Thursday, February 5, 2009

Lux Interior, Psychobilly Icon Dies

It is with a heavy heart that I say goodbye to Punk / Horror/ Psychobilly / Garage Rock Icon, Lux Interior.  I feel lucky to have seen him perform with the Cramps in the 1980's, writhing and screaming, clucking and howling, jumping, and grimacing in a captivating and infectious, unforgettable show.  Seeing him perform, one could wonder how he even made it through the evening expending so much energy, much less to his 60's (reports differ- some giving his age as 60, others as 62) Mr. Interior was no shrinking violet.  He was controversial, unapologetic and charismatic.  An outspoken original who will continue to influence independent music for a long time to come.  I first heard Mr. Interior and the Cramps on late night music video shows in the eary 80's before they turned mainstream, and have listened to them ever since.  I have 'Shortnin' Bread' and 'Chicken' on my Ipod as I plod my middle-aged legs on the treadmill at the gym.  In addition to his own recordings, Mr. Interior re-released forgotten music that had inspired him in a series called 'Songs we taught the Cramps'.  If there is leopard spotted and black leather trimmed lounge in Heaven, Lux is probably writhing on the stage, or guzzling whiskey with the ghouls in the dark corners there. 

Lux and wife, Poison Ivy

Interior, the awesomely ghoulish frontman for sleazed-up New York rockabilly OGs the Cramps, died in Glendale, California. He suffered from a heart condition. 
Interior, born Eric Lee Purkhiser, formed the Cramps with his wife, Kristy "Poison Ivy" Wallace, in 1976. Although the band played CBGB a lot and was a part of the whole NYC birth-of-punk thing, but they didn't really fit in with pummelers like the Ramones and the Dictators or art-school types like Television and Blondie. Their sound was a slow, deranged, almost sensual take on 50s rockabilly: lots of guitar fuzz, no bass, tempos slowed to a slithery crawl. Before even the Misfits, the Cramps jammed their songs full of allusions to trash culture and long-forgotten B-movies.

The chemistry between Interior's halting, insinuating growl and Ivy's snakey surf-informed guitar lines remains one of the great iconic pairings in American underground rock. The Cramps even coined the term "psychobilly." Their 1981 sophomore album Psychedelic Jungle is a very serious must-have.

Onstage, Interior was always a proud member of the Iggy Pop school of self-sacrificing showman: climbing all over the stage, stripping down, rolling on the ground, generally showing no regard for his physical well-being. But he also had absolutely nuts timing and some truly great, theatrical facial expressions. He was a showman, not a performance-artist. And no less an authority than Ian MacKaye has often named a late-70s Cramps gig at a DC college as a hugely formative influence on the DC hardcore scene, even though those bands really couldn't have sounded more different than the Cramps' greasy throb.

Over the Cramps' three decades years of existence, Interior and Ivy plowed through a small army of supporting musicians, always remaining as the band's center. Against all odds, the band remained active up until very recently, though they weren't playing live shows too often anymore.  obit from Pitchfork Media at

The band's music fused their love of horror B-movies with rockabilly and surf rock, and their influence can be heard in bands such as the White Stripes, My Bloody Valentine and the Horrors.

The Cramps recorded their debut EP, Gravest Hits, in 1979 and continued touring and recording, albeit with a revolving lineup, until 2004. Interior and Poison Ivy were the only constant members of the group. They were notorious for their flamboyant, fetishistic live shows, and once infamously played a show for patients at Napa State Mental Hospital in Sacramento.

False rumours that Interior had died of a heroin overdose circulated in 1987, with fans sending wreaths to his home after hearing the news. "At first, I thought it was kind of funny, but then it started to give me a creepy feeling," the singer told the Los Angeles Times. "We sell a lot of records, but somehow just hearing that you've sold so many records doesn't hit you quite as much as when a lot of people call you up and are obviously really broken-up because you've died."

Sadly, a statement confirming his death earlier this week is no hoax. He is survived by Wallace, his wife of 37 years. A statement from the Cramps' media representatives reads: "Lux has been an inspiration and influence to millions of artists and fans around the world. He and wife Poison Ivy's contributions with the Cramps have had an immeasurable impact on modern music. He is a rare icon who will be missed dearly."


Anonymous said...

RIP Lux, I was very lucky to have saw the Cramps play in 2006. said...

my band,the adults,opened for my favorite band at the time,THE CRAMPS!!!!!!,in the late 70's,in dover n.j. i'll never forget bryan gregory spitting out his cig 50 ft in the audience,after rolling it around his mouth.the CRAMPS were an inspiration then,& will always be.

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