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October 17, 2002 - Image 11

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 2002-10-17

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16B - The Michigan Daily - Weekend Magazine - Thursday, October 17, 2002

X's 'Los Angeles' early rockabilly punk

By Joel Hoard
Daily Arts Writer

Despite being overshadowed by their
London and New York counterparts, left-
coast punksters X flourished in the late
70s and early 80s, grinding out dirty, blis-
tering rock in dingy nightclubs.
Combining snide, quirky lyrics with fiery
rockabilly and country, X quickly estab-
lished themselves as frontrunners of the
burgeoning L.A. punk scene along with
Black Flag and the Germs.
Bassist John Doe and veteran rockabil-
ly guitarist Billy Zoom formed X in 1977,
with Doe's girlfriend and future wife,
Exene Cervenka, on lead vocals. The
addition of drummer D.J. Bonebrake com-
pleted the lineup in 1978. While touring
the L.A. club circuit in 1979, the band was
spotted by former Doors keyboardist Ray

Manzarek, who became the band's pro-
ducer and occasional organist. After three
years of gigging in L.A., X finally entered
the studio to record a full-length record.
Los Angeles, X's first LP, was released
in 1980 on the indie label Slash Records.
Selling 60,000 copies, an impressive
showing for an indie
label at the time, and
topping the Los
Angeles Times' best
of 1980 list, Los
Angeles was both a
mainstream and a
critical success.
While contemporaries like the Sex
Pistols and the Germs took a confronta-
tional, fuck-it-all approach to punk, X
were more sophisticated on Los Angeles,
mingling idiosyncratic lyrics with up-
tempo rockabilly and country music. The

result was a unique and engaging
American punk record that put X on the
level of the Ramones and made them
kings and queen of L.A.
Punk was never very demanding of its
musicians - gods like Steve Jones and
Sid Vicious were competent posers at best
- it only required
musicians to play fast
r t V and loud. With Los
the Angeles, X went
Vaul against the grain. It
displayed first-rate
musicianship. Billy
Zoom, even before
joining X, was an accomplished guitarist,
backing blues legends Etta James and
Johnny "Guitar" Watson, and later rocka-
billy king Gene Vincent. As singers,
Cervenka and Doe showed superb range,
from guttural punk yowls to sweet country

harmonies. Under the surface, Doe's bass
and D.J. Bonebrake's energetic, rapid-fire
drumming laid down a solid foundation.
Lyrically, Los Angeles is one of punk's
greatest achievements. Cervenka and Doe
avoided the typically angry, charged
words of their cohorts and opted instead to
write sly and poetic lyrics, covering topics
from rape and drugs to gay culture to the
age-old N.Y.C. vs. L.A. debate with utter
frankness and humor. On "Johny Hit and
Run Paulene," Doe sings, "He bought a
sterilized hypo / To shoot a sex machine
drug / He got 24 hours to shoot all
Paulenes between the legs." Even more
shocking are the images conjured on "Sex
and Dying in High Society": "There's a
masturbating getting underneath your bed
/ And now you tell the maid to burn you
on your virgin back / With a curling iron
hotter than hot." Rock critic Richard

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Meltzer wrote that the images were haunt-
ing enough to "make all those excruciat-
ingly detailed sexual treacheries in
umpteen-million Stones songs seem like a
grade-school catechism lesson."
Guitarist Billy Zoom's rockabilly past
was equally as important as the lyrics in
defining the band's style. Backing the dis-
turbing yet amusing lyrics, Zoom laid
down some of the best guitar licks since
Chuck Berry - he even borrowed Berry's
trademark riff on "Johny Hit and Run
Paulene." Despite the album's brevity
(only 28 minutes in all), Zoom did get a
chance to do some scorching soloing,
most notably during the band's sped-up
cover of the Doors' "Soul Kitchen" and
the whirlwind "Sugarlight." Into less than
15 seconds of each song, Zoom packed a
fiery solo that other punk guitarists could
only dream of.
Rolling Stone recently featured a story
on a recent Sex Pistols concert in San
Bernardino, California. The Pistols,
along with many of their early-punk
brothers and sisters, X included, played to
a crowd of more than 50,000. It's sad to
see punk's founders growing old and try-
ing to recapture their glory, but time has
been kinder to X than most punk bands.
All four founding members are alive and
kicking, and two decades after its release,
Los Angeles still stands up better than
most other punk records because of its
superb musicianship and funny, engaging
lyrics. As much as I love the raw energy
of Never Mind the Bollocks, it seems
awfully dated. But Los Angeles, even
today, is still exciting as ever.
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