Books - J

JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE CRAMPS - Dick Porter {Omnibus Press, 306 pages} 
I think it’s fair to say that THE CRAMPS are something of an enigma. Formed in 1976, the band was primarily inspired by 50s Rock ‘n’ Roll and implanted that sound into the spirit of the burgeoning Punk scene of the time. They were one of the unheralded CBGB bands of the late 70s and while the sound was rooted in dirty, twisted and simplistic yet effective Rock ‘n’ Roll, the band’s attitude was distinctly that of Punk Rock.
This book tells the story of the band and, more specifically, that of its two founders and defining figures: the late Lux Interior and guitarist Poison Ivy Rorschach. It starts with a brief examination on the birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll when, in July 1954, Little Richard cut ‘Tutti Frutti’. That song, and that attitude, sets the scene for the introduction of Lux and then Ivy and their seemingly prophetic meeting when Lux picked Ivy up hitch-hiking while both were attending Sacramento State University. From there, it’s a detailed account of the pair forming what became THE CRAMPS; from the pair’s move to New York City and then to California, a dogged legal battle with Miles Copeland’s IRS Records, the infamous Napa State Psychiatric Hospital gig, numerous tours and releases and, ultimately, Lux’s passing.
While Porter’s narrative obviously centers around the pair, he has not ignored the other members of the band. No matter how small a part they may have played in THE CRAMPS’ legacy, all get a mention. Obviously the likes of Bryan Gregory, Nick Knox and Kid Congo Powers are among the most mentioned, including their traits and idiosyncrasies.
It’s apparent that both Lux and Ivy were constantly endeavoring to stress what the band actually defined. They frequently dispel the notion that they are a Rockabilly band, or a Psychobilly band, or a caricature of Rock ‘n’Roll, or a Punk band. What they constantly go back to is that THE CRAMPS is a Rock ‘n’ Roll band in its purest, most intimidating, nasty and sexual sense. The pair emphasize these throughout (to the point of unnecessary repetition in fact). What is also emphasized is that they had no desire to progress musically; they knew the sound they wanted and that’s what you got - raw, sexual, non-political, primal Rock ‘n’ Roll imbibed with attitude and excitement.
Having read the book with a critical eye, it was pleasing to note the Porter got all his facts spot on (at least from my knowledge). There are no glaring errors that usually accompany a book of this nature and his narrative is concisely and intelligently written (unlike his lame book about THE RAMONES). He doesn’t swerve away from the negative points and writes with an enthusiasm for the band’s music that befits an author who understands and loves the band, rather than an author who is but a music journalist. This book is actually based on Porter’s acclaimed 2007 biography of the band, A Short History Of Rock ‘n’ Roll Psychosis, but is revised and updated to include interviews with Lux, Ivy and others.
The book is completed with an extensive discography that includes the many bootlegs out there and 16 additional pages of glossy photos featuring all the main players in the band’s history. There’s also a pic of Lux with long hippy-hair, beard and spectacles.
Porter has written an incredibly accomplished biography here. It’s in-depth, honest, fact-laden and has an energy that no doubt comes from his genuine love of the band. The continuity of the text flows well also, making it easy to read and, importantly, Porter manages to clearly evoke the social climate of which ever era of the band he writes about.
You want to read the definitive history of THE CRAMPS? Look no further. Even if Ivy writes an autobiography, I imagine this will still be the better book for an impartial and accurate account of the band. (29.08.15)