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Cool Shit: The Cramps Live at Napa State Mental Hospital

In the summer of 1978 one of the most bizarre yet most vehemently “punk” shows happened at the Napa State Mental Hospital. The Cramps and the Mutants showed up at the mental institution and played a set to 100-200 patients, the hospital staff, a few friends and some very dedicated fans.

This is odd, right? I mean in the 70’s weren’t they locking people up for liking the Cramps? What type of electroshock therapy do you think you would get for actually being in The Cramps. The relationship between punk and mental health isn’t exactly unexamined, as the forefather of punk Lou Reed spent much of his adolescence in electroshock therapy in attempts to cure of him of his queerness and odd behavior. It’s not difficult to understand a sense of camaraderie between punks and hospital patients, both outcasts of society.

The question is not why would The Cramps want to play this show but is basically — who the fuck let this happen? Bart Swain, the hospital’s “activities specialist” got a call from a punk booker in San Francisco and as they say the rest is forgotten history. I truly only came across this because I’ve been searching the trenches for full sets at CBGB’s in the 1970’s (very little luck there so get in touch if you know something).

Apparently Swain had other bands play for patients through his tenure at the hospital although this is to my knowledge the only footage of any of these performances. The video is as punk as punk comes. The quality both footage and audio is shitty—not really as a statement of aesthetic but just kind of the circumstantial reality of the situation.

Column by Tamim Alnuweiri.

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