The death on February 4 of Erick Lee Purkhiser, BKA Cramps singer Lux Interior — singer, writer, artist, 3D 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 as numbing and unacceptable a trauma as can be imagined, 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. Just 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 during his mid-60's extracurricular spiritual quest, is an unspeakably beautiful setting and was ideal for Lux Interior's send-off, administered via an appropriately offbeat ceremony, the Astral Ascension.
Held on February 21 inside a reproduction of a 18th century windmill, the trans-denominational service was performed before an ornate sandalwood altar with a backdrop of six portraits — Jesus, Krishna and the Fellowships own assorted 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 their hope-filled transitional view of death, read from the Bhagavad-Gita, recited the 23rd Psalm, and exhorted attendees to concentrate on sending messages of love to Lux's spirit — and damn, kiddies, it felt like he was right there in the room (when Ivy was arranging the service, she mentioned a similar predisposition, and the coordinator replied, “Oh, he will be there”).
Next, a musical interlude, Mary Mayo 's “For All We Know,” an evocative, psychedelic R&B ballad with simmering bubble sound effects and eerie theremin runs; 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 huge table of bootleg rock videos, one of them a Cramps tape. As Stuckey described it, he said “Watch this,” approached the seller, who was busy organizing his wares, held up the video “and asked him — in that voice — 'How much for this one?' The guys eyes bugged out and he stammered “It's . . it's . . free.”
Former Mumps keyboardist Kirstian Hoffman, who had first allied himself with the couple at CBGB's almost 35 years ago, spoke next and began by pointing first at Lux's photo and then the portrait of Jesus, saying “I want to put this picture over there.” He also drew gales of additional yucks by talking about what a great visual artist Lux was, a fact emphasized when he produced a long player album by NYC rockabilly revivalist Robert Gordon, whose head shot cover art had been magnificently vandalized, a la Mad Magazine, with blacked teeth, a van dyke beard and a Rat Fink style swarm of flies (Lux's ire was raised by Gordon's choice to cover Cramps staple “The Way I Walk”). Hoffman also read a message from guitarist Kid Congo Powers (on tour in Europe), an affectionate, slightly skewed homage that reinforced just what a profound affect Lux had made on the lives of anyone who saw him perform or was fortunate enough to know him.
Dale proceeded; a flower ceremony, a fire ceremony, the Astral Ascension Prayer, a closing benediction and a final song, the Charades' version of 1939 Duke Ellington hit “Flamingo.” A severely cramped doo-woppy arrangement fraught with trashy guitar that, taken with the song's surrealist lyrics, provided a perfect coda. The stunned crowd, including Russ Meyer biographer Jimmy McDonough, comic-Sponge Bob voice Tom Kenny, In the Red Records' Larry Hardy, Johnny Legend, Charmin' Allan Larman, a slew of local underworld rock types and 3D camera buffs (an abiding passion of Lux's), wandered outside.
A reception followed at Silver Lake's Edendale Grill, much grimly carouse, a looping slide show of Lux baby and childhood shots, candid snaps (i.e. Lux wearing panties on his head — they made a very nice hat) and assorted live combat action photography. Muted chatter ensued and in an unexpected twist, I met the guy who was driving the day he and Lux 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 “you don't know who this is” — of course I did — “but 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.”
A first hand account of that fabled meeting was a knock out, but the finality of the day's tone overrode all else. As Poison Ivy herself wrote in the service-accompanying program, “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!”