Exene Cervenka of X is still more punk than you.
STILL X CENTRIC
IF X HAD formed in New York City rather than Los Angeles, would it have been as big as the Ramones? The band (co-songwriters Exene Cervenka and John Doe, guitarist Billy Zoom and drummer D.J. Bonebrake) was every bit as influential. X’s country-inflected punk was the equivalent of an aural speedball—somehow manic and nuanced—with Cervenka and Doe trading hyper-literate lyrics like deranged noir lovers. Yet X still gets marginalized as merely “L.A.’S seminal punk band.” X was, in fact, among the greatest bands anywhere, as evidenced by the group’s first two studio albums, Los Angeles and Wild Gift , and an upcoming exhibition, “X: 40 Years of Punk in Los Angeles,” at L.A.’S Grammy Museum. (The opening, on October 13, will include a performance by the band.)
The fiercely gifted Cervenka spoke to Newsweek about the early years (the band formed in 1977) and a still-growing legacy (it is finishing up a 40th anniversary tour). “I’ve been hearing two responses from people about X,” she says. “Who?” and “That band changed my life.”
You were a poet before joining X. How did that get you into songwriting?
What happened was, I wrote this little piece, and John said he wanted to take it to Billy and see if they could work up a song. X hadn’t formed yet. I realized, if it was that good, I’d better hang on to it because it was all I had. We were kids. I didn’t own anything. I had no money. My writing was the only thing of value in my whole world. I kept saying, “No, you can’t. No, you can’t.” And John said, “Well, why don’t you sing it?” And I said, “OK,” and then immediately thought: Wait a minute, I don’t sing. Uh-oh.
As a frontwoman, were you aiming to present the female viewpoint?
Oh, God no. I was just me. Remember, this was not the time of political correctness or a media-managed diversity campaign. We were just boys. We were girls. We were men. We were women. We were gay. We were straight. We were black, white, Chinese, Asian, Latino. Nobody made a badge out of their hyphenated being. No one was sensitive to anything, you know? They were just people dressing weird, having fun. You could say anything you wanted, and if they didn’t like it, they could tell you whatever they thought. But then, in the end, you would always hug each other.
+ SHOW SOME PUNK: Cervenka then, with her X bandmates— from left, Zoom, Bonebrake and Doe in 1980— and now.