Thursday, February 5, 2009

Remembering and Interviewing Lux Interior and The Cramps, 1977

Text and Live at Max's (April 1977) Photos © Robert Barry Francos
Bryan Gregory flyer photo by Anya Phillips
Logo from the Internet

I found out today that Lux Interior, lead singer of the Cramps, passed away on Feb 4, 2009. Fortunately, I had the experience to see the band a number of times in the ‘70s, including a much discussed show where they opened for the Ramones at CBGB in 1977. They were one of the few bands I actually captured with a 126 instamatic, before getting my 35mm for my birthday in ’77. That night, the Stilettos and the Visitors were the opener at Max’s Kansas City.

A rare and interesting aspect of the Cramps was their set-up: two guitars, drums, and vocals. No bass. This gave the sound a bit of a tinny and yet powerful tone, producing a melodic buzzsaw well suited for the voodoo rockabilly / “voodoo-billy” effect they were seeking. Lack of bass also did not show them faltering for lack of a rhythmic drive. For a bottom, they relied heavily on the steady, pounding pace of Miriam Linna’s skins, as the Velvet Underground had done with Mo Tucker.

As I was putting together the first issue of my fanzine, FFanzeen, I was collecting articles and interviews. One of the beauties of this period of underground music was the accessibility of the bands, regardless of their place on the local musical food chain. This was a useful lesson to learn, and the dreams of which fanzines are made. At an early ’77 CBGB gig, I walked up to Miriam as she finished setting up her kit. I was very nervous, having worked up my courage while waiting for the band to show. I approached her and introed myself as a new fanzine publisher. Also, I knew that Miriam was also not a fan of the then-modern British sound, and had strong leanings toward American proto-punk, both the ‘70s underground, and especially the late ‘60s garage punk era.

When the Cramps’ set at CBGB was completed and she had the chance to converse with the rest of the band, she let me know the time and place for the interview at their rehearsal loft. The day arrived, and thanks to the rain, which was strong and hard, I was entirely soaked by the time I arrived with Alan Abramowitz as my photographer. This drenching included my cheap bulky tape recorder and his cheap little camera. The room was long and dark, and I sat at one end with the band, while some people I didn’t know were chatting away – quite loudly – at the other end, never giving a second thought about distracting a nervous interviewer. I would find out who they were later, when interviewing Teenage Jesus and the Jerks.

Lead singer Lux Interior (He stressed to me that his name was short for “Luxury” or “Luxurious”; he had told my pal Bernie Kugel it stood for “Luxembourg” during an interview he had done earlier) was tall and lanky, with sharp and intelligent eyes that searched out reactions from his listener while he said things that were meant to be shocking. I took this for what it was, and while I was rarely taken aback (after all, my Brooklyn crowd had been doing that to each other for years), I certainly enjoyed the challenge. Lux was quite comfortable with the idea of being outrageous. For example, some time later, during that set at CBGB when the Cramps opened for the Ramones, Lux’s leather pants split early in the set, and his double nuggets popped out. He finished the entire set, anyway, while “the boys” swayed in the wind. Honestly, though, considering the Cramps fan base, I think any fan in the audience would be more likely thrilled than put off, knowing that anything is possible during a performance while Lux roamed around the stage and club like an uncaged animal. I won’t speak for the rest of the Ramones’ fans.

“Poison” Ivy Rorschach has been Lux’s companion through all these years and every phoenix-like variation of the band. If Lux is the id of the Cramps, Ivy is the ego. Strong and controlling, Valkyrie-like, she knew (or believed) she had the boys of the audience in her thrall. Back then, she was pretty stoic on stage, but as time passed, she became more and more aggressive, joining Lux on the go-go side of the paradigm. Ivy was also quite assertive during the interview, acting as equal off-stage mouthpiece to the on-stage voice of Lux.

The late Bryan Gregory was the one person in the band with whom I was most anxious about being in the same room. Okay, scared is a better word. On stage, he came across as downright sinister: his eyes glowered at the audience, as if to say, “come on and try something.” Most impressive was the way he was able to move his cigarette (a constant companion on stage) around his mouth without using his hands. He asserted himself as formidable and the most dangerous of the band, all while standing in place. And yet, during the interview, he came across as the most gentle of souls, mostly keeping quiet and being soft-spoken. He let the aggression of the rest of the band flow out, while he sat and listened.

This is the article that appeared in the first issue of FFanzeen (published 7/7/77).

Cramps – Love Them

There was I, your humble interviewer, at the Cramps’ loft – sitting stiff, shaking and sweating. Lux Interior, the lead singer of the group and local werewolf, spouts how rock’n’rollers should harass people in the streets to shake ‘em up, like following them (which he claims is his hobby). Bryan Gregory, a “badass ‘60s-style” guitarist, crunches on cigarettes while scratching his arm with an enormous switchblade. Miriam Linna, the drummer, declares her love for the Ramones, the Flamin’ Groovies, the Dictators and the Seeds, while at the same time she states how she dislikes the pretentiousness of the New Wave British bands (the safety-pin set). Ivy Rorschach, the other guitarist, who plays ‘50s rockabilly style, talks of making horror films a la AIP’s ‘50s releases (you know the kind – I Was Some Kind of Monster From Some Planet), in 3-D with rock’n'roll soundtracks. And, as mentioned before, there in the middle of all this, is myself.

