Growing up in Los Angeles- Hollywood, to be precise- can be a very odd experience. Not that I would know any different, so I suppose that it should all seem perfectly normal to me. However, as someone who is a trained critical thinker, I do consider my evolutionary process quite frequently, moreso when an icon that speaks to me passes on.
On February 4, 2009, Lux Interior died. For me, this was a heavy loss and spanned multiple areas of my life. In a way, this man’s death was also one of the final nails in the coffin containing the slowly deteriorating body that was the Los Angeles that I grew up with. See, Los Angeles used to be ALIVE. Vibrant. Pulsating. Now I fully recognize that at 30 years old, I am too young to have fully experienced my city to its capacity, especially in the ways that I am writing about it now. That said, I have always had eyes and I have always paid attention. See, I remember when Melrose was a little bit “dangerous.” When my mom used to drive down the street and I used to look at all the people whose hair color matched my crayon box, I sensed that this place was a bit verboten and dangerous; not a location for “nice” people to be seen, necessarily. Of course, the greatest irony is that now I *am* one of those people…but I digress. When I was very young, Melrose was not what it is now. I do remember how it all began, though. My mother used to joke about the stores staying for 5 minutes. In fact, since I live so very close to Melrose these days, I still make that same joke- because it still happens. But Melrose now is not Melrose then. In fact, trying to find pictures for this entry was very difficult. As most people know, you can find pictures for just about ANYTHING online. you want pictures of Lindsay Lohan’s original bellybutton piercing? You got ‘em! But old school Melrose? HARD. The picture above is a store that is no longer there, Vinyl Fetish. Right across the street was Retail Slut. I remember going in there after school when I went to Fairfax, and being gazed upon with incredible disdain by the employees. I felt as big as a peanut. Shell not included. I remember how horrible that felt. It was terrible, because the honest-to-god truth was that I was a really smart, sweet kid who got swooped up by some crazy slightly older punk rockers later that same year and everything ended up being perfectly ok, cuz I got my “boots’n'braces” education eventually, but…
A very very short time later, my baby brother was WORKING there. Working there. At Retail Slut. My little brother. With a nickname and everything. HUH?!?!? Yeah, that’s what I said. But that’s a whole other story, I guess. At any rate, that’s not what this is about. this is about My Experience With Lux. It’s not EVERYONE’S. And it is most certainly not a *striking* one, but it is mine, and I cherish it because it is part of My Los Angeles.
Images as a teen are strange things. Especially if you exist in some kind of perverse “subculture” or have a desire to do so. I was initially part of the latter variety that (luckily for me) ended up in the former. So many visuals came with the territory, and I remember seeing hoards of them. Many that would end up becoming part of my everyday sartorial choices. The Two-Tone label, Bad Religion, Madness, X…all of these iconic things found homes upon my body somewhere, sometime. The FEAR insignia, the Crass logo, the Christian Death symbol- I learned how to read them. It was all a kind of language- a new symbolism almost. But…I remember that the Bad Music for Bad People image scared me.
HOW AWESOME IS THAT???? I say that with enthusiasm, because that is every bit of the intent. While I don’t adore every single everything by The Cramps that has ever been done, as a band they are one of the best that has EVER crossed the face of the planet because they hit on all of my favorite things: sexual permissiveness/provocativeness/perversity, horror cinema, b-films/culture, combining aural stimulus with visual stimulus, and, most important of all, breaking boundaries.
I loved being scared, then. I love being scared now. I will probably always love it. If you can find something that can scare me, I’ll kiss ya and buy ya a soda pop! I’m the kinda girl that can go to bed right after watching The Exorcist, and I don’t think that has anything to do with the fact that I’ve been Bat Mitzvah-ed and am not Catholic in the least.
OK. So you wanna know what else I REALLY love about The Cramps? You REALLY wanna know? Sure, my heart is broken and totally devastated that I never got to see them, but here’s the other stuff that makes me all gushy inside when I think about why the Cramps are integral to the world as we know it, musically, socially, and artistically. This band changed the world. Now, I’m gonna get all theoretical on you, so if you hate that stuff, here’s your chance to jet……NOW.
I like The Cramps because they are, to me, a visual-musical representation of Julia Kristeva’s theories of the abject and abjection. And I think abjection is endlessly interesting. Kristeva wrote that “It is not lack of cleanliness or health that causes abjection but what disturbs identity, system, order. What does not respect borders, positions, rules. The in-between, the ambiguous, the composite. The traitor, the liar, the criminal with a good conscience, the shameless rapist, the killer who claims he is a savior…He who denies morality is not abject; there can be grandeur in amorality and even in crime that flaunts its disrespect for the law-rebellious, liberating & suicidal crime. Abjection, on the other hand, is immoral, sinister, scheming, and shady: a terror that dissembles, a hatred that smiles, a passion that uses the body for barter instead of inflaming it, a debtor who sells you up, a friend who stabs you…” (Powers of Horror, p.13) So what were The Cramps BUT a band about abjection? They were the outside, the other, yet with some very odd traditional sensibilities. In that sense, they bore a significant musical resemblance to Kristeva’s idea of the ambiguous, the composite…. From their very beginnings and their first album, Songs The Lord Taught Us (1980, Illegal Records), they had set up that status. Through singing traditional cover tracks like “Fever” or “Tear it Up” and marching them up against their self-penned original titles like “The Zombie Dance” or “I Was a Teenage Werewolf,” The Cramps established themselves as a band that could do exactly what they wanted to do…TO YOU. Especially since they were under the auspices of the Lord, right?
