Friday, October 30, 2015

X O X: We Had a Date [1980]

Text by Doris Kiely © FFanzeen, 1980
Introductory text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2015

I have never seen X play live, I’m sorry to say. Yeah, I saw them a number of times performing on TV on shows like Dick Clark’s American Bandstand and a couple of those late-night in concert kinds of shows, but never when I was in the same room.

Early on, I gravitated towards Excene Cervenka’s voice, as the female tones have always appealed to me, but over time I came to appreciate just how amazing John Doe actually was at the time. The guitar work of Billy Zoom has always been a stand-out, but I’m hardly the first one to notice that; same with drummer DJ Bonebrake. The whole band body politic of their personal and sexual relationships seem odd to me, but it’s nice that they’ve pretty much stayed together as X. Also, Excene and Doe have their equally worth hearing Americana side-project, the Knitters (sort of a mix of X and the Blasters members).  Doe and Excene have also released a duet collection.

While Doe has had a pretty decent on-and-off acting career over the years, sadly Excene has slipped into a right-wing conspiracy nut (check out her YouTube channel), and I have seen her referred to as “the Victoria Jackson of punk.” Sigh.

To be honest, quite embarrassingly, I don’t remember Doris Kiely, who wrote this piece, which was originally published in FFanzeen, issue #6, dated Year-End 1980. It’s an interesting, poetical stream of consciousness piece. Doris, feel free to contact me!  – RBF, 2015

You don’t like anything to be called New Wave. You didn’t mind so much when it was called punk. Greill Marcus wrote, “X is the band that has defined LA’s punk scene.” In NY, their hard-edge is an anomaly in the lapping curls of the New Wave night clubs. Sid’s dead, fashion changes, this apartment is too small for me and the cat and the laundry. You say apartments are cheaper in LA. You say you’ll go uptown to 80s [Club] with me.

The shop is closing, metal gate half across the door. The guy was nice, showing me old jewelry, each piece a talisman with a mysterious history. Walking, there was something I wanted to write. Ringing your doorbell I forgot what it was. No weekly papers, no coffee or booze. Before going out we watch TV.

X spray-painted on a wall about to collapse. Prisoners pushing against it trying to get free. Suffocating, they have fortitude left to make rough sounds, dreary, vertical songs. What am I thinking? Nothing. This is music about loathing and death. People are dancing to it.

Excene wears chains, charms, medallions. Holds her head like she’s drunk, trying not to vomit. Her voice is bratty, a net John Does get caught in, writhing. He’s pensive, a charismatic bassist-singer. Billy Zoom, guitarist, grins sadistically, unrelentingly. I’m on a chair that’s an oasis. X is fast and constant.

You say, “Jane was in a good mood today, she said she was OK.”
I say, “Did you ask her how many pills she took?”
She told you she thinks I’m jaded.

Critics on both coasts invoked X with hyperbolic claims. In NY, R. Meltzer was “gratuitously grandiose” in his critique of them, and R. Palmer referred to their “sheer musical excellence.” Robert Hilburn of the LA Times called X the American answer to “the rock challenge raised by the Sex Pistols and Clash.” The expectation which accompanied X to New York was so great that much of the audience was unduly disappointed. No surf-punks here diving off the stage.

X’s malevolent lyrics are two horrified consciousnesses streaming. Excene bends beneath the microphone, screamed, “Get Out.” It’s not just about a girl who has to leave Los Angeles. “Get Out,” I would curse silently at my girlfriend’s brother, repeating it till he left us alone. “The days change at night/change in an instant,” sounds perfect. I can read their minds. They’re on stage letting me. X is so in pain, they’re lovable. They look rather like misshapen freaks. The drummer, DJ Bonebrake, is hidden.

“I’d slap that bitch,” you say. The women in the ladies room at 3 just got there. They missed the sacerdotal offering, X’s melancholy pastiche of corpses. You say they’re monotonous. You don’t have the record Los Angeles, on Slash [Records]. Its coarse texture is soothing, emotional facets, serious music; a miasma of dust and opiates which is a city. The music sounds like traffic, litter on a hot beach, and rock’n’roll at a high school dance.

X remains a tradition the Sex Pistols initiated. Even so, they exert a powerful originality, and alter our preconception of the laid-back California mentality. The audacity of their non-innovation is entertaining. You say you hung the poster from the Beatles’ white album over your bed for two weeks. Instead of fleshing New Wave romance, X presents skeletons and boney sounds. The songs are narrative, literal, immediate; they make us privy to the band’s disgust. This incites a certain opposition and alarm, which makes them repugnant to some listeners.

X’s tidings of grief are ginormous. They signify intelligence in the face of emptiness. “Thanks a lot,” repeats Billy. “They’ll make a movie called Rock’n’Roll College. It’s hot tonight, isn’t it?” you say. I remember Help carved in crooked letters on a school desk.






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