Now comes the heartache of it all: Lux explains to me that nothing annoys him more than when someone misquotes him, or they get the facts mixed up from an interview ... and my tape recorder stops recording about five minutes into the session. Below is all I have of an hour of questioning:

Lux: Ask me what’s my favorite song is in the set.
FFanzeen: What’s your favorite song in the set?
Lux: “Love Me.” I like to hear the girls scream.
FF: Is there such a thing as punk rock?
Miriam: I think the Ramones are the only punks in New York. I think they define what punk is supposed to be in the ‘70s. I don’t think anyone else can live up to it.
FF: But they don’t consider themselves a punk band.
Miriam: They don’t consider themselves a punk band, but they consider themselves punks.
FF: What do you call what you play?
Ivy: Psycho-billy. A psycho rockabilly.
FF: How as the group formed?
Ivy: I knew Lux for several years and we met Bryan, who was working in a record store [the rest of what Ivy said, at this point, as drowned out by some people telling – what else – dead baby jokes on the other side of the loft].
Lux: One day I asked Bryan if he wanted to make a rock’n’roll band, and I said I already have a name for it: the Cramps. It’s the perfect name. We laughed about it a little while and the next day he walked in with a guitar with “Cramps” stenciled on the outside, so it was too late to turn back. He already spent eighty-five dollars on a guitar.
Ivy: And we didn’t want to hurt his feelings.
FF: How did it come to pass that there would be no bass?
Lux: Well, nobody wanted to play bass; everybody wanted to play guitar.
Ivy: And when there’s more than four people up there, visually it tends to distract. And we wanted something irritating ...

At this point, my tape just seems to die out, to where one can only make out one or two words here and there, so, from this point on, I have to paraphrase the best I can remember. Sorry guys, but there ain’t nothin’ else I can do...

As we entered the loft, the stereo went on full blast (one of the advantages of having a loft is no neighbors to complain about the noise). We listened to the Seeds, a special pressing of the Ramones’ “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker,” the Dictators Manifest Destiny, and a Boston group called the Real Kids, I believe. What better way to start an interview than to get into the mood with some good music? After a time (or a few times), we went to the back of the loft (with the Flamin’ Groovies playing on the stereo in the background). There was an old sofa on which the Cramps sat (l-r: Ivy, Lux, Bryan, Miriam) with me on a chair facing them. Alan, my photographer, moved fluidly behind me taking numerous pictures, not one of which came out useable (between this and the tape recording of this interview, it seemed as though someone upstairs didn’t want anyone to have any official proof of this meeting). For a while we all talked loosely about some of the better groups on the scene now, about other fanzines like New Order, Back Door Man and Big Star, and how the Cramps are planning to do a single, but it is only in the planning stage (this exchange is, of course, before the official interview started).

New Order, a tongue-in-cheek right-wing fanzine out of Ft. Lauderdale, claimed that Ivy was the least talkative of the group. I found her just the opposite. Ivy seemed to me the most open and flowing. Lux, too, did a lot of the talking about how the Cramps are not to be taken as a joke and that they are serious with what they’re doing. He also made sure to comment (more than once) that rock’n’roll is his life and he wouldn’t want to be doing anything else. Ivy and Miriam both agreed that they enjoy playing music more than anything else they’ve ever done.

It seems strange that this group should get together, since they come from such different parts of the country (and Canada). In fact, many times they were in the same area and they never met. Miriam, originally from Canada, went to Ohio. Bryan comes from Ohio and moved to California. Ivy comes from California. Lux claims that he moved around a lot and he couldn’t really say he was from anywhere in particular.

I asked Bryan how he learned to move his cigarettes around his mouth the way he does without using his hands, and he told me that when he lived in California, he worked in a munitions factory making missiles and bombs for the war (that’s Viet Nam for those of you who were so spaced out at the time and didn’t know what the fuck was goin’ on). The assembly line moved so fast that he didn’t have time to use his hands for anything except work, and a second or so here and there to grab a butt, and sometime later, possibly, a chance to light it. He couldn’t take it out of his mouth so, in the process, he learned to use his tongue to take it and move it around, knock off the ashes, and eventually spit out the filter (with pretty good aim, too). Personally, I think it’s a fascinating thing to watch (especially since I don’t smoke), and it sure is a help to his tough image.

That brings me to the question of how much of the image represented on the stage is really the performer. Lux claims that it is more like them than they are off the stage. When up there, they can be themselves and get out all their anxieties and be anything they want to be. When they are off-stage is when they put on their “act” of being presentable to society as it now stands.

