Even Iron Man Loves The Cramps
Frank was dawdling, as usual. The only child of two divorced parents, Frank was accustomed to having the world rotate on his schedule. No matter how much Frank poked or I procrastinated, nothing was going to delay Monday, the due date for our final project in ninth grade history. We had managed to spend most of our research time together drawing Batman as a vampire, Batman as a guest star in the Lost Boys, and our English teacher bound and bleeding in a burlap sack, lowering slowly into a shark-filled pool.
It was rainy autumn Saturday two weeks before Halloween. I flipped quickly through Frank’s V for Vendetta collection, waiting for him to get his slow self out of the bed and ready to go to the library. “I’m going to take a shower, and then I’ll be ready, I swear,” he promised. “Here, check this tape out,” he said, nodding to his boom box as he flipped a cassette across the room. “I can’t stop listening to it.”
The cassette was The Cramps’ ‘Bad Music for Bad People’. By the time the chorus to ‘Garbageman,’ kicked in, I had forgotten all about deadlines. With his haunting shriek in the beginning of ‘Love Me,’ Lux Interior reached through time and straight into my mind, temporarily deleting my entire concept of education. By the time ‘She Said’ ended, I was changed.
On the one hand, the Cramps sounded like something on one of the three oldies stations that passed for radio in Hampton Roads. But there was something else to them-- something dark and joyous, brilliantly primal, and gleefully retarded. I couldn’t tell if I loved the tape or hated it, but I had to hear it again and again.
A rash grew between the folds of my teenaged brain that day. It smelled like marijuana and had a soothing, itchy voice that said to me: “ From now on, things are going to be different.” That burning life-changing itch flares up so much more rarely now, but it’s so sweet and precious when it does.
It wasn’t until two or three years ago that I learned that nearly half of the songs on ‘Bad Music’ were covers. Nearly half of the Cramps’ entire repertoire may be cover songs.
Lux (before he took that name) says “My God, Ivy, where has all the great music gone, and who is going to bring it back?”
She replies, “Honey, it’s not gone – it’s just taking a little nap in the coatroom. Now it’s our job to wake it up and bring it back to the party.” Then the rest is history.
Now that I have heard the Cramps’ influences and learned to love them, I see the Cramps themselves as a brilliant study in reinvention and the creation of durable, thrilling personae. They’re nerdier, more academic and worshipful, and therefore even more lovable to me. Anyone who wears one weird heart on their sleeve and another one draped right over their face gets my undying support.
Frank and I decided to create representations of medieval torture devices for our history project. We lovingly inked the rack, an iron maiden, a cat o’ nine-tails and a pair of thumb screws onto the back of brown grocery sacks and carefully burnt the edges of our drawings with a candle, listening to the Cramps the entire time.
Fueled by the power of one of the world’s greatest history projects, we stayed up late into the night and earned and A from our teacher and confused looks from our classmates. That project secured our reputations as the weird, scary nerds, and locked us right out of any homecoming activities that fall. Things couldn’t have been any better, and we both owe it all to the Cramps.
Here’s the original version of two great songs from Bad Music for Bad People, followed by the Cramps’ rendition.
I Can’t Hardly Stand It – Charlie Feathers
I Can’t Hardly Stand It – The Cramps
She Said – Hasil Adkins
She Said – The Cramps
This video is from the Cramps’ infamous performance at the Napa State Mental Hospital. You really can’t tell the difference between the band and the crowd after a little while. If you mention this video to anyone else, you have to try extra hard not to say that the performance is "crazy."