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The Los Angeles band named X
February 16, 2012 8:33 PM   Subscribe

The Los Angeles band named X. The one that performed "Los Angeles" , "Your Phone's Off The Hook But You're Not", "Johnny Hit and Run Paulene", "We're Desperate", "White Girl", and "Breathless". The one with John Doe, Exene Cervenka, Billy Zoom, and D.J. Bonebrake in it.

The world still awaits an officially recorded live album from their 1980-1983 prime. Until then, the bootleg of their October 26, 1982 concert at The Catalyst in Santa Cruz will have to do.
posted by Trurl (64 comments total) 61 users marked this as a favorite

 
No '4th of July?' The Dave Alvin period deserves props, too.
posted by jonmc at 8:35 PM on February 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


"Johnny Hit And Run Paulene" is probably the first punk song that actually scared me out of my pants – and I was a hardened punker by the time I first heard it at 17. Thanks for this, Trurl. It is awesome.
posted by koeselitz at 8:41 PM on February 16, 2012


Man I loved these guys. Only saw them twice though, first time with Tony Gilkyson playing guitar at the Gothic theater in Denver, when they were touring for "Hey Zeus" not their best time period. the second time, they'd reunited with Billy Zoom and played the Lodo Music Fest. They were the only band worth seeing and it must've been entertaining watching a crowd of old punks and some youngsters ready to riot for one of the most amazing bands that ever took a stage.
posted by evilDoug at 8:51 PM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Nice post -- thanks, Trurl. I just saw a screening of the new cut of The Unheard Music a couple of months ago, with the band and original filmmakers in attendance to chat and take questions. I've seen them (and various side projects of John's and Exene's) at least a dozen times or more since I moved to L.A., and they still sound pretty fucking great.
posted by scody at 8:52 PM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ah, X. A band that cannot be played too loudly. Just try it some time. Louder, louder, still louder. See, it just gets better and better.

Bonus fact: produced occasionally by Ray Manzarek, the keyboardist for The Doors. Just listen to The Unheard Music.
posted by benito.strauss at 8:54 PM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh cool, let's do this again. X - "Home is where the floor is", X - "Suck, Suck"
posted by awfurby at 9:01 PM on February 16, 2012


produced occasionally by Ray Manzarek

... heard with X here, evidently playing keyboards with his fists. Glorious.

The most recent YouTube comment beneath that video made me smile: "I'm 15 and I love this! THANKS DAD :D"
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:02 PM on February 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


Their early stuff is maybe better on aggregate, (Exene's vocals on Johnny Hit and Run Paulene are like having a million ghosts shove a cold steel spike into your spine or something; it's just incredible), but I have a soft spot for See How We Are.

Soft enough spot that I took my MeFi username from the third verse, around 2:30 in.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 9:09 PM on February 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


Saw 'em back in, uhm, had to be '84?

John and Exene were fighting through the whole show. They did not seem happy with each other, but they burned that energy to fuel a great show.
posted by dglynn at 9:09 PM on February 16, 2012


I have a picture of me with Billy Zoom, taken at the Cat's Cradle when they were on their reunion tour. In this photo, I am a sweaty mess, Billy's sporting his trademark somehow-not-quite-of-this-world grin, and I am smiling so wide my face is threatening to crack right open. I have never before, and never since had my photo taken with someone 'famous' (for lack of a better word). God I fucking love that band.
posted by fikri at 9:09 PM on February 16, 2012 [6 favorites]


I never got to actually hear them, just read interviews and look at their pictures. U always thought Xene was hot.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 9:11 PM on February 16, 2012


Make the music go bang.
Brilliant, shining, and nasty.

Thank you, trurl.
posted by buzzv at 9:12 PM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Nothing says early-1980s LA (or describes it) better than X. Love X, love this post. Thanks.
posted by blucevalo at 9:20 PM on February 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


I never got to actually hear them, just read interviews and look at their pictures. U always thought Xene was hot.

They still tour. We see them every time they come to town, which in SF means about twice a year (one of those is usually a Knitters show at Hardly Strictly). They still blow the roof off the club.
posted by rtha at 9:27 PM on February 16, 2012


Among the many reasons Viggo Mortensen is too good to live: Dude was married to Exene. Dude had kids with Exene. Damn.
It wasn't until Los Angeles came out for Rock Band (with the lyrics censored, natch) that I realized just what a helluva drummer Bonebrake was, too. That is a hard, hard song to play!
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 9:28 PM on February 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


They're still alive and well and touring. I just saw them at the end of December.

