second round game
(4) the cramps, “human fly”
(14) the wake, “christine”
AND PLAY IN THE SWEET 16
Read the essays, watch the videos, listen to the songs, feel free to argue below in the comments or tweet at us, and consider. Winner is the aggregate of the poll below and the @marchvladness twitter poll. Polls closed @ 9am Arizona time on March 12.
JOE BONOMO ON “HUMAN FLY”
1. “Some guy had just climbed the World Trade Tower and the headline in the Post that day was ‘Human Fly Climbs Tower.’ I was out walking along the street at about six in the morning. It felt like Night Of The Living Dead the way all the people were wandering around. Somebody had jumped off the roof of the building next to ours and they were scraping him off the sidewalk. All of that made me go home and write the song.”
2. In 1972 Erick Lee Purkhiser and a buddy picked up a woman hitchhiking near Sacramento State College, in California. Erick and the woman, Kristy Wallace, later ran into each other on campus in an “Art and Shamanism” class. They hung out, soon fell in love, and commenced indulging mutual obsessions with early American rock and roll, B-movie imagery, and trash-pop aesthetics. They wanted to start a band and play rock and roll, so Purkhiser snagged a stage name from an automobile ad—“Lux Interior”—while Wallace received “Poison Ivy” in a visionary dream.
Lux Interior and Poison Ivy moved to New York City, following a two-year stop in Lux’s hometown of Akron, Ohio. The Cramps were hatched on The Bowery in 1976, with Lux on vocals, Ivy and Bryan Gregory on guitars, and Gregory’s sister Pam “Balam” on drums. They’d change drummers a couple of times (Miriam Linna replaced Pam; Nick Knox replaced Linna) and, when their lineup settled began playing regularly in the burgeoning NYC street rock scene. (Several personnel changes would occur over the following decades.) They stomped, growled, and grooved at CBGBs, Max’s Kansas City, and other area venues, celebrating horror movies and junk culture, mutating R&R and blues-based garage punk and rockabilly into something uniquely theirs: raw, morbid, and difficult to categorize. Lux dyed his jagged hair night-black and, often half nude, writhed onstage in high heels wearing daring, painted-on low-rider black leather pants, pushing his body past its limits, fellating the microphone when in the mood, hiccuping, moaning, yelping, howling. Ivy sported a flame-red teased-up hairdo, fishnet stockings, and go-go boots, on other nights a form-fitting dress or tight red-latex pants or a mini, wielding her guitar like a talisman. Eyeliner ruled the night. The Cramps mesmerized audiences with their “sexed up, swampy cocktail of swagger and spook.”
3. They cut a handful of songs in October, 1977 at Ardent Studio in Memphis, with Alex Chilton producing. Among the batch was Lux’s “Human Fly.”
“It’s not easy to get that sound—that ‘on the edge of distortion’ sound we had on ‘Human Fly’,” said Lux. “The trick is to use bad microphones.”
4. In 1958 20th Century Fox released The Fly, a science fiction horror film about the dangers of playing God. André Delambre (David Hedison), a brilliant scientist in Montreal, is working on a molecular transporter. He’s buoyed by early, successful experiments, and is eventually able to transport a piece of pottery by reducing it to its atomic level and then reconstructing it in a receiver across the laboratory. Delambre attempts to teleport himself, but a common fly enters the transporter during the process. Delambre’s and the insect’s atoms combine, and when André emerges from the machine he has the head and left arm of a fly. The fly, in turn, is cursed with Andre’s miniaturized arm and head, and burdened with André’s self-awareness.
André keeps the disaster from his wife Hélène (Patricia Owens) for as long as he can, though she eventually learns of the incident. She and her son, who’s innocent of his father’s ghastly transformation, attempt to catch the fly—identifiable by its tiny white head—in order to try and reverse the teleportation process, but they fail to do so.
Aware of the impossible fact of his mutated self, that he’s a creature never to be understood or accepted, a mutant fit only to be destroyed, André convinces his wife to help crush him to death in a hydraulic press.
