Looney Tunes! The Cramps Live at Napa State

Somebody told me you people are crazy, but I’m not so sure about that

Lux Interior, Napa State Hospital 13th June 1978

In 1968 Johnny Cash played a free gig for inmates of Folsom Prison, a show that yielded the legendary album At Folsom Prison. Almost ten years to the month, in June 1978, New York’s The Cramps – “the hottest things from the North to come out of the South” – with support from The Mutants, played a free show for some 300 inmates at Napa State Hospital, a psychiatric facility situated on the Napa Vallejo Highway in California. 

Recorded on a Sony Portapak black and white video camera by San Franciscan art collective Target Video, fragments of the show found its way onto very hard to get video, and in 2001 was released on DVD. Utterly compelling, and unsettling at the same time it is easy to see why the show is widely regarded as if not the greatest live show in the history of rock and roll, then certainly its craziest.

New York psychobilly meets psycho-patient and morphs into a whole bunch of people having one hell of a good time.  I doubt that such an audaciously thrilling expression of human enjoyment would be allowed today.

Now some 41 years later the Napa State show has finally been remastered for limited vinyl release. Available on Cthulhu Fhtagn Records, M-M-M-M-M-M-M-M-M Mad Mad Daddies Live at Napa State Hospital, boasts bonus interviews with inmates and ‘real crazies.’ Live at Napa State makes for difficult listening, and that’s allowing for the very dodgy sound quality. Each of the 7 tracks is segued with extracts of interviews with hospital patients. The young man with homicidal tendencies is particularly attention grabbing as he fades out to the fuzz and menace of The Cramps finale, T.V. Set.

Oh baby, I see you in my TV set. Yeah baby, I see you in my TV set. I cut your head off and put it in my TV set. I use your eyeballs for dials on my TV set. I watch TV. I watch TV. Since I put you in my TV set

As the final cacophony of T.V. Set rings out and Lux attempts to leave the stage with a celebratory ‘Good Night!’, a voice can be heard amid the frenzied whoops of delight from the audience. “That’s what we need right there!” exclaims the obviously exhilarated onlooker.

A young San Franciscan music journalist, Howie Klein was there to review the show for the New York Rocker. Klein’s review captures the very unique if not politically incorrect premise of the whole show. John Waters eat your heart out.

“Let’s drive up to the funny farm. The Cramps and The Mutants are doin’ a concert for the nuts: should be loads of yuks”. I wanna take the rap for going up to the show at Napa State with the attitude of wanting to see the pinheads and cretins. I had even tried to talk the mutants into doing ‘Cretin Hop’. As long as the loonies didn’t touch me or drool on me it was all gonna be a load of laughs…

What I got instead was the greatest new wave show I’ve ever seen. I’m just sayin’ than I’ve never seen a show where the audience and the bands and the music and everything were so totally tuned in on the same plane…

I’ve never seen so much audience participation. During the Cramps’ incisive ‘What’s Behind the Mask’ one lively young lady jumped on Lux’s back and held on for the whole song, screaming melodically into the mike over his shoulder…

Meanwhile two patients escaped over a fence and were seen running down the highway. (“We don’t go after ’em anymore. They don’t have any money and they’ll be back in a couple of days.”) …

Both bands agreed it was the best show either had ever done. The excitement and energy level went sky high and a more appreciative, enthusiastic and open-minded audience will never be found (although there were some disc fans frowning on the side lines). And I wanna say something a little personal. When one 45 or so tear-old lady came over – as her group was being led back to wherever they take them to calm down – and kissed me goodbye. I kissed her back and told her to come to the Mabuhay when she gets out. “Oh honey, I ain’t never getting’ outta here,” she laughed.”

In the summer of 1977 – the summer of Sam – The Cramps were at their creative best. They had just recorded the seminal Gravest Hits EP with Alex Chilton and were about to go into Philips Recording studios in Memphis (again with Chilton at the desk) to record the even more seminal (if possible!) debut album, Songs the Lord Taught Us. The Napa show included their distinctive two guitar, no bass reverb soaked sound and featured the classic line up of Lux Interior (Erik Purkhiser) on vocals; his wife and only surviving member, Poison Ivy Rorschach (Kirsty Wallace), and Bryan Gregory (Greg Beckerleg) on guitars; and Nick Knox (Nicholas Stephonoff) on drums. Knox, an integral element of The Cramps tight, rhythm heavy sound, would leave the band in 1991, and they were never the same again. The Cramps would finally call it a day in 2009 following the sad death at 62 of Lux Interior. The band had however played their last live show in November 2006.

The Cramps were a unique band and the Napa State show a clear statement of intent. Live at Napa State drips with menace. Sonically The Cramps pull no punches, but neither do their audience. Listening to the L.P is a disconcerting experience. A sense of unease nags the liberal sensibility. You ask yourself ‘should I be listening to this? Isn’t this wrong?’ And then it suddenly dawns. New York psychobilly meets psycho-patient and morphs into a whole bunch of people having one hell of a good time.  I doubt that such an audaciously thrilling expression of human enjoyment would be allowed today.

M-M-M-M-M-M-M-M-M Mad Mad Daddies Live at Napa State Hospital (Cthulhu Fhtagn Records) is available from  www.trashwax.com … if the crazies and pinheads don’t get you first.