Friday, February 13, 2009

I am grateful to Art for letting me post this here...

My Cramps Year

I first saw the Cramps when they opened for the Boomtown Rats at the Santa Monica Civic. It was quite impressive, especially the vigor with which Ivy kicked pit dancers off the stage. Then I met them in the early 80’s when Phast Phreddie brought them to my apartment when they first moved to L.A. Earlier that night Lux had sung one song with the Blasters at the Whisky, his first and last ‘guest shot’ I believe.

One afternoon a year later I saw Lux and Ivy walking on Hollywood Blvd near Graumann’s Chinese and signalled hello. I joined them for ice cream at CC Brown’s, where they told me about the difficulty they were having finding a manager who understood their music. “Really?” I said, and asked for the hot fudge they hadn’t used. After three more meetings I realized they were asking ME to manage them.

Life Is Short

I said yes and immediately left with the Blasters to go to europe. This was propitious because there I could gauge whether any overseas labels wanted to sign them: they didn’t. I thought the Cramps were widely known ‘over there,’ and they probably were, but not at the record companies, some of whom said they never heard of them. This was in the spring of 1982.

Plus there was a big snag, which I discovered after a second, solo, trip to London. The band considered themselves free from I.R.S. because certain provisions of their contract had not been fulfilled. However, disentanglement from a record company was not that simple. For a year I tried to get something going at American record companies. All the time, the cold shoulder and also “Are you SURE they’re not on I.R.S. anymore?”

The tragedy of this is that they could have “owned” MTV in its early, content-short years. The field was wide open and they certainly had the visuals to match the music. But no professional video or record company was there for them.

My friend Pat Faulstich, an executive at CBS Television, had me bring them into the building: he wanted to pitch them to the network for an Addams Family type rock & roll tv series. Nick Knox was smoking, and the anti-smoking guy whose office we visited seemed too frightened to tell him to stop. But nothing came of this. The session I booked for them at Gold Star never came to pass because Nick Knox got sick. Shel Talmy came to their Roxy show to consider producing them, but left shortly into it, his ears ringing.

When we parted it was without rancor. It was Xmas, 1982 and they weren’t on a label so they said it was over. I agreed.

Full Of Stuff

I played Lux “Louisville Lodge Meeting” by Louis Jordan during a thrift-store trip to Downey. In that song there’s a fracas at a fraternal lodge and the Most Exalted Potentate gets knocked in the head. It led him to write “The Most Exalted Potentate of Love.” I stood silent at the demo session: they were extremely not open to suggestion: their sound was theirs alone.

I took a publicity photo of them on the corner of the roof of the laundry room behind my apartment bldg. I recently saw a photo of Mario Lanza lifting weights on that same rooftop; he must have lived there in the 50s. This is, I believe, the only link between these two acts.

The band made all their money on shows. When I became manager they cut me in for 20% as a fifth member, which was very generous. After each of their Friday and Saturday night shows at the Peppermint Lounge in NY I collected $7500. (This was not a typical ‘take.’ In-between towns paid far less.) I couldn’t put it in the house safe at the Lexington and no banks were open so I carried it around New York in my BOAC flight bag. I didn’t wear an ascot or a diamond stickpin so I didn’t look worth holding up.

I enjoyed working with them. As in other reports, Lux was a pussycat when not onstage. We had interests that overlapped, but my expertise in rockabilly and weird things is only 3 on a ten scale so around them it felt more like zero. I introduced them to Mopar man Rip Masters, who advised them on keeping their 1956 Dodge running, and to Jimmy Maslon, who later directed their videos for Ultra Twist, Like A Bad Girl Should, and Naked Girl Falling Down The Stairs.

The band had a clear philosophy. Though horror movies, garage rock, rockabilly and other things are commonly noted as their ouvre, Lux said it forcefully more than once: “We are about one thing. Sex. S - E- X.”

Six or seven years ago in my monthly column ( I postulated that Steve Martin based his dentist character in ‘Little Shop Of Horrors’ on Lux. Some people wrote back that they felt the same.

The last time I saw Lux & Ivy I was in a throng. It was 4 years ago, outside a Disneyland-annex concert hall, waiting to get in to see Jerry Lee Lewis. I was just another ant in the colony as the two of them arrived, gliding through the crowd like a knife through butter, Lux looming overhead in a black and white striped sport coat and black buttoned-up shirt, Ivy wearing a veiled black hat the width of a car grill.

Their whimsical splendor made me smile.
Even now.

Art Fein
Hollywood, CA


martin63 said...

The Cramps opening for the Boomtown Rats - what a thought!!!!

johnscache said...

The guy who introduced me to the Cramps first saw them as the opening act to the Buzzocks. He said the headline in the review in his college paper the next day was "Cramps Eat Buzzcocks for Breakfast."

Mind you, I love the Buzzcocks, but I can see them falling flat having to follow the Cramps.