5. “I’m a human fly / I spell F-L-Y / I say buzz buzz buzz / and it’s just because / I’m a human fly / and I don’t know why”
“Human Fly” is a song about a man who’s part insect. Or is he fully man-insect? (A mansect?) No origin story is offered, as he’s buzz-buzz-buzzing at the start, and though the song’s sinuous and sexy, there’s menace beneath the surface: he/it is a self-described “reborn maggot using germ warfare,” and his self-worth is made clear as his “garbage brain” drives him to the brink of madness. The winking reference to his “unzipped fly” and to ? and the Mysterians’ classic “96 Tears” (“I’ve got 96 tears / and 96 eyes”)—
From Detroit's 'Swingin' Time', 1966. *Watch 2011 performance here*: https://vimeo.com/user283485 If anyone wants to know who "Bill" is, the Disney character and link to this video is on this page: https://www.reddit.com/r/gravityfalls/comments/315yoy/im_bill_cipher_i_know_lots_of_things_ask_me/
—elevates the mood a bit, as does the guitar’s trebly-surf leads and the fuzzed out rhythm section which turn the freak’s lament into a dance floor jam: rock and toll transmogrifies into rockabilly mutating into psychobilly.
6. How do we categorize The Cramps? They waded through the muck of Garage, R&B, Surf, and Link Wray rawk over the course of their career, but early on popularized the term “psychobilly,” which stuck.
Ivy: “We never meant [psychobilly] as a style, different from rockabilly, it was just like a dramatic word. ‘Rockabilly voodoo’ is a phrase that we invented too. All it means is the magic of rockabilly.”
Lux: “That’s one of the prime ingredients of rockabilly, is that it’s got to be psychotic to begin with.”
Ivy: “The really good, lesser known and obscure rockabilly from the fifties was very psychotic in its day and really stands up as being psychotic by today’s standards—so all good rockabilly was psychobilly originally.”
Lux: “I've always thought of us as surrealists, right from the very beginning. I think anytime anybody gets too comfortable or decides to cleverly pigeonhole ‘the way things should be’…an artist is going to come along and turn the whole thing upside down. That’s always healthy. That means people are thinking; they’re not just doing what they’re told. It means they’re being moved by a spirit…. Gauguin said there are two types of artists: revolutionaries and plagiarists. We’re revolutionaries.”
Gothabilly? Punkabilly? Hellbilly? Ivy: “We’re the Kings and Queens of Rock and Roll.”
7. In an early experiment, André attempts to transport the family’s beloved cat, but the test goes horribly wrong and the cat vanishes into thin air, suspended bodiless and unseen, its cries echoing in the laboratory.
Later, André confesses to his wife, explaining that the cat “disintegrated perfectly, but never reappeared.”
“Where’s she gone?” an appalled Hélène wonders.
André sighs, gazing at the ceiling. “Into space, a stream of cat atoms,” he replies, adding, “It’d be funny if life weren’t so sacred.”
8. The tagline on The Fly’s movie poster was “The Monster Created By Atoms Gone Wild!”, which could’ve been the name of a Cramps song.
9. Are the Cramps too comical for Goth? They trade on kitschy sex and cartoonish evocations of mid-century horror and sci-fi imagery with a half grin and a wink against the gloom. Some find it hard to take the Cramps all that seriously given that their humor’s so out front and over the top, no matter how ghoulishly presented. There’s little that’s foreboding or sorrowful in the Cramps’ songs, and what’s feels ominous is usually leavened with camp. Representative song titles from their twenty-five year recording career: “Garbage Man,” “I Was A Teenage Werewolf,” “Goo Goo Muck,” “Don’t Eat Stuff Off The Sidewalk,” “Can Your Pussy Do The Dog?”, “Bikini Girls With Machine Guns,” “Two Headed Sex Change,” “It Thing Hard-On,” etcetera. (Sample lyric: “You got good taste, you got good taste, you, come here, sit on my…lap.” Borscht Belt Voodoo.) The band does earn a full entry and a mention in the “Gothabilly” note in Encyclopedia Gothica, though editor Liisa Ladouceur acknowledges that for some Goths the Cramps are too much fun.
