March 30, 2012

L.A. Music: X and (Not) Being Punk

This won't come as a surprise to anyone who knows me, or has spent more than a few minutes reading the blog. So don't everyone all gasp at once when I say: I am not a punk rocker.  I might be a rocker.  But a punk rocker is a whole different game, and it's not one I ever wanted to play.

Anyone raised on the mellow, mellow grooves of El Lay music, like I was, cannot be a punk rocker. Or maybe if you were raised on those mellow, slickly-produced grooves, but then felt the need to totally rebel against the preceding generation, kick out the jams and shove safety pins in your cheek, you could be a punker.   That wasn't me. 

It's too fast, too angry, too physical.  Too in your face.  As somebody who has always, for whatever reasons, earned the automatic favor and sympathy of the Old Folks, I always felt the need to sort of apologize or at least explain the point of punk to the oldsters, to whisper in their collective ears, “look, I don't really like this any more than you, either.”  

But then, there's X.  I love X.  X came out of the early, early days of the L.A. punk scene, and as some would argue, were at the forefront of the entire punk movement, New York and CBGB's be damned.  X might have been pioneers on the Hollywood/L.A. front, but by the time I discovered them, they'd moved beyond fast, true “punk” music into something with deeper roots in American music.  Their guitarist, Billy Zoom, has always looked & played rockabilly, and their music always had a deep vein of rockabilly/country at its core.  With Ray Manzarek from The Doors producing and playing keyboard on their first album (and their cover of  “Soul Kitchen”) it seems clear that X was always more about being part of an ongoing musical story, a new chapter in American music, rather than about burning up the existing books and smearing the ashes on their faces. 
Image source from here
I love X's first album, Los Angeles and played it over and over in high school.  The title track, “Johnny Hit and Run Pauline,” “The World's A Mess (It's in My Kiss)” – great stuff, great lyrics. But it was their fourth album, More Fun in the New World, that I loved most. As a teenager, I didn't have the sense or experience yet to be able to articulate:  I love all things Americana, like country music and train tracks and thrift stores and truck stops. But when I first saw the video for “The New World,” it triggered something in me that affirmed: YES. These are my people, these images are all part of something big that I wanted to talk and write about.  Plus, if you'd asked my parents, who told me repeatedly to TURN IT DOWN while I was blasting,

Bang Bang,
Make the music go bang!
Brilliant shining and nasty
Bang Bang, Make the Music go Bang

they might have told you that it sure sounded like "punk rock" to them.  On a gut level, I knew that John Doe and Exene were smart. They were writers, they were poets, and they'd even met at a writing class, at a place called Beyond Baroque.  At the time, I dreamed of someday going to Beyond Baroque and hobnobbing with cool, punker-poet types.  I've never made it there, yet. 

While I was doing some 'net research to write this post, I stumbled upon a couple of exciting facts.  Number ONE, is that Exene has moved back to Southern California after living in the midwest for a number of years.  And, she's settled down in my old hometown of Orange.  (Reason #148 to beat myself up for moving away from there.)  And TWO:  Just for shits and giggles, she's been playing some music sets, along with a few other members of X and folks like Phil Alvin, in a new & vintage clothing store in Old Town Orange, called Moonlight Graham.  And, they're playing an anniversary show THIS SATURDAY (like, tomorrow).
When I found out about this show, I immediately clicked the link to buy tickets.  But then I checked the calendar and realized it just couldn't happen, as we have other plans for this weekend.  DAMN.  But I was also sort of relieved, as I'm not sure I'm worthy to be in such a small venue, breathing the same air as Exene. I'm totally not worthy.  Also, I was a bit embarrassed that one of my other immediate thoughts was: What will I wear??  See. I'm so not punk.

Here's the video for "The New World." It's grainy, and the lip-synch is off, but it's still worth watching.  John Doe has never looked cuter, Exene has never looked hotter than in her cowboy hat and midriff-tied shirt.  And the song, released in 1983, is just as timely today: "Honest to goodness, the tears have been falling all over this country's face."

Enjoy! And have a rockin' Friday.

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