Downtown Music

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October 18, 2004 // UPDATED 4:21 pm - April 25, 2007
By: Holly Day
Holly Day

What The Cramps mean to me

One of the great revelatory moments of my life came -- as so many seemed to do -- at a keg party. My friend Mary had just moved in down the street and we threw a huge party to celebrate her new apartment.

After most of the people had gone home, Mary and I sat on her living room couch, ripping apart her record collection and occasionally playing half a track before grabbing the needle and shouting, "No, wait! I haven't heard this song forever!"

And then, while we were digging around, out fell this pile of black and white photos that had apparently been stuck inside a record jacket. After closing one eye and squinting hard against the alcohol fog and dim light, I could make out a much younger Mary with a tall, striped mohawk lounging on a couch with a very familiar-looking couple.

"Oh, wow," I asked finally. "Is that Lux Interior?"

"Oh, yeah," answered Mary nonchalantly. "I hung out with The Cramps lots when I was living in Baltimore."

To prove it, she dug around in her record collection and pulled out a copy of The Cramps' "Bad Music For Bad People" and showed me the signature.

"Stephen Blickenstaff's one of my oldest and dearest friends," she said, referring to the artist who designed the artwork for the seminal Cramps' record.

As I sat there, stunned, Mary piled up photo after photo of her with The Cramps' lead woman Poison Ivy and lead man Lux Interior on my lap, followed by a couple of pictures of her with filmmaker John Waters, who, according to Mary, hosted the party where the photos were taken.

Suddenly, I saw my life clearly. I was 21, working as a secretary for a medical company by day and taking community college classes at night. For what? I had no motive beyond making rent money.

That was the night I realized that there was a truly interesting world out there, full of exciting people doing exciting things. Sure, I was familiar with the feedback-heavy, horror show rockabilly sound of The Cramps, but the fact that Mary had met Poison Ivy and Lux Interior and had the pictures to prove it somehow made this couple -- who have been doing what they love to do for over 20 years, together -- real.

Suddenly, I understood that I was not taking advantage of my life.

The very next day, I started sending out letters to colleges I really wanted to attend. (And you thought I was going to say something like, "So I decided to stop sleeping . . .") Six months later, I was moving out of my apartment and headed to a new, better school.

Perhaps such reminiscing is appropriate, considering that The Cramps' newest release, "How to Make a Monster," dips far into their past. The smashing, two-CD compilation features previously unreleased material from their live 1978 show at New York City's CBGB, plus bits from various recording sessions that never made it onto their records.

It goes without saying that I also think The Cramps are one of the greatest bands of all time. These countercultural icons make some of the most fun party music this side of Howlin' Wolf.

As always, be prepared for a phenomenal set when they come to town. And if you're not into howling swamp rock, consider taking it in as an early Halloween show.

Sunday, Oct. 24, 8 p.m. First Avenue, 701 1st Ave. N. 338-8388. $15.

CAKE

CAKE is probably best known for their '90s hit "How Can You Afford Your Rock 'n' Roll Lifestyle?" -- a song that chides money-hungry performers and their conspicuously consuming, hip-seeking legions.

While it may seem odd to plunk down $30 for a band likely to berate such capricious spending, you can rest assured that their tell-it-like-it-is wit and sincerity will keep these guys from becoming the annoying, rich guitar-smashers they write about.

These guys may be cynical (which seems fitting for a band classified as "post-modern pop"), but make no mistake: CAKE is not riding the apathy-is-cool wave. There will probably be a little get-out-and-vote talk at the concert, and they'll likely suggest that you search for a second-hand CAKE t-shirt before checking out the merch table.

Still, they are artists, not professional activists, and as such are totally in touch with their nonsensical sides, as evidenced by such surreal ditties as "Frank Sinatra" (which involves flies, spiders and an otherworldly radio station; and, oddly enough, is also part of the soundtrack for the original "Sopranos" series).

The band is touring to promote their fifth album, "Pressure Chief." Through it all, the baritone of leadman John McCrea keeps it smooth, gliding along in a cocktail-friendly blend of white-boy funk, old-timey country, hip-hop and perfectly punctuated trumpet.

Saturday, Oct. 23, 6 p.m. First Avenue, 701 1st Ave. N. $30. 332-1775.

Holly Day can be reached at lalena@bitstream.net.

sue rich contributed the 'Cake' write-up.