Punk Personified: Remembering when The Cramps performed at a Californian mental hospital in 1978
On June 13th, 1978, The Cramps travelled 3,000 miles from New York City to the Californian city of Napa to perform a notorious gig at a mental hospital in front of just a handful of hardcore fans, around 100 patients as well as a few members of hospital staff who were the only witnesses of one of the most legendary punk shows of all time.
The Lux Interior fronted outfit were invited down to Napa by Bart Swain, a member of staff at Napa State Hospital who had tried to recruit a number of bands to perform at the institute over the years. On this occasion, however, it was one of the rare occasions which that a camera crew filmed their unique performances.
Not only was the show captured on film, but it was also attended by San Franciso based writer Howie Klein who documented it in the July 1978 issue of The New York Rocker and, in his review of the evening, decided to use a string of bizarrely distasteful language. Klein wrote: “Let’s drive up to the funny farm. The Cramps and Mutants are doin’ a concert for the nuts; should be lotsa yuks. I wanna take the rap for going up to the show at Napa State with the attitude of wantin’ to see the pinheads and cretins. I had even tried to talk the Mutants into doing ‘Cretin Hop’. As long as the loonies didn’t touch me or drool on me it was all gonna be a load of laughs. What I got instead was the fuckin’ greatest New Wave show I’ve ever seen – and this boy’ been to England and seen The Clash.”
In 2014, Klein was interviewed about the historic show and could still recall the evening vividly, saying: “With other rock shows at the time, there was always a barrier between the audience and the band. In punk, the barrier wasn’t as steep. That was kind of the rule, anyway, in 1978. It was part of the punk ethos; the band and the audience are on the same level. But it was even more so at this concert. The audience and band were together and everyone was participating. It was just the way it should be.”
As the gig was being held in a mental hospital, the atmosphere was obviously a stark contrast to the one you’d usually encounter at a punk show. Most notably, it has to be said, was the ban on drinking alcohol and smoking. Photographer Ruby Ray was in attendance that evening, she recounts: “We didn’t want to get kicked out! The Mutants were known to be a wild band and we weren’t used to seeing them play in the daylight, so it started off weird. We had to give the patients a chance to check it out; remember, most people hated punk then.”
Poison Ivy from The Cramps remembered the night with fondness when recounting a heartwarming encounter she had with a patient that evening in Dick Porter’s biography Journey to the Centre of the Cramps: “A guy in a cowboy hat said he was in heaven because he thought he was going to miss punk rock because he was in Napa. He never thought punk would come to him.”
One poignant moment in the set comes following the performance of ‘Mystery Plane’ where the iconic Lux Interior tells the crowd: “We’re The Cramps, and we’re from New York City, and we drove 3,000 miles to play for you people” when a crowd member shouts “Fuck you!” at the frontman who snaps back with the line, “And somebody told me you people are crazy, but I’m not so sure about that. You seem to be all right to me.”
Take a bit of time out to watch this one of a kind performance by the enigmatic New Yorkers.