At this point I have only seen this group perform twice: once in Max’s with the Stilettos and the Visitors (April 5, 1977), and once in CBGB with the Ramones (June 9, 1977), and both times I was extremely impressed. I asked Lux for the names of some of the songs they do and the list he put down was “I Was a Teenage Werewolf,” “Sunglasses After Dark,” “What’s Behind the Mask,” “(I See You On) My TV Set,” “Subwire Desire,” “I’m A Human Fly,” “Up From the Garage,” “Don’t Eat the Stuff Off the Sidewalk,” and “I’m Cramped.” “Love Me” was previously mentioned. I also asked him for some of the lyrics to one of the songs, so from “TV Set,” Lux put down:

“Hey baby I put you in my Frigidaire / Yeh baby I put you in my Frigidaire / Behind the mayonnaise way in the back / I’m gonna see you tonight for a midnight snack / But though it’s cold / You won’t get old / ’Cause you’re well preserved in my Frigidaire.”

About their childhood(s)? Lux jumped in quickly with, “Well, I was a teenage werewolf.” Of course, I should have known.

All together, it was an enjoyable evening at the Cramps’ downstairs loft, in one of the emptier parts of Manhattan. Well, let me put it this way: after spending an evening around these people, I wasn’t the least bit scared to walk to the subway. Especially since there was no full moon.

After the interview, I passed around a badly xeroxed, but at the time ubiquitous flyer for the band that I had picked up in a record store, for them to personalize. It reads, “Love Me” on the top, “The Cramps” on the bottom, and a really cool and scary close-up picture of Bryan glaring at the camera. Lux signed his with song lyrics: “Lies in your radar eyes ... Hope in your radar scope?! Love Me, Lux Interior”; Ivy’s was mostly indecipherable, ending with “... for your love, Poison Ivy’; Bryan wrote “Like no words at all, Bryan Gregory”; Miriam wrote, backwards, “Like this, it’s like it is – ‘I don’t care about this world, I don’t care I don’t care’, Flamin’ Miriam.” And yes, she also signed her name backwards.

From the music that was playing at the loft, it was pretty obvious Miriam was in charge of the selections. It was the first time I had heard (and heard of) the Real Kids (led by ex-Modern Lovers Jon Felice), who were both friends of, and admired by, Miriam.

Since the time of the interview, I’ve since seen the Cramps many more times, in many incarnations. I was sorry to hear when Miriam had left the band, as when Bryan Gregory also departed, but I continued to enjoy their music. I was saddened to hear of the death of Bryan Gregory on January 10, 2001.

A few months after the interview came out, I was sitting in CBGB when this person came over to me, and asked if I was the one who put out FFanzeen. I answered in the affirmative, and she started screeching at me. It was highly volatile photographer and scene-maker Anya Phillips, who complained that I used the photo she took of Bryan Gregory on the back page of my first issue, the badly Xeroxed flyer the band had autographed. She was very belligerent (and I believe inebriated…or something). I explained to her that the photo was a flyer that was being passed around, and that there was no photo credit on it, or I would have listed it. Since I would not be making any kind of profit off of the magazine, let alone the photo, I offered to give her the photo credit she deserved in the next issue (which I did). She threatened to sue and demanded I pay her a large sum of money. I told her I had no money (the truth). With that she left in a huff, and it was the last I ever heard anything about it. Some time later, I found out that Anya had died of cancer in 1981.

There was a print shop across the street from Queens College that handled the copious copying for the general populace of the school. I brought over my originals, and week later (hey, that was the best the present-day technology could handle at that time; this is pre-Kinko’s, the fanzine’s friend) I picked up my copies. I was so excited that I left my originals behind. I went back for them the next day, and the owner had thrown them out! The asshole. I was saddest to lose the original of the Cramps autographs. That’s something I would have framed and prized.

That same flyer, with the autographs taken from the back page of my fanzine, was later published in the book The Cramps: A Short History of Rock 'n' Roll Psychosis, by Dick Porter. It was uncredited to either Anya or FFanzeen. Just part of the karmic circle, I guess.


  1. Robert,

    Great memory!Great article! It just reminded of how important Fanzine was as well!and what a great writer you are!

    -Dave Street

  2. Thanks, Dave, always great to hear from you, and thanks for the kind words. For those who don't know, Dave is an educator / comedian / performance artist who made the rounds in the '70s and '80s (and beyond), opening for many bands in the New York area. He also has a 7" EP from back then. Last time I saw him was on the Joe Franklin Show, doing his Uncle Sam routine.

  3. Great article!!!!!


  4. Thanks, Teddy. It is a great joy to write about a group of people who have formed a band that one truly enjoys...even if they are hard to see while wearing sunglasses after dark (they're so sharp!).

  5. I knew when i saw the video of them performing at the NAPA State Mental Hospital in SF that they were my personal saviors!!!!!

  6. Yes, I own that tape thanks to you. Great present. They were such a great band. I remember seeing them at Irving Plaza once and during "Surfing Bird" Lux had the mic in his mouth and started climbing the curtain, reaching near the top, and then hopping down and crawling all over people, before body surfing became in vogue. They were, by far, one of the best live bands I have seen.