Lux: “If people think that we’re funny—I kinda feel sorry for them because it means that they think it’s a joke. We’ve spent our lives searching out incredibly wonderful things that most folks just don’t know about yet.” Elsewhere, asked if rock and roll must be dangerous to succeed, Lux remarked, “We like the unexpected. Dangerous almost means that someone's gotta get hurt or it’s not rock ‘n’ roll…. Rock ‘n’ roll’s supposed to be fun. It isn’t supposed to be: See what kind of damage you can do to yourself or others. We’re asking [people] to come and be crazy and they never stop thinking up new ways to be crazy.”
Ivy: “We don’t take life seriously, we take ourselves seriously, and what we do, we’re just totally committed to it."
10. “I think “Human Fly” is an anthem—an anthem about being a human monster.”
11. The other victim of André’s tragic experiment—the tiny fly with the scientist’s head and arm—evades capture by Hélène and her son, only to inevitably fly into a spider’s web, where, immobilized, it waits in terror as the spider moves slowly toward it. “Help me!” it screams, so faintly to our ears that it sounds like nothing but a buzzzzzz. “Help meeee!”
12. Lux: “All my life people have told me I was a pest, something that looked ugly, smelled bad and ought to be gotten rid of, something that spoiled everybody’s planned-out fun.”
13. In April of 1978 the Cramps, armed with two hundred bucks, produced a promo film for “Human Fly” that went unseen for decades, acquiring legendary underground cult status. Allegedly, neither Lux nor Ivy possessed a copy. The video surfaced online in 2015.
Filmed on a rainy Saturday morning by Alex De Laszlo, it’s superb lo-fi horror, Nosferatu meets MTV. De Laszlo was a high school student who’d made a few 16mm experimental films, one, using Velvet Underground on the soundtrack, shot in “stark black and white, with jagged imagery and very much in the tradition of adolescent surrealist mischief,” De Laszlo recalls, adding, “The din of the Velvets soundtrack only added to the generally robotic and disturbed narrative.” A friend introduced De Laszlo to Steven Blauner, the Cramps’ first manager. De Laszlo was already a fan of the band, having dug them several times at CBGBs in late 1977 and early ’78. (He remembers Lux whipping out a TV Guide from his back pocket, whereupon some wag in the crowd asked, “What’s on TV tonight, Lux?” and he’d read a listing for a “4am, bottom of the barrel, z grade, low budget horror film, complete with a lurid TV Guide description.”) Blauner arranged for De Laszlo and Lux to speak on the phone, and “he talked about the movies he had made as a kid, his love of cheap horror movies, and how he wanted the film to look,” De Laszlo remembers. “He conveyed to me an aesthetic which I already appreciated and understood, having seen them perform and having been raised on a steady diet of surreptitious Late, Late Show TV viewings of The Incredible Crawling Eye and Attack of the Mushroom People.”
De Laszlo borrowed a Bolex 16mm camera and a couple of movie lights, and from MERC, a nonprofit film collective for independent and student filmmakers, snagged some mid-century military surplus film stock. Not only was this film cheap, but it approximated the lousy reception on a black and white TV. “The excessive age of the film stock meant taking a risk,” De Laszlo says, “but once Lux heard ‘1950’s,’ ‘low definition,’ and ‘grainy,’ he was all for it.” De Laszlo met the Cramps at their rehearsal space near the Bowery, and went to work. In the film Lux injects himself with serum that turns him into a monster; a transistor-radio-bopping Ivy accidentally trespasses Lux’s underground lair—cue the dangerously descending opening guitar line in “Human Fly”—where he and the other Cramps emerge from the shadows and initiate her into their dark ways. “Most of the footage was shot in very dank, dark, and close quarters, very little in the way of set design was required,” De Laszlo remembers. “Four hours later, we had our footage.” The film dramatizes the threat inherent in the song, but in B-movie irony. The glimpse of an Alfred E. Neumann poster on the wall says it all: this is terrifying stuff, but it’s also the Cramps.
