“A weed is a plant out of place.”
― Jim Thompson, “The Killer Inside Me”
As a teenage renegade straight out of the rock and roll heartland of Ohio, Miriam Linna was the drummer in the “Cramps first lineup which played forty-odd dates over an eight month period from the first show on All Saints Night 1976 through July 13, 1977, the date of the NYC blackout.”
I was lucky enough to see The Cramps open for The Ramones at CBGB in April of 1977. The original lineup, Miriam, Bryan, Lux and Ivy, were always my favorite configuration of that great band. They really had it goin’ on. Their look, their intensity and mad energy was alchemical; an exhilarating voodoo that could spook an audience while simultaneously sending them into the throes of rock and roll ecstasy. They got under your skin and fucked around with your spleen.
The Cramps opened up a door that led to a mother lode of forgotten bands and singers that had been residing in the shadows, left behind by deejays, music critics, record labels - the mole-like gatekeepers of pop culture. While radios spewed their acrid breath, Cramp acolytes like myself followed Lux and his bandmates, lurching steadily ahead like the freshly exhumed living dead in Val Lewton’s I Walked with a Zombie, into the heart of rock’s dark and tangled jungle, excavating and unearthing lost vinyl treasures and musical artifacts that contained real magic.
The Cramps, and the second wave of garage bands that followed in their wake, were as much musical anthropologists as they were rock and rollers. Like punk pioneers Patti Smith, The Ramones, Blondie and The Dictators, The Cramps were on a mission from god to revive the roots of rock at a time when what was being called rock and roll was mass-marketed product that had about as much in common with Little Richard and Gene Vincent as Lana Del Ray does with The Del- Vikings.
From her early days in New York’s downtown music scene to archivist of all that is hep, Miriam Linna was, is and always has been a rock fanatic . She, along with the fabulous Billy Miller, created one of the coolest record stores and record labels on the planet, Norton Records, and her love for the distilled, cut-to-the-chase, blunt energy and gutbucket prose of pulp novels led her to start her own publishing company Kicks Books.
Having published work by Nick Tosches, Sun Ra, Andre Williams, Eddie Rocco and with upcoming titles from Harlan Ellison and Kim Fowley, Linna is bringing the same passion and intelligence she brought to Norton Records and Kicks magazine (with Miller) to the world of book publishing and, as usual, she’s doing it in her no-bullshit way.
Dangerous Minds: From playing drums with The Cramps to being a co-founder of Norton Records and now a publisher of books by Sun Ra and Andre Williams, you’ve forged a path of being a champion for music and literature that might have gone undiscovered without your help. What first inspired you to explore the world of outsider art and obscure rock and roll?
Miriam Linna: I don’t consider the music, movies, or books that make my life worthwhile “outsider art”. Actually, I’m repelled by what the expression represents and have no association whatsoever with anyone who is involved with it. Like most people, I like what I like. On top of that, I’m curious, obsessive and refuse to be told what to do and how to do it.
DM: In spite of all the talk of the publishing business dying and the emergence of electronic books, there seems to be a movement toward a return to books you can hold in your hands kind of like the resurgence of interest in vinyl records. Would you agree?
ML: There is no charm in digital anything.
DM: I like the format of your books. The fact they fit in your pocket is like old style pulp paperbacks. What prompted that design decision?
ML: I’ve always considered “hip pocket paperbacks” the perfect book format. I like paper, I love books. I’m a nut for Signet- style “talls” and find a slim, unique book capable of causing all sorts of visceral reactions extremely appealing.
DM: How did you come upon the poetry of Sun Ra?
ML: Music historian and Sun Ra archivist Michael Anderson contacted us when he discovered a large cache of Sonny Blount dictations and recordings on tape. Norton records had issued three albums of early Sun Ra music, and followed with three spoken word albums culled from these newly discovered recordings. I transcribed the audio, plus several additional tapes’ worth of lost poetic dictation. This material trashed my horizontal with its consistency—here was a cohesive collection of poetic writings—pretty much all attitudinal science fiction with a serious political bent. Afro-futurism at its earliest and most intentional.
DM: Given your involvement with Norton Records, you’ve obviously grown to know Andre Williams over the years. Did he bring you his novel and short stories?
ML: Andre had no novel or short stories until he went into rehab a couple of years ago. He called me when he went in (not of his own volition), saying he was going to bust out. I told him if he did that, he would not live to see the end of the year. We started talking and he said if he was going to stay he needed something to do, that he was going stir-crazy. We got around to talking about him writing, and I suggested he write some fiction. This was a new concept for him, but I knew already from his brilliant plot-rich song lyrics that he was a class-A storyteller. Over the several weeks of his rehabilitation, Andre and I spoke at least every two or three days via collect phone calls, with him faxing in drafts and outlines. Right off the bat, I was shocked by the fact that he was writing from the first person vantage point of a fifteen year old girl named Sweets, a kid who gets in trouble, becomes a prostitute, a madam, a drug runner, and everything in between. Andre’s storyline was part fever dream, part wishful thinking (loaded with cocaine and sex), part autobiography. I promised him that if he could stick with it and finish a short novel, that I would publish it.
DM: Nick Tosches wrote one of my favorite rock books, “Unsung Heroes Of Rock and Roll.” You recently published his “Save The Last Dance for Satan.” When did you and Nick meet?
ML: I’ve known Nick for many years. He wrote the intro to “Sweets,” and he and Andre read together at the book launch at St Mark’s Church here in New York.
DM: You published “The Great Lost Photographs Of Eddie Rocco” in 1997 and it has since become a collector’s item. Any plans for a second edition?
ML: Plans, yes. Something definite - not at the moment.
DM: Where do you see the business of music heading? It’s getting harder and harder for bands to exist when their art is so easily downloaded for free on the Internet. Do you ever despair for the future of rock?
ML: I’m not worried. Real music will always be made by real people for real people. Real records will be made so long as they can be manufactured. Should the day come when all manufacturing ceases, well, we have countless great existing shellac and PVC discs of various sizes spinning at various speeds to discover and thrill to. And if they stop making phonographs, then they will become a commodity, but those who need them will be able to maintain them. Maybe some enterprising individual can reinvent the wind-up pre-electricity phonograph for when the power grids go down and even the download monsters and children of the damned Internet can wallow in silence while the analogue minions crank up wax by candlelight. Now there’s an Escape From New York for you!
DM: Are you still playing music?
ML: I play drums in my long time band the A-Bones and my not-so-long-time band the Figures of Light.
DM: What’s in the pipeline for Kicks Books?
ML: Harlan Ellison’s “Pulling A Train” and “Getting In The Wind”... Kim Fowley’s “Lord Of Garbage”... Andre Williams’ sequel “Streets”... and in a larger book format “I Fought The Law (The Authorized Biography of Bobby Fuller)” by Randy Fuller and myself… and eventually my “Bad Seed Bible.”
You can follow Miriam on her ultra-groovy blog Kicksville66, where the writing is fast and furious. You can also visit Norton Records Records website “where the loud sound abounds.”