Listen to Ghosts in the Other Room
The world’s a mess, it’s in her kiss
Ironically, when I finally encountered X—a Los Angeles punk rock band comprised of larger than life punk rock superheroes with epic, mythic names like John Doe, DJ Bonebrake, Exene and Billy Zoom—their music came into my life via The Doors. Waiting for the Sun and The Soft Parade hadn't gone out with the trash like Presence or Animals. The Doors were just too weird to get lumped in with the rest of rock's grandiose nonsense; we kept their records around for late-night séances and early morning music rituals.
Somehow—magically, inexplicably—it came to me (via old-fashioned, Lester Bangs led rocanrol print media monstrosity Creem Magazine) that Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek discovered a band called X, playing at the Whisky A Go Go in El Lay. Manzarek produced two taught and timeless albums for the quartet, dangerously sinewy and subversive recordings which were devoured by America's youth just in time for the Reagan revolution. The rest, as they say, is history, but for me it put some shine on a sonic phenomenon that seemed to point to the future.
Now I dwell in that future. I've tried to maintain a punk rock ethic through the intervening years. My wife and I live simply, drive a beat up Volvo, grow our own vegetables, play music late at night and resist the impinging, imperialist world laid out at our feet.
In that land of what will be, X is playing a show at the Historic El Rey Theater (622 Central SW) on Monday, May 1. In fact the show, opened by next generation OKC teen punk phenoms Skating Polly, is the opening date of the band's latest US tour. Weekly Alibi chatted with Exene—breathlessly I might add—a week before the gig. We talked punk, we talked music, we glanced at the horror behind us and perhaps in front of us as we both affirmed better ideas like community, coherence and what it means to be punk in the age of the Orange Demon.
Weekly Alibi: Hi Exene. I hope you are up for an interview. I gotta tell you it's going to kinda be one of the starstruck variety … anyway what are you up to?
We've been touring a lot. We don't always hit up Albuquerque, but this year we're trying to really get out there and play for everyone. From Albuquerque, we're going across the country and back. I have friends there, it's a beautiful place in America. We played the Opera House in Santa Fe, and I also got to take a close look at Taos Pueblo. My friends take me around; I love New Mexico, and I love doing the shows. It's a new show, one that you may not have seen yet, August.
Fill me in on the deets, Exene.
We have the original lineup, but we also have one more person touring with us. His name is Craig Packham. He handles guitar and drums so Billy [Zoom] can play saxophone and DJ [Bonebrake] can handle the vibes. We're doing the first four albums, so it's a real treat to do some of the songs you don't usually hear live, like “I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts,”which we never played live. There're a lot of beautiful passages and interesting sounds coming out as a result. In a lot of ways, I thing we're a better band now.
Why do you think X is still so important? Why have you persisted? I mean no one hears about the Germs anymore ...
It's you … and other people who've listened to us that have created this relationship. It's a great band, I gotta say. And it's weird, we've maintained our original sound; the lyrics still resonate, the musicianship is top-notch. I think X has held up the test of time because it's [the music] not dated and we've kept working. We work really hard now. We're all in our sixties, and we're touring the US in a van. We're used to it, we love it. That's not easy. You play, you leave, you hope folks remember.
So you're all going across the country in a van, old-school style?
Actually there're two vans. One van is for equipment. It's fun. Bands that use busses have tons of money. They take a lot of money. We've never liked busses. Who wants to spend all your money on stuff like that? We take care of ourselves. We're hardworking, old-fashioned. We are from another time. Those are some of the reasons you like us, August. We all relate to each other. I relate to you, you relate to me and the band. To me, we're the same kind of people. Punk rock is a type of folk music; it still is very much about building community.
You mentioned earlier that this tour concentrates on works from the first four albums. What songs are your favorites from that seminal period in your career?
I like almost all the song on those records. Of course there are some that I like playing more than others. I really love Billy's guitar playing on “Hungry Wolf.” I dig playing the songs that we never used to play live. I think John and I sound better than ever together when we sing. So much pretty stuff comes out, it's very moving.
Besides the audiences you've grown in 40 years of recording and touring, are young punks coming to your shows, are you turning on the next generation to that DIY, punk attitude you described earlier?
Our audience has never really changed in that it's a mix of young and old. In the early days there were a lot of older people in the audience, people who were discovering this really cool thing. Smart, older people [like Ray Manzarek] found us fascinating, members of the LA art scene found us fascinating. Now that has turned around. One thing I know is that at the last batch of shows there has been a lot of people and fans who brought their kids, multi-generational punks. If it weren't for new people, young folks, we probably wouldn't still be playing so much.
Did you see the band literally going beyond and back in 1980?
No. I never try to predict the future. The real reason we're still around is because we are still alive. We are lucky, very lucky. So many [of our peers] are gone, are not together anymore. Despite it all, here we are; we're very grateful at this point. I'm still stunned every time I am up on stage. I am saying to myself, “This is amazing, this is a dream.” X is a thinking band, it's an emotional band. For a lot of Americans, X was the soundtrack of their youth; that's what I get from our audiences. I hope we can do this for a few more years. I want people to have the chance to see us just once.
How has the scene changed in 40 years?
The scene has changed because America has changed; it's being destroyed in my opinion. The last year has been bad for the country. It's sad to see what's happened to America, to small towns, from the van. Heroin and endemic poverty are taking their toll. I'm very pro-America. I'm for the farmers, for the working class. I hate to see what's happened. I hope it gets better. It's not by accident, it's by design. There's a globalist agenda. The good thing is, punks can do something about that, like patronizing local growers markets. Get that punk-rock mentality—the one where members of the community support each other—firmly in mind and don't buy into the consumer thing, the corporate agenda. Buy local, and don't get hung up in compromising situations with drugs and material possessions. Make music, and listen to music, and lead a good life. That's the best any of us can do. We have to have and give meaning to each other, we're only here for 70 years. That's why music matters. It's part of that equation that makes us more than individuals.