According to popular myth, LA punk was the backward cousin of its Anglophile/East Coast counterparts, rich kids in plastic strapping on some tinsel and cowboy stirrups.
Truth was, most were drop-outs, runaways and disaffected kids from the ‘burbs – most feeling revolted by the intrinsic vulgarity and stifling opulence of Hollywood.
Unlike in NYC though, the original wave of West Coast punk groups, such as The Germs, The Weirdos and The Dils, found it almost impossible to break out commercially, due to the FM saturation out west of endless Eagles/REO Speedwagon clones. In many cases, the ‘second wavers’ (such as X) were more successful.
Vocalist Christene ‘Exene’ Cervenka (pictured at left) – a flame-haired version of Siouxsie Sioux – her songwriting bassist husband John Doe, and guitarist Billy Zoom, all originally hailed from Illinois.
Their debut album Los Angeles (1980) was produced by The Doors‘ keyboard player Ray Manzarek – as were three of their subsequent LPs – and contained instant classics such as Sex and Dying in High Society, The Unheard Music and the album’s title track.
The brilliance of their second album Wild Gift (1981) proved that, unlike so many others, X really could cut it. Exene’s vocals and Zoom’s punkabilly fretwork were more prominent on tales of bad sex, racial alienation and the bizarre scenario of Elvis sucking doggie dicks . . .
This album also included the lolling White Girl alongside the almost rockabilly In This House That I Call Home and the frantic When Our Love Has Passed Out On The Couch.
The band sold 100,000 copies of their first two albums – no mean feat considering both albums were on Slash, an independent LA label spun off a punk fanzine. Elektra Records subsequently inked X to a five-album deal.
1982 saw the release of Under The Big Black Sun on Elektra, showing more of their rockabilly roots and cranking up the Bo Diddley riffs. The album was haunted by the hit-and-run death of Exene’s sister, Mary.
Doe and Cervenka’s subsequent divorce was indicative of a gradual decline into the inevitable personnel shake-ups and corresponding forays into less than visceral roots-rock.
In retrospect, X were one of America’s greatest punk bands. For a while there in the early 80s, X really did mark the spot.
Exene Cervenka (Christene Lee Cervenka)
John Doe (John Nommensen Duchac)
Billy Zoom (Tyson Kindell)
DJ (Donald) Bonebrake