The Cramps at Napa State

The Cramps

The Cramps at Napa State

Extracted from “The Cramps: A Short History of Rock & Roll Psychosis” by Dick Porter (Plexus)

‘The guy filming couldn't point his camera at the inmates because he couldn't show them escaping.’
Lux Interior

As occupational therapy, it is likely that The Cramps’ patented ‘switchblade rock’ was always likely to prove more stimulating than a pleasant afternoon’s basket weaving. Indeed, the very idea of putting on a rock band, especially one that skated on the thin crust of sanity as a matter of nightly routine, as a diversion for the psychologically fragile would seem to be fraught with innumerable hazards. However, it had been tried before. Los Angeles synth punks The Screamers had performed at Camarillo State Mental Hospital with no recorded fatalities. They told Lux just that. They also mentioned that the audience were mostly catatonic, so it seemed like a safe proposition.

When The Cramps arrived with San Francisco-based support band The Mutants, they found that the inmates at Napa State were considerably more animated than had been the case at Camarillo. ‘That's the Cramps show that should've been stopped,’ reminisced Lux. ‘The audience were doing everything you can imagine. Just imagine something and they were doing it. They were bizarre, dancers like you have never seen before in your life. People lying on each other on the floor. Oh God . . . We didn't wanna leave.’

While video footage of the concert shows that the band were barely phased by the free-form displays of expressive movement, random stage tidying and front-row frug dancing that they were performing amid, New York Rocker’s Howie Klein seemed a little startled; ‘The audience went berserk and it was pogo city all over again. I've never seen so much audience participation – one patient went over to the superintendent and said, “These guys look like they just got out of T-Unit”. T-Unit, the super later told me, is where they keep the lifers.’

In fact, there is much that is endearingly child-like about the reactions of the Napa State inmates to their evening’s entertainment. During ‘Love Me’ several inmates descend on Lux to give him a group hug as he issues his pleas for affection and a small scale hoe-down breaks out in another corner of the room. At one point Lux asks a female inmate, ‘How do you like the Cramps so far, honey?’ ‘Arrrrrrgh,’ comes the reply.

Aside from Lux having to wrest the mic back from a female patient intent on treating those gathered to her screaming solos (she exacts a small revenge by pushing Lux gently from the step-high stage – he barely notices) and a worrying moment for Bryan when a male detainee strolled over to scrutinize the guitarist’s boot, there was little genuine cause for alarm. Apart from the eleven inmates who escaped during the show. And that wasn’t no thing, ‘They just go out in the woods for a while and say, “Yeah, we escaped, we could have if we wanted to” and then they come back,’ assured Lux.

Despite the breakout, the show was deemed to have been a roaring success. ‘The administration liked us so much they said they would write us a letter of recommendation to get us into clubs,’ beamed Lux. ‘We never actually got one, but that would have been great to have got a letter of recommendation from a mental institution. Everybody we met there was crazy. All the people putting on the show were crazy. It was hard to tell the administration from the crazy people.’

The Cramps
Dick Porter – tMx 28 – 01/07
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