Plus they were part of the Under the Big Black Sun art extravaganza in Los Angeles this year.

Not sure why everyone's talking as if they're long gone.
posted by gingerbeer at 9:30 PM on February 16, 2012


Great post.
The thing with X, it always seemed to me, is that they sort of just had that veneer of punk when it's more like high-voltage rockabilly or something. The most impressive thing to me is their pitch-perfect vocals and harmonies amid all that pulsing energy. Especially live, with all that craziness going on and they hit every note.
And that rhythm section. Man.
posted by chococat at 9:41 PM on February 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


I can't think of an album that I love more than Under the Big Black Sun.
posted by eyeballkid at 9:57 PM on February 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


A friend of mine has his Marshall Plexi serviced by Billy Zoom. He once called him from onstage for emergency advice.
posted by anazgnos at 10:01 PM on February 16, 2012


I just saw a screening of the new cut of The Unheard Music a couple of months ago, with the band and original filmmakers in attendance to chat and take questions.

!

I had no idea there was a new cut of that movie. Someone stole my VHS copy many years ago. And I have no idea where my DVD went.
posted by eyeballkid at 10:01 PM on February 16, 2012


Exene was diagnosed with MS recently. She said:

“many people remain strong and continue to live their lives as productively as they had before an MS diagnosis and I plan to be one of those people.”
posted by anazgnos at 10:02 PM on February 16, 2012


Dude had kids with Exene.

Specifically, an AWESOME kid who convinced Viggo to take the role of Aragorn.

I also love X and this post.
posted by naoko at 10:10 PM on February 16, 2012


The X interview from Decline of the Western Civilization: 1, 2.
posted by eyeballkid at 10:14 PM on February 16, 2012


I had no idea there was a new cut of that movie. Someone stole my VHS copy many years ago. And I have no idea where my DVD went.

I enjoyed the hell out of it; I hadn't seen it in a million years (or at least 20) and had forgotten what a terrific movie it really is.
posted by scody at 10:20 PM on February 16, 2012


These guys got me through the early years of high school. The year was 2002 and I was fixated on Billy Zoom like only a teenaged girl can be. Looking back, it was a weird obsession as he has a few years on my father, but what can I say. I can sing large portions of all of their albums, even the late, weird, post-Zoom ones. There was a time when I could write down detailed biographies of all of them, from memory. My whole bedroom was a shrine to X, basically.

Only saw them once, but thanks to my mad fangirling skills, I got to go backstage. It was probably the happiest night of my light up to that point; heck, even now, it's way up there. The members of X have mellowed as they've aged and become total, total class acts.

Even now, anytime I hear an X song, basically I can't not rock out. They aren't in constant rotation for me any more - too much X and I start getting high school flashbacks - but in moderation, man, nothing beats X.
posted by troublesome at 10:30 PM on February 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


*I
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 10:51 PM on February 16, 2012


I saw them in Boston last fall. Coming back on the T I heard someone say to his friend something to the effect of:"watch what you say to the crazy woman next to you in the bar, she might be Exene." Poseur. The Unheard Music was screened before they went on, but a club isn't quite the right place for this; people were talking all the way through it.
posted by brujita at 10:59 PM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


X played my dorms big halloween party my freshman year in college (1984). I remember thinking college was really cool.

One Summer, an X tape got jammed in my car's cassette deck and wouldn't come out. It played just fine, just wouldn't pop back out, so I listened to "Los Angeles" and "Wild Gift" several hundred times that Summer. At the end of the Summer, as if to signify the end, the tape popped out.

Thanks for the post, I'll have to remember go go see them the next time they're in town.
posted by hooha at 11:06 PM on February 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


I play too hard when I oughta go to sleep.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:19 PM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Favorite band, ever, of all time.

Tried to sneak into a show in a bar in my midwestern hometown in 1982, when I was 16. Pope Guilty knows what town I mean. Finally saw them on the tour they opened for Warren Zevon, 1986, I think. Exene was pregnant, presumably with Viggo's kid, and she and John fought the whole time.

MANY years later there was a stealth tour up the west coast, and they were playing, in secret and under a different name, at a mini golf charity event which also featured The Presidents of the United States (before any hits) and Los Straitjackets. Dave Grohl was just ahead of us on the course. Once we finished and hit the beer garden, I noticed this dark haired woman selling zines over by the second stage. I went over and goddam it was Exene. John wandered back to the table and I talked with them a bit. Apparently they were kind of just seeing if they could tour together again. I was so fucking excited, I had no idea they were going to be there. The zines were Exene's poetry and stuff, like the printed liner for Wild Gift, if I recall correctly.

