Monday, May 21, 2007
Acknowledged by so many fans and critics alike as the Queen of Los Angeles Punk Rock, Exene Cervenka of X is seen here in some classic Exene stances.
This one was in my sporadic column of LA punk pix in Rock Scene with the caption, “Exene Blisses Out.”
Exene moved to LA from Florida in the mid 70s and met John Doe while both of them were working on their poetry at the west side's renown Poetry Project. Hanging out at the Masque, John and Exene hooked up with Billy Zoom and DJ Bonebrake, quickly formed a band, and just as quickly rose to represent in most people’s consciousness what LA punk was all about. Their single on the Dangerhouse label, “Adult Books” showed just how literate and literary John Doe and Exene were.
Inspired, rumor has it, but the “adult books” signs around town, the song dealt with love, sex, lust, relationships and name-checked ladies pulp novelist Jackie Susann (Valley of the Dolls) in a way that tied up the imagery with a dirty bow.
They wrote about the people they knew, in a Truman Capote kind of way (I think) and they will always be tied to Los Angeles the city by “Los Angeles” the song, which tells the story of Farrah Fawcett Minor, who coincidentally lived behind an adult book store. Farrah was a hater, let’s just say. “She had to leave Los Angeles….”
When X did Pleasant the great favor of headlining one of our Lobotomy Nights at the Whisky, it was a pretty damn big deal. They were THE band in town. They deserved their reputation and ability to get press notices and the eventual big record deal (on Elektra). They were tight as a band. Both John and Exene were poets. Their sound was raw and punk but with Billy Zoom’s rockabilly stylings and John’s facility across various roots genres, X’s kind of punk rock definitely was American music…melting pot style, and still angry and ambitious like the seditious group of people that founded the United States. Really. Because back then, we were forging a new kind of music.
X spawned The Knitters, and after X broke up, Exene and New York No Wave poet, rocker and basically Exene's East Coast counterpart, Lydia Lunch collaborated on spoken word... they did a book, a record and a tour together. I was excited to see the two of them doing their poetry at NYC's erstwhile Bottom Line club in the 90s... but honestly...nothing could touch the Exene I remember from 1977 Los Angeles punk.
Exene was a woman of mystery to me. She appeared to be incredibly strong-willed and icily independent. She wore some of the ugliest clothes on stage, seemingly by design, but managed to look really cool. Of course, since John Doe was just about the most swoon-worthy guy in LA punk, it made you all the more curious about the kind of lady Exene was, and it gave you reassurance that you could be strong, ambitious and really great at what you do without alienating a potential partner. You see, it was the 70s and feminism then was not what it is today. When we were getting 68 cents to the dollar, it was worth a lot less and we did a lot more than 68 cents worth of work, thought and care, to be sure.
Through years of each member of X doing solo stuff and band collaborations with others, they somehow retained the certain "X" factor they had together, making their comebacks quite the success. They are still playing together in variations on the X and 77 LA Punk theme... X, The Knitters and the occasional Flesh Eaters gigs abound. Please click Exene's name above to visit her website and keep up on her activities, records, art and writing.
Exene will have a gallery showing in Los Angeles in the summer, June 9 – July 14, 2007. more about it here.
Here’s a fan page on Dangerhouse Records worth reading.