The pioneering influence of Poison Ivy, member of The Cramps
One of the legendary bands to surface during the first wave of American punk was The Cramps. Rooted in Lux Interior and the strong and ever-evolving friendship of Poison Ivy Rorschach, the band won hearts for three long decades starting in 1976. As a rule, most people undermined Ivy’s musical achievements and focused their attention on the most visible male member of the group, Interior. “Nobody talks to me about music or guitar,” she once said. “I’m the queen of rock n ‘roll and just to keep it unrecognized, it’s pure sexism,” said the uncrowned ruler of The Cramps. So let’s go back and rediscover Ivy as a musician and radical figure in rock ‘n’ roll history.
Kirsty Marlana Wallace, aka Poison Ivy, was born into a family in San Bernardino, California, where the music was carefully passed down from her grandfather, who was a violinist accompanying John Phillips Sousa, to her brother and then, finally, Ivy. . Recalling her childhood days, Ivy said, “When I was very little I was especially obsessed with a ’45 stompin my brother had, the Ran-Dells’ Martian Hop. He played it when his friends came because they had a great time watching me jump and fly around the room and get off furniture whenever I heard it. Living a nomadic life, the only constant in Ivy’s life was music. By the time she graduated from high school, her family had mixed up places nine times that left young Ivy without friends or at home.
Born rebellious in every sense of the word, Ivy spent her teenage years breaking the rules and creating new ones. Whether it was wearing heavy eye makeup or smoking cigarettes in the girls’ bathroom, she showed utter disregard for all school rules. Although a brilliant student, she lost interest in typical bookish learning and sought a deeper understanding of spiritual and religious disciplines as well as dance and music. It was around this time that she picked up the guitar for fun: “My brother played guitar, and he taught me to do the ‘Pipeline’ riffs and some chords, but other than that I never had any. I just started picking songs on my own. “
It was Bo Diddley’s live performance in Sacramento that inspired Ivy to consider music more than just a hobby. It was actually “The Duchess”, the woman who played guitar with Diddley on stage, which filled the color of Ivy’s dream. Ivy even bought gold pants, identical to the Duchess’s stage costume, to emulate her as a tribute. American guitar maestros Link Wray and Duane Eddy also left an everlasting impression on Ivy’s mind. “My most identifiable influences would be Link Wray and Duane Eddy… the simplicity of it… the austere Link Wray chords and the austere one-note stuff of Duane Eddy,” said Ivy. Adding enthusiastically about Wray, she said, “He had the most apocalyptic and monumental sound I have ever heard – really emotional, so simple and so violent. It means rock ‘n’ roll, which is meant to be violent and dangerous and h; I have this dangerous sound… No matter how long I’ve been doing this, I hear something new when I listen to it… He’s so… it’s like a guitar at the end of the world. So austere. And so much drama. You know he gets the most out of it, for sure.
As these musical influences coalesced inside Ivy to form something new and special, Ivy met her partner in crime, Erick Purkhiser, a figure we all more commonly recognize as Lux Interior. . There are many versions of this story, with some stating they met at a party at the University of Sacramento and others saying Lux saw Ivy walking the road, hitchhiking. in her ripped shorts and fell in love with her instantly. But the version Ivy recounted seems the most likely: “We met in a class called Art and Shamanism. The textbook for this course was called The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross, and the subject of this book is how the real subject of the Bible is the mushroom Amanita muscaria and that Christ is a metaphor for this magic mushroom. Not only their love story, but also their work-life balance is something to admire. “I think we’ve kind of come together, we’ve been together for so long,” Ivy said. “Getting together made us think about things to do, about being partners in crime. While alone we could have been nameless wanderers. God, I love a happy ending.
The Cramps were their child of love. The couple stayed briefly in Akron, the hometown of Lux, Ohio, which was the hotspot of the punk movement and raised musicians such as Chrissie Hynde and Devo. Then they moved to New York and founded the band with guitarist Bryan Gregory and drummer Pam Ballam. The band members have been tossed around continuously over the years, sparing Ivy and Interior. Exploring the dark side of 1950s rock ‘n’ roll, the group drew a huge following in a short time. Playing CBGB and Max’s Kansas City side by side with Blondie, the Ramones, Patti Smith and the Dead Boys, they “decided to become a patchwork hybrid with a life of their own – a rock n ‘roll Brides of Frankenstein,” according to inside. The ‘hybrid’ he talks about is ‘psychobilly‘, a unique combination of rebellious rock ‘n’ roll and rural country with a hint of blues.
Starting with a solid body guitar, a rare Canadian model, Ivy upgraded to a 1958 Gibson 6129 hollow body and fell in love with its deep, heavy sound. It was Ivy’s distinctive style that shaped the psychobilly music of The Cramps. After moving to Los Angeles, Ivy even served as the team’s bassist for live performances and studio recordings. Besides her sensational guitar work, Ivy also co-wrote all of the band’s originals with Interior. However, Ivy didn’t give a damn about token achievements. For her, the thrill of playing music was above it all: “I think some guitarists get into an ego thing where they want to play in a technical way, which even if you can, this. is not always the best thing to do, ”she commented once. “I always like the idea of playing for pure euphoria. My favorite thing to play, again, is the beat. It’s so euphoric that I really get high while playing. Some things I play don’t even feel like I’m playing it, and it’s my favorite kind of game.
A former dominatrix, Ivy was a sex symbol of her time. With a wardrobe of latex clothes and pin-up costumes, she manipulated fashion to highlight the dark side of pop culture and its connection to sexuality. The note line in the album How to make a monster read: “We wanted to be as shocking, sexy and original as were the great rock and roll pioneers who changed the culture in the 50s and 60s.” In other words, her bold style sketched the aesthetic of the group and challenged one-sided stereotypes of femininity.
With the dissolution of the Cramps in 2009, following Interior’s death, Ivy’s status became increasingly obscure. But as the old saying goes “actions speak more than words”, Ivy’s actions were too great to ignore. Not only did she overturn 1970s stereotypes around the lack of female musicians, but she did it in her own way, excreting her free will, dressing as she wanted without worrying about hiding her sexuality. She dared future musicians to live their dreams.