Lux Interior and a Copyright Tale

Rest in Slack, Lux.

Rest in Slack, Lux.

Lux Interior, former front man for The Cramps, died on Feb. 4 at age 62. A salute to Dillsnap Cogitations for the news.

From the Rolling Stone obituary:

The Cramps were credited with creating both the term and musical style “psychobilly,” a synthesis of punk rock and rockabilly that was gloriously raw and over the top. Their lyrics examined American culture at its most campy, often citing bad jokes, science fiction films, and sexual fetishes. (source)

Yeah, I guess. If you want to be clinical about it. Jesus Christ, reading Rolling Stone to understand music is like reading a medical journal to find terms to describe great sex with your wife.

The U.K.’s Guardian got it a little better:

The Cramps’ Lux Interior was a twisted Elvis from hell: “It’s hard to think of Lux Interior as dead, despite what reports say. Then again, it was always hard to think of him as alive”

Some 30 years ago, with the King still warm in his casket, Lux rose like a zombie from the primordial swamp as a twisted, grotesquely libidinous, werewolf Elvis from Hell, and the mask – if it was a mask – never came off. The Cramps went one step further than punk rock: they didn’t merely go back to basics, they stripped rock’n’roll naked and flaunted it in its lethal distilled form: as a relentless sex beast, a psychotic release, a nihilist post-apocalyptic celebration, the ultimate in trash culture. (source)

On a more personal note: I was 14 years old and got a job washing dishes at a cruddy restaurant in Gloucester, Massachusetts. My primary interests were getting stoned and punk rock music. One of the cooks at the restaurant sold me a little nugget of some sticky shpata, and the other lent me two VHS tapes: The Decline of Western Civilization and URGH!, A Music War. Add a couple of my closest friends to the mix, some out-of-town parents, a VCR, and you had all the ingredients for a life-altering experience.

Lux Interior on the Cover of the URGH! VHS Tape

Lux Interior on the Cover of the URGH! VHS Tape

We all loved the music on Decline, but halfway through URGH!, we were starting to get impatient. While URGH! had some cool stuff from Chelsea, the Surf Punks, and my personal favorite – The Dead Kennedys, it was also a bit over-burdened with skinny-tie-new-wave bands. As we argued about whether to turn off the movie and put Decline back in, the camera cut to Lux Interior standing shirtless with leather pants that barely covered his genitals. Suffice to say we were confused. This was either going to be ridiculous or awesome — it certainly wasn’t going to be wimpy-poppy Oingo Boingo wannabees.

As Lux busted out “Tear it Up,” and shoved the microphone down his throat, he was the image of pure off his ass I-don’t-give-a-flying-fuck-what-you-think-motherfuckerdom. All the while, his wife, Kristy “Poison Ivy Rorschach” Wallace fixed a blank stare on her face and just did her job – she played guitar – our ears started to bleed. Our eyes fell out of our faces, crawled into our ears, and just sat in our guts. It was bad ass. Was it any surprise that this was the same guy who was known to jerk off on his microphone during live shows?

We stared speechless at the screen. Then we rewound it and watched again, this time slam-dancing with each other. Repeat. Repeat.

That was it. We were Cramps fans.

So where is the copyright tale?

I turns out that URGH!, while released on VHS and the old stylus-based videodisc CES format, can not be released on DVD. From the URGH! (unofficial) fan website:

This is due to an exclusive contract to publish this movie on a now dead format (CED). The word is that the contracts for the individual artists are missing and you can’t renegotiate a contract without the original to amend it.

The film is currently owned by its original producer, Miles Copeland. He has the original film of THREE songs (not one) from each band in storage. And because of the legal land lock, it cannot be released. So on and so forth, BLAH-BLAH-BLAH…(source)

This is one of those stories that could help the music industry understand why very few consumers shed a tear for them as they complain about lost profits and music piracy. I agree that stealing copyrighted material is wrong, at least on some levels. I also think that congress enacting, and the Supreme Court upholding, a “life plus 70” copyright duration was wrong. C.f. How I Lost the Big One. Accordingly, I agree with any act of civil disobedience that entails ripping off copyrighted materials that are more than 28 years old. That was more than enough for copyright duration, and Disney can kiss my ass.

I also firmly support any act of similar civil disobedience when it comes to “orphan works.”

Orphan works are “copyrighted works whose owners may be impossible to identify and locate.” Because the default response of many is to disregard copyrighted works unless they are definitively in the public domain, orphan works are often not made available to the public due to uncertainty over their ownership. (source)

The Government claims to be working on this problem, but WIRED reports that the legislation died on the vine.

Strictly speaking, URGH! is not an orphan work. Unlike a lot of other music films, URGH! didn’t do any back-stage interviews, no discussions with critics, it was just all music. It was a collection of 36 live “songs” by 35 different different bands. Each “song” consisting of a copyrighted live performance, a copyrighted sound recording, a copyrighted video recording, a copyrighted musical composition, and copyrighted lyrics. You can already imagine how many copyrights had to be licensed for this film to come together in the first place. Of course, at the time, it was probably relatively easy. Now, almost thirty years later, the mess is impossible to unravel.

I suppose that one could cobble together some parts of URGH! and put out a redacted DVD consisting of all the cuts for which the rights can be obtained. However, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. While it was probably unintentional, the placement of the Cramps “Tear it Up” right smack in the middle of the film, a little while after I rolled my eyes at Oingo Boingo (what a shit ass band they were), really increased the impact.

As a result of the copyright morass, as each VHS tape of URGH! wears out, another piece of history dies. The generation that grew up with punk and new wave is denied the ability to relive their formative years on modern equipment. UB40 and The Police live on in archives put out by major record labels, who promoted the hell out of them in the first place, but had it not been for URGH!, neither I nor a hell of a lot of other people ever would have heard of Athletico Spizz 80 and their kick ass rendition of “Where’s Captain Kirk?” And, while the Cramps were big enough that it was inevitable that we would have encountered them, it wouldn’t have made the same impact without us staring in laughter and horror at Lux Interior, wondering if his pants were going to fall off. We wouldn’t have necessarily become Cramps fans.

And because of the mess that Title 17 has become, a whole new generation of Cramps fans may miss out on the opportunity to let Lux Interior mess up their heads.

Rest in Slack, Lux.

Oh and by the way, remember when I said I supported civil disobedience for reproducing orphan works? It looks like this guy does too. If you too think that URGH! is part of your youth, exercise a little intellectual property eminent domain and get a copy before this guy gets busted.

6 Responses to Lux Interior and a Copyright Tale

  1. Hugo says:

    Wot…you didn’t like Gang of Four in URGH?!

  2. Are you kidding me? I *LOVE* Gang of Four and, of course, Shriekback. I started to interject that, but I can’t really talk about Gang of Four in the midst of this piece and not run off on a three paragraph tangent about them. :)

  3. Cisco Pike says:

    Cramps, Gang of Four, Au Pairs, Alley Cats, and Gary Numan driving around in that little car are the clips that are emblazoned in my mind from URGH. What a dream it would be to see the additional footage.

  4. […] It’s precisely because content producers don’t understand us that we have scenarios like this. […]

  5. […] It’s precisely because content producers don’t understand us that we have scenarios like this. […]

  6. […] Satyricon has one of the best Lux obits I’ve seen. The obit also has the extrasauce bonus of explaining the copyright battle behind […]

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