The death on February 4 of Erick Lee Purkhiser, a.k.a. Cramps front man Lux Interior — singer, writer, artist, 3-D photographer, daredevil, shape shifter, Mojo Man from Mars, Ding Dong Daddy from Diddy Wah Diddy (as his surviving longtime partner in crime Poison Ivy described him) — was a numbing and unacceptable trauma, a black hole of tragedy that pulled the hearts of innumerable fans and friends down to the bitter deep end, but there had to be a formal farewell.
A public observance was unthinkable: Picture the teeming, tearful confederacy of scum who’d show up. But Ivy hit on the perfect spot. Tucked off Sunset Boulevard in Pacific Palisades, the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine, a fave Elvis hang when he was in town, was ideal for Lux’s February 21 sendoff in an appropriately offbeat ceremony: the Astral Ascension.
The transdenominational service was performed before an ornate sandalwood altar with a backdrop of six portraits — Jesus, Krishna and the fellowship’s own founding gurus. The mood was muted, bleak, and Ivy’s entrance brought a flood of tears; clad in form-fitting leopard print, she placed a Hurrell-style glamour portrait of Lux beside the rostrum where speakers would address the crowd of 50 or 60 people.
Minister Brahmachari Dale explained a hope-filled, transitional view of death, read from the Bhagavad Gita, recited the 23rd Psalm and exhorted attendees to send messages of love to Lux’s spirit — and damn, kiddies, it felt like he was right there in the room. (Ivy had mentioned a similar feeling before the service, and the coordinator replied, “Oh, he will be there.”)
Musician and longtime Lux and Ivy chum Dave Stuckey spoke first, and his recollections brought booms of laughter: “We had gone to see [R&B star] Young Jesse at a very fancy French restaurant, and when Lux sat down at the table, he immediately picked up the elaborately folded napkin and put it on his head. It made a very nice hat.” At a swap meet, Lux came across a table of bootleg rock videos, one of them a Cramps tape. As Stuckey described it, he said, “Watch this,” approached the seller, “and asked him — in that voice — ‘How much for this one?’ The guy’s eyes bugged out and he stammered, ‘It’s ... it’s ... free.’”
Former Mumps keyboardist Kristian Hoffman spoke next. He pointed at Lux’s photo, then at the portrait of Jesus, saying, “I want to put this picture over there.” He talked about what a great visual artist Lux was, a fact emphasized when he produced an album by NYC rockabilly revivalist Robert Gordon, whose head-shot cover art had been vandalized, à la Mad magazine, with blacked-out teeth, a Van Dyke beard and a swarm of flies (Lux’s ire was raised by Gordon’s decision to cover Cramps staple “The Way I Walk”). Hoffman read an affectionate and slightly skewed homage from guitarist Kid Congo Powers, which reinforced Lux’s profound effect on those who knew him.
Dale proceeded: a flower ceremony, a fire ceremony, the Astral Ascension Prayer, a benediction and a final song, the Charades’ version of Duke Ellington’s “Flamingo.” The stunned crowd, including Russ Meyer biographer Jimmy McDonough, SpongeBob voice Tom Kenny, In the Red Records’ Larry Hardy, Johnny Legend, Allen Charmin Larman and a slew of underworld rock types, wandered outside.
A reception followed at Silver Lake’s Edendale Grill, featuring a slide show of Lux childhood shots and candid snaps (e.g., Lux wearing panties on his head — they made a very nice hat). In an unexpected twist, I met the guy who was driving Lux the day they famously pulled over to pick up a hitchhiker, who turned out to be Poison Ivy. “I only knew Lux for about three years, but I knew Erick very well,” he said. “Back then, I was his psychedelic partner, you might say, and a few years ago I got an e-mail from him saying, ‘Do you remember when we picked up that really pretty girl hitchhiker and your dog Wheezer jumped all over her? Well, I’ve been jumping all over her for the past 35 years and we have a band called the Cramps.’”
As Ivy wrote in the program for the service: “Lux seemed like a creature from another world, with one foot already out of this dimension. As much as we might wonder, ‘Where are you now?’ we can also wonder, ‘Where on Earth did you come from?’ Now that’s a mystery!”