CRAMPED: It's downright gratifying to see the American dream bent and hammered into shape by a lad from the heartland and a gal from the West Coast. The boy grew up in the grime of a town just outside Cleveland; eating drugs, screwing around in a gang based on the striplings in Clockwork Orange and listening to "Mad Daddy" Myers, a DJ possessed--as was the youngster--by the spirit of manic Fifties rockabilly and the psycho-reactive garage rock of the Sixties. The girl from Sacramento was sired by a nuclear power-plant worker and spent her childhood blowing up Barbie dolls, watching B-movies and horror flicks and learning to play guitar by listening to Link Wray, Duane Eddy, The Ventures and The Sufaris.
She was hitchhiking and he was driving when they met, fell instantly in love and became a couple in 1972. By the end of the decade, Lux Interior and Poison Ivy Rorschach were the core of The Cramps, a band that had given its heart, soul and psyche over to rock and roll.
Somehow they've kept the group alive and viable, staying true to their shared vision of raw music celebrating carnal appetites and rebellion against the straight and narrow life. Their material is comprised of both covers of obscure songs by mostly long-forgotten artists and delirious originals: "Can't Find My Mind," "Don't Eat The Stuff Off The Sidewalk," "Surfin' Bird," "Psychotic Reaction," "The Hot Pearl Snatch," "Can Your Pussy Do The Dog?" and other Cramped classics.
They rode to prominence on the new wave/punk scene of late-'70s New York along with Blondie, Television, The Ramones, Suicide and Talking Heads. But The Cramps' mix of savage rockabilly and garage rock both predated and outlasted the music of their peers (with the notable exception of The Ramones), while never quite breaking beyond their substantial "cult" following and into the mainstream.
"Our place in history has yet to be determined," a soft-spoken Poison Ivy said in a recent phone interview. "Those things take about 50 years to get a good perspective on them. But I'm happy. In some ways we're unemployable, so I'm happy with whatever level of success we have right now. On the other hand, if we had more recognition it would be interesting as an experiment. We don't think about it--we're not goal oriented."
That attitude is, of course, anathema to making big bucks in the contemporary music industry.
"Those people are motivated by money, not by fun," she says. "But there are exceptions."
Certainly she and Lux are two of the longer-lasting exceptions. Their live performances have become the stuff of legend by way of Interior's physically tortuous onstage exertions and bloody-lung vocal contortions and Ivy's paradoxical fever-dream riffs and cool demeanor.
"It gives us energy," Rorschach says of their gigs. "There's a myth that rock and roll destroys and has to burn up those who use it. But I think it's a myth perpetuated by non-rock-and-roll demon forces.
Unfortunately, a lot of people who are rock and rollers buy into the myth. The opposite is true. There's life-force energies in the atmosphere you can tap into, and that's what happens when you play rock and roll. It's nothing that comes from us, it goes through us--we don't own it."
The two have been accompanied by an unending list of musicians in their band, led off by pretty boy guitarist-occultist Richard Gregory (the only rocker ever to make Keith Richards look handsome by comparison) and continuing today with bassist Slim Chance and Harry Drumdini on drums.
The band's latest album, Flame Job, doesn't rank among their best, but it does prove they still rock harder and truer than the vast majority of bands copying their psychobilly style and the big name groups populating MTV.
The Cramps play Club Congress on Sunday, February 19. Texas' Tenderloin opens the concert, followed by local bizarre blues duo Doo Rag. The Rag has been accompanying The Cramps on their current tour. The Tucson show is the last one on the American leg, before The Cramps head to Europe without Bob and Thermous. Tickets are $12 in advance; $14 at the door.
LAST NOTES: Power-pop-hardcore-funk-ska greats Fishbone play The Rock, 136 N. Park Ave., on Saturday, February 18. Definitely a must-hear show for anyone with an eclectic rock-and-roll appetite. Yes, that means it's an all-ages concert. Weapons Of Choice is the opening band.
Fiddle maestro Mark O'Connor plays his mixture of bluegrass, country and jazz at the Berger Performing Arts Center, 1200 W. Speedway, on Saturday night. Greg Morton opens the concert.
Folk singer Charlie King plays a benefit concert for several local peace and justice organizations on Sunday night at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 4831 E. 22nd St. Call 623-1688 for more information.
One of the new funk-power-soul bands with a big buzz--Boxing Gandhis--plays The Rock on Tuesday, February 21. Call 629-9211 for ticket info.
The acoustic Delta blues of John Hammond will mix and mingle with the smooth, urban Texas electric blues of Duke Robillard, on Wednesday, February 23, at the Southwest Center for Music, 2175 N. Sixth Ave. Hammond opens the concert with an acoustic set; followed by Robillard and his electric band; followed by Hammond joining Robillard in a rare electric jam. Call 886-1220 for tickets and information.
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