Variety Lists the Top 10 Cramps song titles as follows:
10. The Creature from the Black Leather Lagoon
9. I Wanna Get in Your Pants
8. Eyeball in My Martini
7. The Most Exalted Potentate of Love
6. Naked Girl Falling Down the Stairs
5. Fissure of Rolando
4. Journey to the Center of a Girl
3. Don’t Eat Stuff off the Sidewalk
2. Two Headed Sex Change
1. Bikini Girls With Machine Guns
First thing to be noted here: at least half these songs reference significant physiological issues. The Fissure of Rolando is an area deep within the brain, not immediately accessible or visible. A sex change? Let alone one of the 2-headed variety? Yes, I do believe that would border on “outsider” status, don’t you? With Abject Cramps Logic, this is all just par for the course. And the lyrics do not deviate any more than the titles do. For example, let’s just take “Eyeball in my Martini.” On a deeper, more psychological level, abjection is about the breakdown between the subject and object or the self and other.
Sooooooo, our illustrious frontman croons, “I went out to eat the other night. Picked up my girl at eight. In my soup I found a fly. But, there beyond my plate. Was an eyeball in my martini. A highball with a twist. One in my linguini, too. I said, “There’s somethin’ wrong with this.” Eyeballs, eyeballs, eyeballs. Eyeballs everywhere. Eyeballs, eyeballs, eyeballs…” OK. Not only are we hitting on Kristeva’s issues with abjection and the uncleanliness factor in this instance, but we definitely have significant issues surrounding the recognition of the abject. Kristeva writes that “A wound with blood or pus, or the sickly, acrid smell of sweat, of decay, does not signify death. In the presence of signified death…I would understand, react or accept. No, as in true theater, without makeup or masks, refuse & corpses show me what I permanently thrust aside in order to live. These body fluids, this defilement, this shit are what life withstands, hardly and with difficulty, on the part of death. There, I am at the border of my condition as a living being…” In this song, it is exactly this. Whether he’s looking at his drink or staring at his dinner, he’s being confronted with the very “condition of his humanity” through the existence of a piece of it. Removed from it. One basically can exist without one’s eyeball, most assuredly, but most would choose not to if it could be helped. However, singing a song such as this, where the eyeball/humanity/abjection/symbol of the body’s breakdown or demise is continually appearing in his linguini, drink and so forth??? Lux is about to eat his own flesh. Drink his own sight. Inhale his own existence. He cannot get away from the fact that he has to face mortality, and existence. The pus, the defilement, the breakdown. THIS IS THE ABJECT….
See, the abject also refers to our reactions to that which is considered “abject” which, according to Kristeva, can be quite a traumatic experience all-around. Kristeva mentions examples of certain items that illicit these reactions, inclusive of corpses, open wounds, piss, or the skin on the top of warm milk (don’t ask on that milk one- if you want to go further, read her full piece, which I would highly recommend doing anyway). Because these items remind us of our own mortality, of our own physicality, of the things that we do/are /the “uncleanliness,” (see earlier quote), or other things that rip us away from the general state of “pretty happy shiny” that we tend to live in, the abject causes us to, essentially “flip out,” and experience a very real, significant sense of cognitive dissonance. Yeah, pretty fucked up. So in a sense, we are confronted by our own existence and bodily functions, we don’t like to recognize that we die or bleed or crap, and……OMGWTFBBQ!!!!
We fear. This is exactly why horror films work. This is why Cronenberg has built a cinematic empire upon body horror. This is why the Aliens series works. This is why SO MANY things work. I could go on. Buuuuuuuuuut…..my point here is this is also why The Cramps work!!!
The Cramps played a lot. So did X. So did a great many bands that my friends were able to see and I was never able to bear witness to. However I remember the visual. I remember, as only a child/adolescent does, COMPLETELY mixing up Lux Interior and the cover of Bad Music For Bad People (the main image I always saw around town). I always thought THAT was him. But I enjoyed the fear and the THRILL that he put in me. Years later, when I became a fan, and then a film and pop culture theorist myself, I was able to think about things (obviously) on a different note. However, to this day, I will always think that Bad Music for Bad People is a scary album cover. I will also think that it clearly references theoretical issues of abjection, etc, which only makes me adore it even more.
I am sad for my loss. After all, what is sadness after a death but personal loss, really? I am just sad that I was unable to see them. That is my tragedy. It is an aural & visual loss that I will always regret. However I am proud to have experienced them as a Hollywood girl, having them be such a crucial part of my lifecycle, and and even happier to have them continue to prove to be a brilliant source of education and inspiration for theory and learning. Even if, at the end of the day, I am just a Goo Goo Muck…
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