The Have Nots

Amid a spate of new activity, John Doe looks back at the napalm-and-velvet explosion that was X

Doe himself took charge of organizing the archival end of things, consulting old photos and gig flyers, Mrs. Doe Sr.'s collection of clippings about her son's band, even bits of memorabilia sent in by X fans in response to ads that Rhino posted. (An ardent collector from Detroit was rewarded for his efforts by having one of his live X tapes tapped for a bonus track.)

"I had to keep reminding myself as I was playing X's secretary and trying to remember which engineer did, for example, the 'Adult Books' [bonus track] demo, that this was a good thing. [emits mock groan] 'You wanted to do this, John!' But it was worth it, all the headaches, the pondering, who did what, how do we credit this, going over liner notes, looking at hundreds of photographs, seeing all your friends that are dead now. Thanks, too, to the photographers who were there, they kept pretty good records -- Frank Gargani, Gary Leonard, Michael Hyatt [see sidebar], they were all very much documentarians."

Bonus track-wise there wasn't an overwhelming amount of material to choose from. Los Angeles and Under the Big Black Sun each feature five additional cuts, while Wild Gift adds seven tracks; roughly half the bonus material saw previous release on the '97 anthology Beyond and Back. Some 1977 rehearsals and rough mixes, '82 concert recordings and a handful of unreleased studio tracks were ultimately selected by Doe "to balance the fast with the slow, and what seemed interesting. [When the albums were originally made] whatever got recorded got put on the record. We had two-and-a-half to three weeks and $10,000 to do Los Angeles, and we picked nine songs and said, 'That's all we have time for.' We weren't making any money, Ray wasn't making any money, we just put it into the studio time. We didn't have to demo anything -- it was for Slash Records, for crying out loud!"

X, from left, D.J. Bonebrake, Exene Cervenka, Billy Zoom and John Doe.
Frank Gargani
X, from left, D.J. Bonebrake, Exene Cervenka, Billy Zoom and John Doe.
John Doe on X: "We just wanted to change the industry."
Michael Hyatt
John Doe on X: "We just wanted to change the industry."

Billy Zoom left X after 1985's Ain't Love Grand, a disappointing, overly commercial album that Doe, who intends to remix the entire album prior to its reissue next year, concedes "was too slick-sounding, too much like a metal record." The band soldiered on with different guitarists, going into hibernation at various stages while members pursued solo careers and outside projects, most notably the country-acoustic X-alumni combo The Knitters. But lately the original lineup has been spotted playing reunion gigs in California to celebrate the reissues. (Doe: "We have a great time, the music doesn't sound dated -- I mean, not dated like, um, Haircut 100! And the audience is there, crazy dying to see it, and we make some money. We get together periodically anyway; we're not gonna be writing any more X songs and there's not going to be a new X record. But it's all good -- no downside to it.") Coincidentally, earlier this year Spin magazine and VH1 mounted joint "25th Anniversary of Punk" specials that included flattering commentary on X. Does this mean that X and its punk peers won the war, or is it just a case of silver anniversary nostalgia?

"I think you could make a case for either one," muses Doe. "I would like to think that it's because it was one of those times when people took matters into their own hands, promoted shows within a small community because everyone contributed, and then record companies sprang up because there was a need to put out these records. People did think they could make a little money on it, on this 'art.' All that stuff. It was the first time in awhile that rock music had gone independent, with more than just one small band. And nobody that I knew wanted to fail. We just wanted to change the industry. And did, to a small extent."

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