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Some love for the Cramps

By Rich Heldenfels Published: January 16, 2014

The band, which has roots in Akron, got a showcase in Rolling Stone when Lorde wore a Cramps shirt for her cover photo. (Technical difficulties won't let me post the photo but you can see it here.) The prompted the mag to explain the band to readers in this article. The piece also embeds some Cramps songs. Bandleader Lux Interior died in 2009, and here's Malcolm X Abram's piece:

  To a couple of generations of music fans, he was Lux Interior, lead singer for campy punk and rockabilly icons the Cramps, seldom seen without his guitarist and wife of 37 years, Poison Ivy.

But to Mike Purkhiser, Lux Interior was just Rick, his older brother by nine years (their eldest brother Ron, 67, lives in Florida) and friend.

Mike Purkhiser, a musician who played with the Action and the Walking Clampetts and is currently sound engineer for Beatles tribute band 1964, remembers the man behind the patent leather pants and mascara. Lux Interior, who was 62, died Feb. 4 of a pre-existing heart condition at a hospital in Glendale, Calif.

Purkhiser remembers the young man who used to watch, listen and absorb the antics of Ernie ''Ghoulardi'' Anderson and Pete ''Mad Daddy'' Myers, the talented artist who always loved music and shared it with his younger sibling, though not always with the most noble intentions.

''He always had a lot of records, and when I was a kid, I was always coming up in his room and I'm sure I was pestering him, so he would make me promise that if I could be quiet for 24 hours, he'd give me a record,'' Purkhiser said.

''And I'd think, 'Man, that's a really good deal, I don't have to say nothing and I'll get a record?' And it didn't dawn on me until years later when I thought 'Damn him, he was just trying to get me to shut up for a day.' I did get a lot of records,'' he said laughing.

Purkhiser says all three brothers shared a dark sense of humor.

''Rick was definitely the one into Ghoulardi and Mad Daddy, and basically what the Cramps became is what he was into his whole life,'' he said.

When Rick left Akron for California in the late '60s, he was still an artist, while Mike was already playing guitar in bands. Mike recalls a letter he received from Rick.

''Basically he said 'I want to do what you're doing, I want to play in a band and make music like you do,' '' he said.

''And I thought that was pretty cool because I always knew him as an artist and as a music lover but not as a musician or performer.''

While in California, Rick met Ivy, and in 1973 the new couple moved back to Akron while deciding what to do with themselves. They worked odd jobs, saw movies and concerts at the Akron Civic Theatre and scoured garage sales and flea markets for rare albums and 45s. They would bring their finds to the family home and excitedly listen to the new vinyl treasures.

When Mike Purkhiser thinks of his brother, he says he thinks of both Rick and Lux, because Erick Lee Purkhiser and Kristy Wallace were Lux Interior and Poison Ivy for so long and the personas were so strong, most folks probably think the pair went grocery shopping in leather pants and 6-inch stilettos, or slept hanging upside-down like vampire bats. But though they wrote kitschy, provocative songs such as All Women Are Bad and Beat Out My Love, the couple's love for each other was more storybook romance than horror movie.

''They seemed very much like soulmates,'' Purkhiser said. ''They just loved each other, they were always seen together and they might have had disputes between the two of them, but I never heard them say a bad word about each other the way some couples do.''

During that transitional time, the pair started the Cramps, and Purkhiser recalls watching early rehearsals with drummer Miriam Linna shortly before they moved to New York and joined the punk scene centered around CBGB's. Though Purkhiser doesn't remember the first time he saw the Cramps onstage, he fondly recalls his band, the Action, playing a few gigs with them at the fabled club in 1977. Interior's wild stage antics managed to shock even the hardened NYC punk crowd, though Purkhiser was less surprised.

''It was so Ghoulardi, so Mad Daddy, it was that whole kind of schtick and I knew that was what Rick was all about and Ivy, too. So that didn't surprise me. The music surprised me because it was so raw, and I was the Beatles fan and he was the Stones fan, he liked the raw stuff. But later I realized what it was all about — it was about the feeling and the emotion just like those early records were. They weren't really doing anything too different than the early rockabilly or blues records, they just put their own twist on it,'' he said.

Mike Purkhiser said his brother and sister-in-law never aspired to be rock stars but were wholly dedicated to the rockin' beast they created.

''I think if they never got any notoriety out of it and they were just bound to play basements the rest of their lives, they would have been happy doing that. It wasn't about the money or about the fame. They just wanted to play rock 'n' roll.''

Purkhiser says it's hard to believe his big brother is actually gone.

''I was his first fan. He was pretty much preaching the rock 'n' roll gospel at a young age, like 'listen to this record' or 'listen to that record,' and I just always looked up to him,'' he said.

''I just thought he was the greatest, he was so inspiring and so alive. It's hard to think of him as dead right now because he was so alive. It just seems like he was somewhere else right now. And it's the same with Ivy, I swear I never heard those two down,'' he said.

Purkhiser said Rick and Lux were two sides of the same coin, and he has found some comfort in reading the many comments online praising his brother and the band for touching fans' lives. But while he knows the most indelible images of his brother will always be Lux Interior writhing on the floor in black leather briefs or hopping like a bunny on speed while singing to mental patients at Marin County Hospital (a popular video on YouTube) while Ivy bangs out three-chord rock, he also hopes people realize that underneath all the makeup, leather and B-movie schtick were two real people.
Purkhiser said that when he would take friends to meet Lux and Ivy, they would usually assume they were going to step into a horror-movie funhouse where the pair would play the creepy hosts. But unfailingly, those folks would come back and tell Purkhiser how surprised they were that the two were so ''normal.''
''They were so kind and so down to earth, and you'd expected that when you went to see them it would be some kind of horror show or they would act real creepy. But they were just very, very genuine people.''


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