A bit later they hit town again as X with Billy and DJ and I nearly had a heart attack I danced so hard.

Since then I try not to miss any of their incarnations when they come through. And hell yeah, that stuff on Los Angeles and Wild Gift is HARD to play, even when it's engraved into your mind like a car wreck.
posted by mwhybark at 12:20 AM on February 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Favorite band ever, of all time. I won't trot out my way-back-then stories of close encounters with the band, but I will say I love them so much that when one of my kids broke the law and got a tattoo, I couldn't even prosecute. It was "I must not think bad thoughts".

The band does an almost annual show at Irving Plaza, and John Doe plays City Winery in Manhattan fairly frequently. He bellies up the bar after his set to mingle with the fans. I recently said to him [embarrassing gushing warning] "Your music has been the soundtrack of my life," and he responded without missing a beat, "You must have some fucked up existence." He is as hot as ever, wry, and completely delightful.
posted by thinkpiece at 4:06 AM on February 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


X is one of the really fascinating rock bands- one of the only punk bands to get a real PR push on US radio, a push that failed utterly. While they're hardly obscure, they fell between the cracks; too grown-up to get lumped with the hardcore scene, which had already disengaged from the idea of rockstar success. Yet far too eccentric to find a place the rules of the 80s mainstream.

My fav scene in Unheard Music, which sums up the X dilemma: the part where Bonbreak goes over to his vibraphone and goes all Lionel Hampton on the thing.
posted by bendybendy at 4:07 AM on February 17, 2012


Great band, great post. My freshman roommates at college hated most of my records but they may have hated Big Black Sun the most (either that or Sandinista). Punk still hadn't made it to rural Pennsylvania by 1982, everyone was still listening to seventies metal. "Jesus, wut the hell are you listening too?"
posted by octothorpe at 4:48 AM on February 17, 2012


Yeah, great post.

octothorpe, I think X is one of those bands that people have pretty strong polarized opinions about. I love them unconditionally. A good friend of mind from grad school hates their music with a fury. "Everything sounds like the 'Let me sleep on it' bit from that godawful Meat Loaf song," he insists. I've given up trying to convince him otherwise.
posted by .kobayashi. at 4:58 AM on February 17, 2012


I've actually mused about creating a dating site with love-of-X as it's theme. For the good of humanity, of course, no self-interest.
posted by thinkpiece at 6:12 AM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Great post, great band. As others have said their musicianship really distinguished them. They could play, they could sing and they wrote great songs. They were too loud, too fast and too hard for many folks to digest, and for that I think they were sometimes lumped in with bands that were nothing but too loud, too fast and too hard, but none too talented. For anyone who took the time to listen though they were not only one of the all time great punk bands, but one of the all time great rock bands, at least to my ear.
posted by caddis at 6:24 AM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was going to give a shout out to "See How We Are," but Homeboy Trouble beat me to it, so instead I'll highlight another favorite, "The Once Over Twice." My favorite song from a pretty incredible album.
posted by Rangeboy at 6:54 AM on February 17, 2012


Unconditional love here.

Billy Zoom once kicked me in the head. Or at least gave me a gentle push with his boot to get me off the stage.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 7:01 AM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


First album I ever owned: Under The Big Black Sun. X is awesome. Love that they all have kept up careers and not died young, and keep on going in their various and intertwined lives.
posted by davidmsc at 8:04 AM on February 17, 2012


My favorite band.

Saw them in my teenage years and celebrated my 21st birthday with them playing the John Anson Ford Theater in 1988!

They epitomize the LA punk scene. Contrary to the East Coast screaming rage style of punk that's come to represent the historical view of punk, X was able to blend power, anger, and sadness into a song you could actually sing.

Last time I saw them was at their 30th anniversary show in LA. They brought it just as hard as the first time I saw them and I unabashedly sang along, every word to every song.

The Live in Los Angeles album from 2005 is IMHO, a great live tour de force of the concert experience. If you haven't listened to Unclogged, it's a wonderful album with a completely different take on their standards.
posted by Argyle at 8:38 AM on February 17, 2012


My favorite X song. Manzarek's organ solo almost makes me forgive him for the Doors. I saw them in 1985 or '86, when I worked at a slick magazine in DC. Managed to get on the guest list with the art director. We had just done some "Hot and Not Hot" or "New Year's Resolutions" feature in the mag, one to which John Waters had contributed. And who's standing in front of us at the will call window but John Waters! So we introduced ourselves and he obviously couldn't be bothered. I was extrememly pleased when we took our seats and I saw that Waters was a good 10 rows behind us. Great show--I think it was the More Fun in the New World tour.
posted by Man-Thing at 8:51 AM on February 17, 2012


Thanks for this post. X, the Minutemen, and the Mekons got me though the Reagan years. I look forward to wallowing in all the links.
posted by languagehat at 9:21 AM on February 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


I first heard punk rock by having the woman who was cutting my raised-on-a-commune hippy hair short for the first time playing 'The Decline Of Western Civilization'.

