The Cramps at NAPA

Shit Got Crazy: When The Cramps and The Mutants Invaded a Mental Hospital!

A look back on the bizarre 1978 punk show that probably should never have happened.

On June 13, 1978, Garage punk band The Cramps gave a free concert at the California State Mental Hospital in Napa. It is, simply put, one of the single greatest rock and roll experiments ever captured on videotape (in this case, on a half-inch open reel Sony Portapak by Joe Rees and his Target Video outfit). Also on the bill were The Mutants from San Francisco. One hundred years from now  I hope this video will be not considered so outraging and that people who have mental health problems will no longer be ostracized from the rest of society. This was done with utmost respect to the patients, hope you watch it with that respectful point of view too.

The courtyard is small, improbably small if you know its history. The stage isn’t really a stage, just an elevated concrete patio maybe ten feet deep and 30 feet wide. Backing the platform is a cartoonish mural depicting six musicians, painted by patients with guidance from hospital staff. The setting is eerily still, but that is by design. I have been allowed to visit the Central Program Services (CPS) courtyard at California Department of State Hospitals—Napa, or Napa State as most locals call it, only with an escort, and only when the patients are elsewhere.

“Secured treatment area” is the operational phrase. The quadrangle is enclosed by offices, by a large multipurpose recreation room, a barber/beauty shop, an occupational therapy clinic, an art studio, a room for the processing and inspection of mail. My hosts, information officer Jaye Vanderhurst and chief of rehabilitation therapy services Camille Gentry, tell me the rec room is probably decorated just as it was 36 years ago. Despite such vestiges, it’s hard to imagine this sleepy courtyard as the site of a legendary rock concert.

Artists Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard meticulously recreated this event (and the video itself) as an elaborate art project at the ICA in London in 2003. Forsyth and Pollard’s “Cramps” also performed in front of an audience comprised of psychiatric patients in their “File Under Sacred Music” re-staging of the infamous 1978 gig.


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Lux Interior (RIP) & Poison Ivy


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