Sunday, February 8, 2009

Farewell Erick Lee Purkhiser

Of all the bands I’ve had the fortune to see, The Cramps have always been one of my favorites. So it was a shock to hear last week their front man Erick Lee Purkhiser (better known as Lux Interior) had passed away from a heart condition.

Lux formed
The Cramps while I was in high school, an amalgam of surf and rockabilly and fuzz and punk and B-movie camp. I've never seen a band put so much into a show. With Lux at the forefront, they were thoroughly innovative and genuine in every sense of the word.

Over the last 25 some odd years, I’ve seen this band a goodly amount of times. And it’s safe to say I haven’t seen another band as much as I’ve seen
The Cramps.

When you went to a
Cramps show, you came away from it hot, sweaty, exhausted. You went to see this band, eyes wide opened, wondering if you would be witness to everything you've ever heard about them. Post concert? You weren't disappointed ... you got your money’s worth.

Just a few years ago, I got the opportunity to see them one last time at The House Of Blues in Anaheim with a friend of mine. I coerced and cajoled him into going to see them with me. I joked that Lux wasn’t going to be around forever to do his thing, so he’d better get to gettin’ and see him while the seein’ was still available.
With a couple JD Cokes under our belt ot fuel our sensibilites (and one for the show in hand), we made our way to the front at the stage. Nothing - nothing - tops a Cramps concert like being right in the middle of it all. A dangerous place to be for sure ... but an experience to be had.

“Is he coming out on crutches?” I was asked by my friend. I looked at him knowingly, smiled and confessed: “You, sir, are in for a treat.”

Lux did not disappoint. He came out dressed in black from head to toe, complete with “Good Googily-Moogily” sun glasses, bug-eyed things that made him look otherworldly; dark garb contrasting with moon-pale skin. With a bottle of wine in hand, he and the rest of the band
launched into a raucous beginning set that had you in awe he was pushing 60 years of age. He moved effortlessly, lithely. He flung his mike stand around and punctuated songs with perfect Elvis hip sways. Lux alternately sung in perfect pitch one moment and, in the next breath, went completely camp and hicky. The crowd roared at every tune.

When “Tear It Up” came crunching out of their instruments, it was a free for all. A mosh pit had formed at the front of the stage and there were headbangers and punks mixing it up to the fuzzy guitars and ominous drum beat. A huge box fan was conveniently within reach and was impaled by Lux' microphone at an appropriate moment during the song. Amps were climbed on and overturned. Some idjit, drunk out of his skull, was doing his best to impersonate a rhinoceros and head butt people below the stage and I was one of the privileged few to help toss him out on his ass at the end of the song before he did any real damage to himself or anyone else.

The frivolity continued and the air was thick with sweat and noise and cheers.

Two hours later, there were a couple encores. The show had turned out to be nothing less than outstanding. When The Cramps performed, they gave 110%. It was a wonder The House Of Blues was still standing at the end of the thing. I know it was a bit worse for wear. And I remember fondly that it took a couple days for my hearing to return.

My friend? Well, he shook his head at every single song. He knew each one, he’d seen and heard The Cramps previously though screen and video only. But to actually be there ... that was an experience. Each performance elicited a chuckle and a jaw drop. To see “Tear It Up” in the concert film “Urgh, A Music War” was one thing. To see it live, up close and personal was something else entirely. It’s been said that anyone who saw them live has never forgotten the experience. My friend was no different. Not only was he in awe of the show, but he was just as deaf as I was.

I saw The Cramps at the very first Hootenanny Festival at Irvine Lake in 1988. (And in daylight, no less. Scarier than witnessing “Night Of The Living Dead” for the first time.) I saw them at The Hollywood House Of Blues. I’ve seen them at the Hollywood Palladium. I have all their albums, the majority of them on vinyl. I have posters and lobby cards and flyers and announcements and stickers and souvenir T-shirts. I own The Purple Knif Show. My wife’s eyes raise knowingly every time I put on their version of “Fever” (one of “our” special, personal songs).

I’m going to miss Lux Interior
. I grew up appreciating his showmanship, in amazement of his down-to-his-bikini-brief performances and knowing there was a band out there daring enough to crush a childhood favorite of mine (“Shortnin’ Bread”) in a manner that would forever be engrained into my psyche.

Go well, Lux. In the words of
"Human Fly":

96 Tears For 96 Eyes

.......................... Ruprecht ( STOP )

P.S. Lux passed away right down the street from me in Glendale Memorial Hospital here in California.


  1. Hey, good post Rupe.

    You made The Cramps and Erick Lee Purkhiser, better known as Lux Interior come alive in your description of the last concert you dragged a friend to...

    No regret from your friend... or from me after reading your blog post. Thank you.

    Made me feel that I was there with you guys:-)

    "Go well, Lux"

  2. I've never heard of them, but your descriptions are fantastic.

  3. When I logged on here, the counter was 777. I'm taking that as a sign, my friend.

    I never had the good fortune to see them live. I, sadly, was stuck in the mainstream when I was a teen in the 80s. So, my exposure to The Cramps and Lux Interior only just began. Much of that is due to your influence. I have "URGH! A Music War" and have watched it, but it wasn't until your excitement with "Goo Goo Muck" at Halloween that my aural crush started.
    Thank you for your memories and the introduction.

  4. Great post. It makes me so sad to see all of these great music visionaries crossing over. It makes me feel REALLY old too. On he bright side, at least the afterlife is really gonna rock!

  5. Bad music for bad people was never so good...

  6. Rupe,

    I saw the Cramps one night way back when, at Century Hall in Milwaukee, sometime in the 1980s. It was both my introduction and my farewell to live punk music, as I am a somewhat fragile person with weak sensibilities and several nervous tics.

    The show was everything you described. Being a n00b to that kind of aggressive show, it kind of startled me, if you can imagine someone in a sustained state of startlement for the duration of a live performance. Plus, I was down in the mosh-pit area (this was before anybody used the term "mosh pit"), and I got knocked around quite a bit.

    Eventually I edged myself toward the back of the club. It was noisy. I observed from a safe distance. I think I got it. Still not sure.

    I've always enjoyed punk rock more in theory than in practice. I'm not much of a concert-goer anyway, almost always preferring the records to the live shows, where you might get punched or stepped on. I've always been better off with headphones in a dark space by myself. Like mold spores. Listening, again, at a safe distance.

    Sorry to see him go. I'm pretty sure some of his body fluids sprayed on me at some point, and in the world of live punk music, it is my understanding that that means I enjoyed the show.