Of all the stars of the '80s punk scene, only one band is still having impact some 35 years after forming: X. Mixing driving punk energy with rockabilly riffs, staccato rhythms, unexpected dual vocal drive, and socially conscious lyrics, X was a defining voice in the punk movement. Their uncompromising ability to defy perceptions and expectations keeps the band going today.
Founding vocalist and songwriter Exene Cervenka isn't surprised X--bassist John Doe, guitarist Billy Zoom and drummer D.J. Bonebrake--still commands a strong following. "We're still the original band, but it's incredibly hard to keep three or four people together on the same wavelength. Your mood changes, your ideas change, your personality changes. You start out all happy and then it gets more miserable and bitter and you decide you can't stand someone any more and you split up," Cervenka says. "We're lucky, we just like doing it. And I'm grateful to be doing it because the last time could be next week."
The formation of X in 1977 hinged on Doe and Cervenka's chance meeting at a poetry workshop. The connection was instantaneous.
"We talked all night," she recalls. "I'd didn't even know there was a punk scene in L.A. I had no idea. John told me about that."
Eventually, Cervenka revealed her songs to Doe. When he wanted to use them in his new band, initially she balked.
"I had, like, $50 to my name, living in this little apartment in the ghetto, and he said, 'You've got something of value and I'd like to take that and do something with that.' I said, 'I have something of value? I'll hang onto that,'" she explains. "So, he said, 'OK, you can be in the band.' He wanted me to be in the band because he thought I could write good, and back then, if you wanted to be in a band, you could. The issue was how compelling are you."
X, of course, was compelling, as much for its juxtaposed vocals as genre-blending sound. Los Angeles, produced by the Doors' Ray Manzarek, remains their calling card. Yet, given the strength of the band's first four albums, the band only draws from these releases in concert. In fact, the original X hasn't composed any new music since the wayward Ain't Love Grand in 1986. Zoom departed the band at this point. "Billy didn't really want to do it anymore," Cervenka says. The band soldiered on with other guitarists and lackluster albums until a chance to composed a song for The X-Files television series lured Zoom back to the fold permanently in 1998. Still, no new music has been forthcoming, though Cervenka wishes otherwise.
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"I'm not saying I feel this way, but there's a fear that happened when Billy left will happen again. Let's just keep it pure and simple the way it was: these songs, this band, these people playing the best they can. It's what we are; it's what we were, and if we write songs now it won't be the same.
"I disagree with that completely. I think to challenge that would be so much fun; we would succeed. ... We're still around, so why not?
"I say this because I don't want people to think I didn't want to do it. I can't get the band to do it. It's an idea that gets brought up, but it never happens. I don't mind saying it even if it's a little contentious with band politics and relationships, but I want to do it. Maybe if people keep asking us, maybe we'll get there. ... I'd stay up all night writing those songs."
X is scheduled to perform at the Crescent Ballroom on Friday, November 29.
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