A Short History of Rock n’ Roll Psychosis, by Dick Porter, tells the story of the band and Lux and Ivy’s relationship. That relationship started near Sacramento State University in 1972 when Lux (who hailed from Akron, OH) picked up a hitchhiker dressed in skintight hot pants, a young woman who would become the legendary Bikini Girl with Machine Gun. This is really one of the greatest rock n’ roll love stories ever, frankly. The two met when they were young, discovered all these great shared interests, and made their dream happen. It tells of cross country road trips to buy record collections, the weird hobbies they shared, their longtime commitment to vegetarianism, everything. This excerpt from the book tells of the passion Lux developed for vintage photography, for example:

“Between 1999 and 2002, Ivy and Lux once again retreated to their private world, to enjoy each other and their host of shared interests, only emerging for short runs of concerts when Halloween came around. It was a lifestyle that suited Lux. ‘It’s great. I can’t think of any way to improve upon it. We have a huge record collection of 78s and 45s, and we play that stuff all the time. We have a huge collection of sexploitation videotapes, like the stuff Something Weird is putting out . . . I do a lot of 3D photography. That’s a passion of mine. I watch Ivy prance around the house in fabulous sexy outfits.’

‘That evolved with Lux getting into the photography and shooting me,’ explained Ivy. ‘He requested it, really. It started with Smell of Female [a Cramps album] and at that time a friend had a 3D camera that he borrowed and then later Lux bought the camera from the guy. He has like 150 3D cameras or something now. He spends all day mounting slides and he’s just obsessive with his photography, but his main love is pin-up photography. And he mainly likes shooting me.'”

What a dream, I get all verklempt thinking about it, and it is what makes me sad because Lux was still pretty young. The book basically closes with this quote from 2004:

Asked by Steve Wildsmith of The Daily Times of Maryville, Tenn what the modern Ivy would advise her younger self, if she could meet her in some temporal twilight zone just before Lux picked her up on the highway, all those years ago, Ivy replied, ‘I’d tell her to take that ride, to not miss that ride. I’m still on a ride with Lux, and we’re still so much in love with the music and with each other.’

I’m sorry for Lux. I hope Ivy will be okay.

6 thoughts on “>A Candle for Lux, a Kiss for Ivy”

  1. >I’m honored my quote was used. However, the story was in The Daily Times of Maryville, Tenn. And the interview was in 2004. You can Read the whole thing here.R.I.P., Lux.~ Steve Wildsmith