1. Qtd. in Journey to the Centre Of The Cramps, Dick Porter
2. Qtd. in Encyclopedia Gothica, Liisa Ladouceur
3. Qtd. in Porter
6. Ivy qtd. in “Fasbinder 62’s Collection of Quotable Cramps Quotes,” T. Tex’s Hexes and in Porter; Lux quote via Jim Sullivan, former Boston Globe music critic
9. Lux and Ivy quotes via Sullivan
10. Lux qtd. in Porter
12. Qtd. in Porter
13. De Laszlo’s comments to the author
Joe Bonomo's many books include Field Recordings from the Inside (essays), Sweat: The Story of the Fleshtones, America's Garage Band, and Jerry Lee Lewis: Lost and Found. His new book No Place I Would Rather Be: Roger Angell and a Life in Baseball Writing is out in May. Find him at @BonomoJoe and No Such Thing As Was.
kori hensell on “christine”
I am goth because I am hurting.
Christine, you live across the street and we write spells together.
CJ, Christine. Christine, CJ. CJ lives across the street and we’re best friends. We dissect dead water moccasins together. We slice open the belly to find dozens of little baby water moccasins squirming around, trying to escape into the red dirt. But that’s impossible; I must be mistaking this for that scene in Indiana Jones: Temple of Doom.
CJ and I throw mud, blood, smoke, and spit together into bowls and whisper. Her dad loves Def Leppard. Her dad is missing pertinent fingers, and still he loves tickling little girls. We lock ourselves in her room with her six chihuahuas. CJ and I whisper into bowls. CJ and I sing into the pines.
CJ disappears from the 6th grade. Smoke.
Christine, you live across the street and you are not there.
Egypt is calling, Egypt is falling
Egypt is calling your name, Christine
Christine, you are the soul-crushing, minimum wage job.
While finishing my undergrad at the University of Alabama, I work full-time at Best Western. The worst part is getting unwanted attention from guests. One in particular, a truck driver from Arkansas, eyes me up and down; he is making math of me, subtracting all over. When his eyes land on my black-painted fingernails, he asks, incredulously, “What are you, some kind of gawthic?” I laugh nervously: “Here’s you key. Let me know if you need anything.” Heavy hospitalities.
Two months later, I see from my window at the front desk a tornado strutting through parking lots and pines; I watch him hop over I-59. I watch his destruction, and I think of the baby water moccasins squirming around in his eye.
April is the cruellest month, breeding. Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing. Memory and desire, stirring. Christine, what are you stirring up now?
What does it mean
You never fail to make the right impression, Christine.
The maintenance man comes by once to fix the washing machine. He sees all the bones I keep on my bookshelves: fox skull, boar skull, racoon penis, impressions of my teeth, pinned insects. He observes the urns one of my students made for a creative project assigned in my Southern Gothic course. I had to have them, so I bought them for $66. He sees the 666: Mark of the Beast magnet on my fridge. He shakes his head. I never see him again.
Christine, is it god or is it God?
Now it's just a memory
A memory for you
I am always moved by how quickly you silence a room, Christine.
The first dead person I ever see is my grandfather—gray and cold and enormous—swollen and filling a whole hillside with his corpse. And here I am called by the preacher to sing for it. Little lamb bleating for tears: “Pap-Pap was good, Pap-Pap was nice, Pap-Pap, Pap-Pap!” I kill it. No one moves; it is so full of choking it like to have paralyzed them all.
After my glassy-eyed throating, mama sits me next to her, tugs down my dress, pulls up my socks (I was all knees) and tucks the stray white hairs behind my ears: “Evangelene Kori: sit like a lady!” Why cover anything in a naked room?
Mama tucks the blue tie all covered with lipstick and tears back into the suit jacket; she smooths down the stray, dead hairs with her spit-soaked thumb (my hair is also soaked with her spit). The labor of women, to arrange the bodies, our heaviest hospitalities.
Because I am hurting, I am goth.
The poisons of creation,
The poison being you, Christine
Jeannie Christine Jeannie Jeannie Christine Jeannie Christine Christine Christine. Jeannie.
Jeannie, Christine. Christine, Jeannie. Breathtakingly beautiful—starry raven hair, eyes of pitch, the softest cheeks I've ever known. I kiss them when I’ve had too much to drink. I can’t afford a prom dress; she lends me one of hers. We drink screwdrivers before taking our Alabama state high school assessments. It’s just Jeannie and me for almost a decade. We share everything: clothes, food, vehicles, perverse jokes—a house, two cats.
