Since singer/songwriter Tom Verlaine cropped up in a recent post, it seems excusable to quote him with regards to the subject of this one: a re-staged gig by The Cramps.
Both emerged from a scene based around New York venue CBGB’s during the mid 70s, but the gig in question was played in 1978 to an audience of inmates at the Napa State Mental Institute in California.
The event was filmed by Target Video, leading archivists of the punk scene, and on the evidence of this YouTube clip it was a lot of fun. It features the kind of happy, harmless lunacy you get in feature films. And lead singer Lux Interior appears quite benevolent towards his audience – it is after all a free concert.
In 2003 Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard remade the cult film, drafting in contemporary musicians for a re-enactment at the ICA. Once again the punk community and the mad community, so to speak, were represented in the audience.
But there are a few striking differences between the two sets of footage. Picture quality is not great in either, but in the new film it appears to be worse. The degradation of the stock might stand in for the passing of time and the mythic haze surrounding the original event.
Secondly, Forsyth and Pollard have set in motion a much darker, scuzzier performance than the one I saw online. Again, I could be wrong, but this might reflect the myth of that gig and the projections of all concerned, in the same way as the damaged sound and picture.
And thirdly, the contemporary art duo have produced a backlit poster for their 22 minute movie, certainly an asset which the first film has done without. The earlier version has been distributed through networks of fans and record dealers. This new incarnation has an artworld gloss and seal.
Which brings me back somehow to Tom Verlaine, who once sang “I recall the actor’s advice/That nothing happens until it happens twice.” In other words, now that someone’s made a film about it, we can say for sure that an infamous gig really did take place.
As if to prove it, here is that official poster: Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard, File under Sacred Music (Lightbox), 2004
File under Sacred Music can be seen as part of Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard: Publicsfear at South London Gallery. It is a really great show and if you can make it there before March 18, do go.
Here is an early review of the show from Rebecca Norris at Culture24.