Now I'm in my early 40's and still playing punk rock in yet another band noone has heard of. So thanks for derailing my life, Black Flag, X, Circle Jerks, Fear and many others!

But yeah, one of the greatest bands of all time. Listening to their relationship disintegrate over the course of several albums is an amazing experience. Culminating with 'Burning House Of Love'...
posted by lumpenprole at 9:23 AM on February 17, 2012


Thanks to a Guitar Center insider, my ex and I got to attend behind the scenes X's induction at the Rockwalk in Hollywood. (God, almost 10 years ago now!) Rollins was there as well. Great day.
posted by Celsius1414 at 9:31 AM on February 17, 2012


Nthing love for X. 'Beyond and Back' is my personal favorite song, but really there are just too many. 'Adult Books.' 'Sugarlight.' 'Universal Corner.' 'I'm Coming Over.' Man...yeah. Discovered them at age 11 via the Western Civ documentary, ended up playing non-stop alongside Zen Arcade every day on reflective school bus rides.
posted by NationalKato at 9:32 AM on February 17, 2012


I was extrememly pleased when we took our seats ....

Seats? Seats? That's just fucking wrong.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:58 AM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sex and Dying in High Society
posted by jeffamaphone at 10:00 AM on February 17, 2012


Seats? Seats? That's just fucking wrong.
I know what your'e saying, benito.strauss. but this was at the Warner Theater in DC, not the good ol' 9:30 Club. I'm sure people were standing by the end, though (just don't ask me to remember for sure).
posted by Man-Thing at 10:23 AM on February 17, 2012


when one of my kids broke the law and got a tattoo, I couldn't even prosecute. It was "I must not think bad thoughts".

I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts.
posted by thinkpiece at 10:28 AM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ah, we sat in the balcony when we saw X sometime last year, at the Great American. Because we are old and some of us are short.

But when we saw them on New Year's Eve eve, at Slim's, we stood. There was a pit - there isn't usually, at Slim's, and since I even have health insurance now I considered going in. But there were too many drunken 40-something guys determined to prove how PUNK they still are (at least two guys got tossed out, something I've not seen at an X show before).

I should've gone in the pit at the Great American show, because that one looked like all fun and no assholes.

I almost set the phone to play me all X on the way to work, but then I remembered that it's not good driving music for me, because I get a case of leadfoot when I hear them. Good thing I didn't, because I saw three or four people pulled over by cops. Coulda been me!
posted by rtha at 10:36 AM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


ended up playing non-stop alongside Zen Arcade every day

EXACTLY, NationalKato! Exactly!

...Incidentally, saw a different incarnation of X as the Knitters a few years back with Dave Alvin on guitar. Great show.

posted by silkyd at 10:42 AM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


The world still awaits an officially recorded live album from their 1980-1983 prime. Until then, the bootleg of their October 26, 1982 concert at The Catalyst in Santa Cruz will have to do.

I was at that show. Go ahead. Hate me. For being there when you were not. And then for bragging about it here.

(I might be wrong about the year...but you can hate me anyway.)
posted by ecourbanist at 11:35 AM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


ended up playing non-stop alongside Zen Arcade every day on reflective school bus rides.

Holy shit, are you me?

Yeah, everyone's pretty much covered it, so I'll just post Because I Do from The Unheard Music, because it's awesome
posted by DecemberBoy at 11:37 AM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


....but this was at the Warner Theater in DC, not the good ol' 9:30 Club.

I understand. You do what you gotta do. When I saw PJ Harvey it was in a theater with seats, and no standing allowed. Very frustrating.

.... at Slim's, we stood. There was a pit ..... too many drunken 40-something guys determined to prove how PUNK they still are ...

Gulp. I'm at serious risk for being that. But then again, I never was horribly into the punching people to prove punk-ness part anyways. I'm surprised it got that rowdy. I generally found Bay Area mosh pits less nasty than East Coast ones. And I never saw one at Slim's. Sure, a few people got a bit elbow-y diving for the tampons when Phranc threw them into the audience, but nothing bad.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:29 PM on February 17, 2012


I've always thought of X as a very Los Angeles band (above and beyond the song of that name), because I hear something Mexican/Latin in their sound. Kinda like what you hear here. Maybe someone who knows music genres better can describe this better.

