The Cramps - “Human Fly” b/w “Domino” - Vengeance Records 1978
OK, so maybe I’ll spill a little ink for these miscreants after all.
Now, it’s easy to want to think of The Cramps as being somewhat of a novelty act, a novelty for me that wains with every wave of countless latex bustier and crepe-sole-creeper-clad Hot Topic punks, sporting Betty Page do’s and pompadours, pumping out exaggerated power-pop-punk ever so crudely tinged with only the slightest hint of Rock ‘n’ Roll history that has followed. And, It’s hard not to want to throw the originators on to the fire along with their idiot children.
Considering The Cramps role, along with the likes of The Misfits (perhaps an even more egregious offender) in defining a musical subculture I find by-in-large creatively and stylistically bankrupt and that my tastes tend to lean toward the darker, bleaker, grittier, even political tones of the day, it might be difficult to reconcile my love for the band. A band that cannibalized and enlisted the cultural residue and collective paranoia of the 50’s and 60’s, as manifest in Atomic Horror, Drug Panic, and Pulp Sexual Deviation into the service of a little bit of fantasy if not some outright escape from the real horror of the late 70’s and 80’s, looks on paper to be about as appealing (well maybe a bit) as the plots of most lesser pulp novels, that is to say, likely boring, and ultimately all tease. But like any good pulp, the best part is the wrapper(admittedly a tease, but usually an arousing and necessary one), and that’s what The Cramps had in spades, style, a look, sex and a certain believable depravity.
My earliest memories of encountering The Cramps are from the age of thirteen, a friend who was a few years older had a Cramps poster, circa Psychedelic Jungle (maybe, these things are fuzzy), attached to the door of his bedroom. Upon first catching a glimpse of the poster I was mesmerized, horrified. Like spotting some gruesome car accident, I couldn’t take my eyes away, and gawked like the most shameless ghoul. Three emaciated, skull faced, lanky transvestite motherfuckers stared back, and I don’t mean the all-of-a-sudden safe, mundane, boys-in-high-heels-and-rouge drag of the New York Dolls, but instead some serious back-alley-junky-dive vibe shit. My thirteen year old mind couldn’t tell he from she or what and loved it. Then there was Ivy, with her huge shock of tangled red hair, all-at-once alluring and frightening, her expression that of a great white MANEATER. I mean I literally thought she ate men for breakfast, fully grown men, and I thought “my god what would she do to my puny teenage self?” Here were these ugly, gross, beautiful, real people, and the sounds that spilled from their monstrous maw was no less disturbing to my fragile teenage psyche, a lurid, technicolor grotesquerie of americana, with that perfect dash of black humour. Who else but a band that one would likely flee from in terror in a chance encounter on a dark street could make a song like GOO GOO MUCK sound as sinister, as it is laughable, and a song like HUMAN FLY as perverted and sexy as it is catchy.
My fate was sealed the second my eyes locked with Ivy and Lux’s menacing gaze, and no poser, pastiche, or impostor will ever break that spell.