Before hardcore, punk was a loose amalgamation of art and mutant forms of rock and roll. Sure, the bands could have all the bad attitude and possible violence that has become associated with the genre, however, that pigeonholing of punk does not consider the poet laureates that informed the scene. Songs referencing Rimbaud and Bukowski-esque tales of being down and out were pervasive in the early days: New York had Patti Smith, California had X.
John Doe, DJ Bonebreak, Exene Cervenkaand Billy Zoom formed to merge the sound of Chuck Berry with beat inspired poetry that would hinge on off key vocal harmonies that wouldn’t work for anyone else. The charisma that John Doe and Exene shared on stage in their heyday was no put on; they had a long running love affair off stage. Billy Zoom rips into blues tunes with fingers that explored every nook and cranny of his fret board. No one smokes a Chuck Berry riff with more fury than Billy Zoom, he’s simply inimitable. DJ Bonebreak is the perfect foil to such a combustible cocktail of ideas. They would perfectly capture the desperate nature of LA’s punk scene in songs like: Los Angeles, the Worldís a Mess (it’s in my kiss) and White Girl. The mix of poetry and rock and roll was so potent that Ray Manzarek, legendary keyboardist and founding member of the Doors, plays on and produced X’s first 2 records.
The thing about X is: when hardcore came to the streets of L.A., they could totally hang. While there were other bands that eschewed the violence creeping into the scene from the skate and surf crews commuting to shows, X had already played with the likes of FEAR, Black Flag, Dead Kennedys and the rest of the more aggressive crowd. Bands like X, the Blasters, Top Jimmy and the Rhythm Pigs and the Minutemen lent an approachable, brainy gravitas to a scene that was construed by the lame adults in the outside world as aggressive and nihilistic. It’s true, kids can be violent and thuggish, but they are also falling in and out of love, dealing with the emotions of growing up and doing all of this while living in the shadows of the Hollywood sign. John Doe once said something to the effect of, “these English punks want to burn the place to the ground, we just want to find a way to live in the ashes.” Romantic savages, indeed.
X, play Culture Room, Friday, May 12. Doors 8pm.