And since it seems we each get to post one "this is cool" clip — In This House That I Call Home. The lyrics, as I misunderstood them, were teen-age perfect.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:38 PM on February 17, 2012


I haven't seen X in years, but I've seen then more than any other band. I think the first show was in 1984 at the Old Waldorf... come to think of it, most X shows I remember are at places that no longer exist: the Keystone Palo Alto, One Step Beyond in Santa Clara, the Cactus Club in San Jose, the On Broadway in the City. I also remember drinking backstage with them when I was 17, and Exene trying to pick up on my boyfriend.
posted by oneirodynia at 2:11 PM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


The most impressive thing to me is their pitch-perfect vocals and harmonies amid all that pulsing energy. Especially live, with all that craziness going on and they hit every note. And that rhythm section. Man.

Listening to the Catalyst show just now, what astonishes me is the tightness of the instrumental ensemble - especially during a fast jerky number like "Back 2 The Base". It's as virtuoso a display of punk musicianship as I've encountered besides The Ramones' It's Alive.

After making the post, I found a radio broadcast bootleg of the October 7, 1983 show at Park West in Chicago. It has a much more powerful sound - good enough for an official release. And the playing is on an equally high level. But I feel I can hear the passion beginning to turn into professionalism.
posted by Trurl at 4:48 PM on February 17, 2012


I heard that Billy Zoom didn't know the vintage of his sparkly Gretsch guitar, and since Gretsch didn't keep very good records of their models in the olden days, the only way to figure out what exactly he had was to strip the thing of its metal accoutrements and run it through an MRI machine, thereby mapping out the way the hollow body was chambered. So that's what he did.

I can't bring myself to Google the story, lest I find out it's not true.
posted by Zerowensboring at 7:15 PM on February 17, 2012


Love the post.

I got turned on to X when the Unheard Music first came out (didn't know there was anew cut either) After that there was no looking back. Seen them many times and seen John Doe solo many as well, particularly the McCabes shows which were fantastic.

Finally saw them on at USC and since I kinda new there roadie was given a backstage pass. It was great fun, the pass said "Guest or Pest?"

I grabbed one of the posters and a few weeks later there was a night at some old place on Pico Blvd in West LA (no longer exists) that has "The Night We Tried to Break DJ. Bonebreak" on the marquee. It was DJ's birthday and not many people were there, but the entire band was hanging at the bar. I had the poster with me and they all signed it.

That was cool.

That time I saw them (HOB) was great, they were as good as ever, if not better. I have many of the John Doe McCabes shows recorded, if anyone is interested look me up
posted by silsurf at 8:06 PM on February 17, 2012


People crush on Billy Zoom? Weeird.

But yeah, we seem 'em every time they're in town too.
posted by desuetude at 8:15 PM on February 17, 2012


I heard that Billy Zoom didn't know the vintage of his sparkly Gretsch guitar, and since Gretsch didn't keep very good records of their models in the olden days, the only way to figure out what exactly he had was to strip the thing of its metal accoutrements and run it through an MRI machine, thereby mapping out the way the hollow body was chambered. So that's what he did.

I can't bring myself to Google the story, lest I find out it's not true.


I bet it probably is. He used to (still does? DJ Bonebrake* told me about this like, uh, twenty years ago. Fuck.) have a business where he restored old tube amps, so it seems totally in the realm of possibility.

*He also told me about getting to play maracas for Bo Didley, which is completely awesome.
posted by oneirodynia at 8:38 PM on February 17, 2012


Bloody red eyes go to sleep
posted by homunculus at 1:13 AM on February 18, 2012


Steve Jones chatting with Billy Zoom and Exene in 2004 dropbox-link.
Interview starts 1hours 20 minutes in.

Billy "I started playing guitar in 1954"
Steve "Thats the year before i was born"
posted by stuartmm at 2:16 AM on February 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


X played my dorms big halloween party my freshman year in college (1984). I remember thinking college was really cool.

@hooha - did you go to Pomona College? A friend of mine from high school helped put that show together and I was able to go. Tremendously great show! I got my copy of Los Angeles signed by Exene and Billy that night.

I've seen X at least a dozen times over the years and they're just as thrilling, crazy, and just fucking flat-out great every single time. My favorite band.
posted by quartzcity at 6:26 PM on February 20, 2012


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