Lux Interior, frontman for horror punk outfit the Cramps, gained a loyal following over the band’s decades-long career as much for his gender-bending visual aesthetic and raucous live performances as the group’s groundbreaking music. Henry Rollins, vocalist for Black Flag and Rollins Band, spoken-word artist and radio host, spoke to The Times’ August Brown about his memories of the punk rock icon, who died of a heart condition.
I grew up in Washington, D.C., in the ‘70s, and when punk rock came along, I realized that my ship had come in. The Cramps would come down to D.C. and I would see them play in a space about the size of your living room. It was kind of scary being in the front row. Lux would find something to swing from -- if there were ceiling tiles, they’d all be on the floor by the end of the thing. Lux would somehow find his way out of his pants and be down to a pair of bikini briefs twitching all over the floor. He’s a very large man, very tall and very pale and very sweaty. They all looked so amazing. Each one could have been a movie star.
I remember buying their first or second single from a roadie who was selling them for three bucks at the door. It’s probably worth its weight in gold now. The first two Cramps 7-inches are some of the first independent singles I ever owned. Once I drove up to New York to see them in my little VW; it was me and most of the Bad Brains all crammed into my little car. It was at Irving Plaza, and H.R. from Bad Brains, he went backstage because he’s a big rock star, and he came out with a slick of the album cover and the whole band had signed the back. I still have it to this day.
Ian MacKaye’s first band, the Teen Idles, once opened for the Cramps, and it was a big deal. So the Cramps go on and we’re all up front and Lux is unbuttoning his pants and flopping around on the ground. So, being helpful Boy Scouts, we just kind of yanked on his jeans. They rolled off and we were just standing there with these dripping jeans.
Afterward, we walked backstage to give Lux his pants back, and we’re kind of terrified of the Cramps because we don’t know what they are like. And we go backstage and there is [guitarist] Bryan Gregory looking satanic, and Ian kind of mumbles “Oh, here’s Lux’s pants.” And Bryan Gregory says, “Oh look! Lux! The boys have brought your pants back and they’re cleaned and pressed.” Everyone laughed, and Lux said thank you, and we just kind of ran downstairs.
Many years later we played together at the Pukkelpop festival [in Europe]. At that time Lux was in his rubber pants/high heels/pour-wine-all-over-himself era. So they finished their set and he’s walking up the stairs with that bouffant, he’s been rolling on the ground and he’s red from wine, his mascara is running and I think one heel is broken. He’s this very large man tottering up the stairs, and I said, “Hey, Lux,” and he kind of looked at me and said, “Good afternoon!”
You get the idea that there was something very decent about them, that there was something almost like your dad about how they were. And it seems to me that Lux and [his wife and bandmate] Ivy were fairly insular, away from the general roar of things, which makes them interesting to me.
I really appreciated their fascination with ‘50s car culture and everything camp. They’ll be the first to tell you, “We’re not in school right now.” And so to me the Cramps were always just really fun and clever. Like the lyrics for “Garbageman,” they’re smart and cool, in the way that Mark Twain was smart and cool.
Those early records, like the first two singles and the “Gravest Hits” EP and “Songs the Lord Taught Us” and “Psychedelic Jungle,” to me are just as good as American music gets. There’s a handful of bands that are just part of your working mojo, and the Cramps are one of those bands. I went to that Miles Davis function they had the other night and I saw Raymond Pettibon and Mike Watt there, and they were just really bummed about Lux. To have that and Ron Asheton right in the same immediate period of time was really a loss.
In my opinion, when it comes to being a frontperson, you should say, “That person could never hold a full-time job. Just give him a microphone and get out of his way.” And that was Lux -- he was definitely that uncontainable personality. And that voice -- the guy could really sing. Nothing sounds like him. He had that gender-bending kind of “What is he?” thing . . . He was kind of crazy, and you gave him some room because he might get some on you. That informed me as far as being a frontperson owning your territory.