Punk rock

The Punk Show at the Mental Hospital

Friday A/V Club: One of the most sublime rock documentaries ever made


If you want to watch a rock movie this Halloween weekend, I can't think of a more appropriate pick than The Cramps: Live at Napa State Mental Hospital. The title tells you what you're getting: A punk band plays a concert at a psychiatric institution. But that doesn't get across the ecstatic weirdness of a show where the audience wanders freely onstage and it's not entirely clear which people are the patients and which are the band's usual hangers-on. I want to believe the guy who takes the microphone shortly after the 13:30 mark is a patient:

It just keeps getting better as it goes along. The picture is only about 20 minutes—the full show was longer and featured a second band, the Mutants, but this was all they got on tape.

Vice did a story about the video last year, and if you're curious about what the hell is going on here I recommend their write-up. The quick version is that it was 1978, and an activities specialist at the hospital thought this would be therapeutic. And who's gonna say he wasn't right? I'm not in the habit of quoting YouTube comments, but this one is on point:


(For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here. For previous Halloween installments, go here and here.)