A whole ass decade passes. Things are suddenly rough between us—horrible, painful tension. Fights over a guy. My guy. A guy I no longer love. Fights over money—money I don’t have. Months go. I move out. I have to give my cat away. I never say to Jeannie, "Come back. I'm sorry. I need you."
Jeannie is killed at a UA party by some scumbags (including her crush) with a fentanyl patch. I am crushed.
From Jeannie, from before: i think i feel sad because everyone is going home for the summer, especially chase. oh bah! i love you. i'm going to see you while i'm in foley because you're the only good thing to look forward to when i'm done and my brother's graduation, but besides that everything else in that county sucks!
Because I am goth, I am hurting.
Christine, the air is buzzing.
Told tales of possession
Of death you never knew
A text from an MFAer in my cohort: I just had a tutorial with one of your students in which I suggested he focus his intro for his film review away from death themes and to signal more to the focus of his paper... He responds he had wanted to start that way because “Kori really likes death.”
What does it mean
Christine, what new losses will block out the sun?
Jess, Christine. Christine, Jess. November 2018 and Jess, too, is dead. That makes 3 out of 4 best friends smoked and/or dead. That makes 75% of my sisters gone. I’ve got one left; every day I whisper into bowls for her.
In 2003, Jess and I take a trip with her dad to Birmingham to see Blast!. If you don’t know what this is, just know it’s deep-cuts, band nerd shit. We prepare outfits and makeup for weeks to see this show. Jess and I are competing first chair trumpet players--she, absolutely brilliant on her Bach and me, gaining on her; I remember how utterly glee-smacked she was when she first got it. Like, stupid happy. 2001, she takes me into the marching band fold my first day at practice. I remember our red-stained mouths from chugging fruit punch Gatorade in the heat, like some kind of Jim Jones elegiac field orchestra. Her embouchure allows her an insane range that I deeply envy. I have to work twice as hard to reach octaves that she just skips her silly ass right up to. Jess has a scent to her that I can still specifically recall—it’s sweat and maple and powder foundation. Sweet and cloying.
When most people think about a southern kind of sweetness, it's really particular. That’s Jess—unavoidably sweet, an accent governed by sweetness. I think most people never took Jess very seriously; most of the time I felt she didn't take herself seriously enough. She'd always tell me I take myself too seriously. She’d say, “Kori, you don’t have to be so gothic all the time. Like Carrie White! JUST KIDDING!”
I see her a final time in summer 2017. We talk on the pier about everything. I smoke a cigarette. She pulls from it. Smoked. It’s pitch-black on the water, but there are stars. They don’t do much to illuminate, but they’re there, punctuating the pines that edge the bay. That starry raven hair.
One last image: two teenage girls, outside in a Gulf Shores hurricane, mooning drivers on the road.
From Jess, from before: yea and i want to see yOU NOW!!! your hair is black how are you what are you doing tell me about your life i freakin miss you and love you sorry i havent talked in a while i NEVER get online anymore cause we dont have internet right now...but yes i am engaged love you and miss you your CRAZY!!!
All these brutal storms.
Christine, how do you control the weather?
Well you look just like Cleopatra
Down on your knees, repeating your mantra
Christine, make me into something beautiful.
Nobody Is Ever Missing:
and only two things are certain:
her visit in the morning—
a capsule, a vow, a silken
filament slipped round a bow,
gently tugged by some large red fist
into the belly of the blown
sea glass, unfolds and somewhere
there is a silence without
which life might be useless—
six stilling sheets of snow collapse
translucent into a flutter of starlings
and in this singular slowness
fibers are lost between feather
and feathering frost like lips cracked
into two weak pairs of tumid mollusks,
and one salty fist pounds
in a breast, begs for exoskeleton, and folds.
So she folded.
Because I am hurting, I am goth, because I am hurting, because, because
Kori Hensell received her MFA from the University of Alaska Fairbanks where she spent most of her time spinning records and hastily applying lipstick in the dark winter nights. Her favorite album of all time is Robbie Basho's Visions of the Country. Her work has appeared in Pleiades, Stirring: A Literary Journal, Big Lucks, TheRS500, and elsewhere. She currently lives in Chapel Hill, NC and is one half of Foxxxy Mulder.