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Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Cramps Live at Napa State Mental Hospital

The Cramps occupy the negative space created by "reason"; they are the unreasonable mutant freaks; the monsters in the movies that appeared in post-war America (Frankenstein--actually made in the 30's but spawned many popular monster films in the 50's) and Japan (Godzilla). 1945 (Hiroshima, Nagasaki) putting an end to the idea that technology=progress once and for all; hence the golden age of the monster movie where Mary Shelley's symbolism was evoked as a critique of science/reason and the enlightenment. The Cramps didn't just reference this Romantic tradition, they inverted it by saying "we are the mutant freaks, the monsters who rule the world at night while you squares sleep and we may be scary, but we also know how to live so get out of our way!!!!" They lived the life in an exalted state; this "death" as life being the Zombie credo; the place where creativity meets destruction meets rebirth.

Those of us who grew up in a post-Cramps world may not remember a time before Monsters were known to be the best dancers and to always have the most fun. When punk happened, a lot of this Romanticism was evoked. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein itself is a reference to Prometheus; the Romantic tradition runs deep. When the punks said "we are mutants created by society, we are the ugliness and despair produced by your world of technology and greed and nuclear war" their nihilism sometimes got the best of them/us (and still does). The Cramps did not live in a dream world. But they did not limit themselves to gloom and doom. Their "deathrock" was a Zombie dance party. Their lore was truly gruesome, they were the rulers of the underworld. Their live shows were exhilarating examples of extreme joy and chaos. They inverted "life" and "death" via their very mode of existence. Their extended aesthetic engagement and committed vision went beyond hedonism. They were great artists blurring the lines between life and art. This is a higher mode of existence than most of us can manage and their work should be treasured, recognized and honored. Their records and live footage as well as their iconography and the songs themselves are there for us to study and learn from.

To see them play the mental hospital is to recognize their full power. Who/what is crazy? The punks? The Cramps? The "mental patients"? You can't really tell who is who and that is part of the point. To be "sane" or "insane" are both artificial, culturally contingent categories based on arbitrary definitions of what is "normal" vs. what is "abnormal behavior". This video is as profound if not more so than Foucault's Madness and Civilization. It's part of the same thesis anyhow...praxis.

But the Cramps go deeper than that. What does it take to live without inhibitions? What does it mean to be truly alive? Lux Interior knew. Not all of us do. There's an urgency in some of his poetic lyrics that express this better than I can. I leave you with these:

Garbageman by the Cramps

you ain't no punk, you punk
you wanna talk about the real junk?
if I ever slip, I'll be banned
cuz I'm your garbageman

well you can't dig me you can't dig nothin'
do you want the real thing, or are you just talkin'?
do you understand?
I'm your garbageman

yeah, somethin' from the garage and down the driveway
now get outta your mind and get outta my way
now do you understand?
do you understand?

louie, louie, louie, lou-i
the bird's the word and do you know why?
you gotta beat it with a stick
you gotta beat it 'til it's thick
you gotta live until you're dead
you gotta rock 'til you see red
now do you understand?
do you understand?
I'm a garbageman

aw, jump on and ride…

yeah it's just what you need when you're down in the dumps
one half hillbilly and one half punk
big long legs and one big mouth
the hottest thing from the north to come out of the south
do you understand?
do you understand?

woo, I can't lose with the stuff I use,
and you don't choose no substitutes
so stick out your can
cuz I'm your garbageman

now do you understand?
do you understand?
do you understand?
all right, hop off


maggie said...

sacred monsters!

Tabitha Says said...

exactly! can you elaborate?

Bergman said...

Lux: "Marcel Duchamp is quite an inspiration... Because he kind of single-handedly demolished all that had gone before, and made a brand-new art. Man Ray was great too... We're just people who remain ever-curious. We're just attracted to whatever comes in handy. Again, like the Surrealists, anything you run across is actually beautiful; within a single city block, you find miraculous things. It's a good planet -- and good things can happen."

CO said...

crazy. i was literally just gonna leave a comment saying what was that phrase maggie uses? sacred monsters? cuz that what makes me think of the cramps, and maggie. and maggie beat me to both.