Thursday, October 7, 2010

October 7: The Cramps, "Garbageman"

Artist: The Cramps
Song: "Garbageman"
Album: Songs The Lord Taught Us
Year: 1976

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Often times simply due to the name associated with the genre, it is clear that there is some chronological progression to music history.  That is to say, when something is labeled with a prefix of "post," it implies that it followed whatever genre occupies the second part of that phrase.  However, this can get confusing when one raises the idea that the "main" genre in question can perhaps be attributed to an earlier time than most assume, and this has led to a case where many see a "post-genre" band preceding the genre proper.  This is most clear within the idea of punk rock and the "post-punk" sound, as most people do not give punk rock much credence for existing before late 1976.  However, if one takes an honest look at music history, the roots of punk rock stretch all the way back to the early 1940's, and one can see the genre properly being deployed in the early 1960's.  It is with this in mind that one can easily see The Cramps making a claim as the finest post-punk band in history with their brilliant 1976 debut, Songs The Lord Taught Us.  Bringing a phenomenal blend of "horror rock," rockabilly, and and attitude that is completely unique, they remain one of the most overlooked influences of their era, and one can easily hear their sound in a number of bands that gained far more recognition.  While the band had a great range to their musical approach, their magnificent sound and swagger are on perfect display throughout The Cramps' 1976 song, "Garbageman."

It is almost impossible to define the sound of The Cramps with a single word, as they fuse together so many of their own influence to create a sound that has never been matched.  Perhaps the clearest element is that of rockabilly, and it is immediately clear on "Garbageman" through the fantastic guitar playing of "Poison Ivy Rorschach" (AKA Kristy Wallace) and Bryan Gregory.  In both the tone and style that they play, the sounds of everyone from Roy Orbison to Alice Cooper can be heard, and it is this element that sets them far apart from their peers.  Furthermore, the mere presence and brilliant style with which Poison Ivy plays unquestionably positions her as one of the most important female musicians in history, and one cannot accurately list all of the musicians for whom she served as a role model.  The rockabilly tone of the guitars is cemented into place by the fast-paced, yet strangely restrained drumming of Nick Knox, and the way in which his drums were recorded is yet another way in which the sound of The Cramps is unlike any other band in history.  On "Garbageman," the snare is far more prominent than nearly any other musical recording, and it almost takes the place of the kick drum.  The bands' sound is rounded out by almost non-existent bass-work from Lux Interior, and the overall sound found on "Garbageman" is a brand of musical brilliance that cannot be found elsewhere in recorded history.

While the music on "Garbageman" demands a unique reverence, there are simply not enough words that one can say about the vocal stylings of Lux Interior (AKA Erick Lee Purkhiser).  Without question one of the greatest frontmen in history, at times Interior sounds like Iggy Pop, and at other moments, he has the sound and presence of Elvis Presley.  His ability to bring such a wide range of character to the vocals is one of the most mesmerizing aspects of the music of The Cramps and his choppy, high-octane vocal delivery on "Garbageman" is perhaps his finest performance.  Clearly able to sing across the musical scale whenever he pleases, Interior brings a seemingly possessed, spoken style on "Garbageman," and the almost beat-style lyrics he delivers add further support to the idea that punk existed well before the common date it is given.  Case in point, the opening lines of the song are, " ain't no punk, you punk. You wanna talk about the real junk?"  The fact that Lux Interior uses the word in the way he does makes it impossible to argue that the genre was already alive and well at this point, and later in the song, he reinforces the bands' rockabilly roots by making a reference to Richard Berry's classic, "Louie, Louie" as well as "Surfin' Bird" by The Trashmen.  Brilliantly bridging old and new, the vocals of Lux Interior remain a sound that must be experienced firsthand to be properly appreciated.

In every aspect, "Garbageman" stands as one of the most strangely catchy songs ever recorded.  From the snarling guitar work to the almost "out of breath" vocals from Lux Interior, the song stands far apart from anything else in music history, and it is without question worthy of a title of "lost classic."  The song perfectly represents The Cramps' style of blending together the rockabilly sound with a mood that is often reminiscent of a "b movie."  Throughout their entire catalog, The Cramps showed that they are a band that had no problem exposing their influences, and there has simply never been another group that was able to perform a similar sound with as much authenticity and raw emotion as one finds in their music.  In retrospect, one can easily make the case that without The Cramps, the entire psychobilly scene would have never come to pass, and bands like The Misfits and even The Birthday Party would have struggled to find their sound.  The unique "psycho-sex-stomp" that runs throughout nearly every song from The Cramps is a sound all their own, and it is this distinctive sound that helps Songs The Lord Taught Us to remain an absolute classic more than three decades after it was first released.  The jacket to the original LP reads "file under: sacred music," and though it may seem a bit pompus, after experiencing the album, there is no question that this is an extremely accurate and acceptable request.  With a perfectly balanced sound and a swagger unlike anything else in history, there is simply no denying the true brilliance found within The Cramps' 1976 song, "Garbageman."

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