I have somewhat of a hard time admitting this, and few people know this about me, but I love and have always loved The Cramps. I love them not as a musical connoisseur, but with pure puppy dog love. Given my advanced age, I have a hard time making sense of this. When Lux Interior died on February 4, 2009 I felt a pang of regret and upset. But because my mother was in a coma and fighting for her life at the time, I put away most of those feelings. But a little while later an intense wave of sorrow washed over me, a wave that took months to ebb. Months where I thought about Lux and Ivy every day almost obsessively. What’s curious is that I never experience these kinds of feelings when another older generation musical hero (Alex Chilton, Sky Saxon, say) dies. What does it mean?
I find this a bit hard to explain, and usually keep very, very quiet about it. Because, on the face of it, The Cramps come across as a bit of a schlocky, schticky joke. A band that’s barely changed their musical style in 30+ years, a bit of a Halloween Special, with the goofy song titles and B movie graphics a 17 year old could love. Fans of the band in their 40s and 50s have a vibe of being overgrown teenagers. The type who still reads comic books and wears old band T-shirts they should have donated to goodwill many years ago. That isn’t me. So why do I love them so?
What’s so striking about The Cramps is the impression of a sustained theatrical pose that never really cracked. It felt like Lux and Ivy inhabited their characters to a point where you were unsure there were real thinking, feeling human beings underneath. It’s notable that in 33 years they never really wrote or performed a love song of the traditional kind. There was of course this, and this and this – but those were about the delusions love gives rise to. And yet, Lux and Ivy embodied an absolute, unfashionable, totally committed love and partnership. But their love came to life not in the songs but their performance together.
And their other love, once again absolute, unfashionable and totally committed was in their scholarship and collecting of the forgotten people’s music of America, the music of small towns, forgotten bands, uncensored, dirty, raw and real music that’s mostly never made it into any kind of canon.
Because they were never interested in being famous or making it big, they propagated this love only through covering it, playing it before shows, and talking about it in interviews.
I used to look for a sustainable philosophy of life in the music of The Cramps. Some kind of charm that would protect be against the blows of life, and always found it to be only a flimsy shield. Their alternative reality is so far removed from how most people life, it comes across as just pure escapism. I’ve learned to use other arts to help me do so.
The Cramps did of course have – fiercely private – lives beyond the pose (no known gravestone, for a start). Vegetarian cat-lovers. Photographers. Car repairers. People with families. But I really don’t want to know. All I know, every Cramps song is a love song.