May 23, 2016
John Doe and Exene Cervenka probably never dreamed, when they met at a Venice, California, poetry workshop in 1976, that one day they would be regarded as the core of a musical movement that shook, stirred and ripped corporate rock. I didn’t say they ultimately prevented its rise – I wish they had – but as co-founders of the LA punk band X, they built one of the first bulwarks against the tide of homogenized rock ‘n’ roll.
JOHN DOE podcast excerpt: "X — our music — was always accessible. We weren’t trying to piss people off; we just did it naturally. There was no ‘marketing’; the term barely existed. The way you were DIY in those days was you went out, met people, lived your life, did your thing. I have no regrets; that’s the way you get cancer."
And even if youth culture didn’t ultimately heed their warnings of what lay ahead, Doe and Cervenka left us a legacy of Americana, rockabilly and rawness that stands up to whatever today’s generation of next big things might offer.
The LA punk scene – fortified with nutrients that included X, Black Flag, The Germs, The Blasters, Los Lobos, and yes, even The Go-Go’s – was a regional reflection of what was happening all over the world in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Manhattan had its Ramones, Television and the New York Dolls; London produced the Sex Pistols, The Clash and Madness. It was an era that captured what rock ‘n’ roll should be: revolutionary, off-putting, controversial, against-the-grain.
JOHN DOE podcast excerpt: "(X's 2016 appearance on NPR's 'Fresh Air' with Terry Gross) was not the first time people have tried to explain X's harmony in somewhat strange or even a backhanded compliment. Exene didn't know traditional harmony. She would get to that at times, then she would stray. She just sang what she heard."
Doe captures the LA punk sound in his new book, Under the Big Black Sun: A Personal History of L.A. Punk, which he wrote and edited with Tom DeSavia, and essays contributed by Henry Rollins of Black Flag, Jane Weidlin and Charlotte Caffrey of The Go-Gos, Dave Alvin of The Blasters, Robert Lopez – El Vez – of The Zeros, and his long-time musical partner and former domestic partner, Exene Cervenka. (And yes, I won’t miss an opportunity to point out that Exene grew up here in St. Petersburg.)
The book is a great companion piece to Legs McNeil’s Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk. In addition to his new book, Doe is promoting a new album, The Westerner, which vocals from Blondie’s Debbie Harry on the song “Go Baby Go.”
• 4:14 After appearing on NPR’s “Fresh Air” with Terry Gross, who described X’s melodies as “being a little off” and that its notes “become flat in unusual places,” X co-founder John Doe shakes off the “backhanded compliment” and explains Exene Cervenka’s approach;
• 20:00 Doe compares the nascent 1970s punk scenes in New York, London, and Los Angeles;
• 37:30 It wasn’t that X didn’t want to be successful and commercial, Doe explains, it’s just the band didn’t fit well in its era the way Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Green Day would later fit in theirs.