To live and die in L.A., indeed. From the late ‘70s to the early ‘80s, X was the poetic conscience of the City of Angels, declaring that beneath all the hot sunshine and white teeth, it was in fact the city of the damned. Up to Ain’t Love Grand, X was everything you could ever want from a rock band (and even though they were punk-identified, they were so much more than the just safety-pinned pogo merchants). Smart, literate, versed in all manner of American roots music, X was arguably the finest band to ever emerge out of Los Angeles. When bassist John Doe met Medusa-coiffed Exene Cervenka at a Venice Beach poetry workshop in 1977, it was boho love at first sight—the world was a mess and it was in their kiss.
The couple decided to get married and start a band, recruiting perma-grin guitarist Billy Zoom, he of the Chuck-Berry-on-speed riffs delivered with feet spread miles apart, and aptly named drummer D.J. Bonebrake. The sound and the sensibility was Los Angeles on $5 a day with a dog-eared Bukowski paperback in one back pocket and a fifth of gin in the other. As the Circle Jerks’ Keith Morris puts it: “They saw it like they lived it … this was an ugly stew sprinkled with glitter, sugar and wax drippings, gasoline or fire, somewhere over an underpass along the 101 freeway bouncing between skyscrapers, 22-hour days cooled off by Coronas, Budweisers or some such chilled piss at 7:30 in the morning in an old ‘50s Ford with religious crap scattered on the dash, chipped bones, fat lips, bruises, broken glass, sunshine-baked brain, dirty-sock-stuck-in the-mouth hangover.”
X was immediately embraced by the creativity-challenged West Coast punk scene and word spread quickly. Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek was an early fan, and produced the first four records—Los Angeles, Wild Gift, Under the Big Black Sun and More Fun In The New World (all recently reissued, all essential). This partnership with Manzarek is as notable for X’s refusal to kowtow to punk orthodoxy (i.e. hippies = bad) as it is for anything the Doors’ keyboardist brought to their music. After four albums and endless touring for meager financial return, the fabric of the band began to strain. Meanwhile, Doe and Cervenka’s marriage was slowly disintegrating.
In a bid to broaden their audience beyond the post-punk intelligentsia, X parted ways with Manzarek and hired heavy metal knob-twiddler Michael Wagener to punch up Ain’t Love Grand. This proved to be a career-ending mistake, as the album never connected with the mainstream and the Def Leppard production values alienated much of the band’s core audience. Guitarist Zoom opted out, replaced briefly by Dave Alvin of the Blasters and then Tony Gilkyson, formerly of Lone Justice. From here on they continued to make consistently respectable music, but X now seemed safe and predictable. They were still desperate, yes, but by this point we were used to it.
In recent years, the original line-up reunited for victory lap tours. Sadly, guitarist Billy Zoom has been diagnosed with cancer for the second time and the tour that brings them to Underground Arts on Sunday may well be his last. As such, we are pleased to announce that we have a pair of tickets to see X at Underground Arts to give away to some lucky Phawker reader that can answer the following X trivia question: What is the name of the Doors song that X famously covered? Email you answer to Phawker66@gmail.com with the words UNDER THE BIG BLACK SUN in the subject line. Please include your full name and a mobile number for confirmation. Twenty-second reader to email us with the right answer wins. Good luck and godspeed!