  2. >Apparently, the link I posted to that interview expired, so for those interested, here’s that interview in its entirety. Forgive the length.The Cramps still causing a disturbance almost 30 years later Published: September 24, 2004IF YOU GOThe Cramps with The American Plague and the Chesterfield KingsWHEN: 9 p.m. TuesdayWHERE: Blue Cat’s, 125 E. Jackson Ave., Knoxville’s Old CityHOW MUCH: $18CALL: 544-4300ON THE WEB: http://www.thecramps.comBy Steve Wildsmith of The Daily Times StaffThe phone rings for a late-night interview, and the voice on the other end of the line is instantly apologizing for being late.She hasn’t slept in two days, she explains, and had just gotten to sleep when her band’s tour manager rang, rousting her for an unscheduled interview. The words “I’m sorry” drift over a crackling connection from Tempe, Ariz., at least three times.She comes across as warm, friendly and personable — more like a church receptionist than the legendary Poison Ivy, co-founder of The Cramps with her husband, Lux Interior … former dominatrix and quintessential rock ‘n’ roll bad girl/vixen … godmother to such neo-horror rockers as Kittie, the Gore Gore Girls and Jack Off Jill.What gives?“We’re very well-rounded people, so when we’re sweet, we’re very sweet,” she explains simply. “But when we’re dangerous, we’re very dangerous. We have many facets — sweet, deadly and in-between.“I don’t think that’s unusual. I am who I am — I don’t do it for the fans, and it certainly ain’t easy being me. How I dress, how I behave — it’s my form of self-expression.”Ivy and Interior have been expressing themselves in their own unique way since the mid-1970s, when the girl formerly known as Kristy Wallace thumbed a ride from LSD enthusiast and Alice Cooper fan Erick Purkhiser. From that fateful ride, The Cramps were born.Wallace and Purkhiser discovered a mutual attraction to the quirky and unusual — vintage monster movies, lurid sex, greasy ’60s garage rock and the rockabilly of the 1950s that seemed so perverse and immoral to the conservative mindset of that time. They decided to form a band, with Wallace christening herself Poison Ivy Rorschach and Purkhiser settling on Lux Interior.From Sacramento, they made their way to New York City (after a brief stay in Ohio), where day jobs put them in touch with other musicians, mainly guitarist Bryan Beckerleg (stage name: Bryan Gregory) and Miriam Linna on drums. They began playing around the legendary punk scene of 1970s New York, earning questioning looks and puzzled expressions from fans at such famous venues as Max’s Kansas City and CBGB’s.“Looking back, it just seems unreal,” Ivy said. “There was such an incredible scene at CBGB’s at that time, and it was like Mecca to us — everyone just kind of migrated there. I don’t know if we’d gotten the same attention if there wasn’t a scene like that. We were incredibly lucky, and there hasn’t been anything like it since.”The Cramps struck up a fast friendship with The Ramones, one that endured beyond the punk explosion of the day. Ivy and Interior, in fact, were close friends with the late Johnny Ramone, who died recently.“We were very close, and we saw a lot of each other over the past year,” she said. “Watching his deterioration was just gut-wrenching.“It’s still hard to process it all, because it seems so mythologically weird — first Joey, then DeeDee, and now Johnny. They left such a mark, and knowing them personally, it’s still really hard. Even talking about it, I’m having trouble. It’s just too recent and too much.”She prefers to remember The Ramones in their glory days — fast, furious, sneering punks wearing ripped jeans and leather jackets roaring through one 3-minute song after another from the famous CBGB’s stage.“I just remember taking Bryan, who hadn’t seen The Ramones yet, to a show,” she said. “He’d had less than half a glass of wine and a hit off somebody’s joint, but when The Ramones came out, this energy was so overwhelming, he threw up in the gutter outside.“He just got so overwhelmed by them, it was too much. He couldn’t deal with it. They were like white light and white heat, like a nuclear blast or an explosion. When The Ramones came out on stage, it was like a magnesium flare — you didn’t see anything else.”In 1979, The Cramps released “Gravest Hits,” a compilation of all the singles and 7-inch demos they’d put out in the preceding years. They opened for The Police in Europe and recorded their first full-length album in 1980, “Songs the Lord Taught Us.”After line-up shuffles, Interior and Ivy moved to Hollywood, Calif., where they were soon embroiled in a lawsuit with I.R.S. Records that prevented them from recording new material for several years. When they did, a string of albums followed — 1986’s “A Date With Elvis,” 1990’s “Stay Sick,” 1991’s “Look Mom No Head!” and 1994’s major-label debut, “Flamejob.” The band even appeared on “Beverly Hills 90210” in 1995, and two years later the band released “Big Beat from Badsville.”Three years ago, the band began dipping into its overwhelming vault of rare recordings, releasing several discs worth this year on the album “How to Make a Monster.” According to Poison Ivy, releasing those blasts from the past was both cathartic and troubling.“We picked through a lot of material that meant a lot to us,” she said. “It was thrilling, but it was also reliving the past, which is a mixed bag. You need to move on in life, but we did say we were going to write a booklet for `How to Make a Monster,’ and once we decided that, there was no turning back.“We recalled some stuff that was best left forgotten, but also a lot of really good times that we truly appreciated.”Tuesday, The Cramps will throw down at Blue Cat’s in Knoxville’s Old City. It’s Poison Ivy’s first visit to Knoxville, ironic considering her father — Dudley Ross Wallace — was born there.As usual, she’ll appear on stage looking like the ghost of Bettie Page, strutting her stuff and playing guitar while Lux Interior snarls and postures for the crowd’s delight. They’ll enthrall the fans with tales of madness and gore, all the while amping up the atmosphere like steamy heat in a car at a late-night B-movie right before a teenage make-out session.It’s what they know. It’s what they do. And if Poison Ivy could have a face-to-face conversation with her younger self, the impressionable Kristy Wallace, as she’s about to get into a wide-eyed Erick Purkhiser’s car along some dusty highway relegated to punk rock legend, she’d urge her onward.“I’d tell her to take that ride, to not miss that ride,” she said. “I’m still on a ride with Lux, and we’re still so much in love with the music and each other.“We’ve been accused of not growing over the years, of staying the same, but we’re just a spin-off of what we loved. To us, it’s a continuum that had been going on for decades, and we were just a part of it. When we discovered our mutual love for it, we just had to play.”

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