X

Olga Ramaz

I stood in line outside of the Henry Fonda Theater in Hollywood on April 11 waiting for the doors to open with a million and one thoughts racing through my head. Among them: “I should have worn a black T-shirt. Pink is so not punk rock!”

Looking at the bodies around me, young and old, tattooed and pierced, I had a rush of excitement over my chance to X, the legendary ensemble that helped shape the Los Angeles punk music scene during the late ’70s and early ’80s.

Those were some crazy times: sex, drugs, alcohol and punk rock ‘n’ roll. I’d give anything to go back in time and experience the scene first hand. The closest I had come to it was watching an old, low-budget film, and that was hard to come by.

When the lights dimmed and the curtain raised, the bullet-fast guitar work of Billy Zoom broke the silence. The crowd cheered and the young kids in the pit moshed. Suddenly I was taken back to visions of Penelope Spheeris’ “Decline and Fall of Western Civilization” (1981), my only tangible connection to those legendary days.
X dominated the stage that Friday night at the Fonda. Nothing has changed. They remain as vibrant, despite their ages, as they were back when Spheeris’ camera captured them, frame by frame.

“There is no new punk rock band’s that excite me as much as X does,” said Elizabeth Iglar, 41, as we conversed about X, the show and punk rock in general.

Iglar, a student at GCC and former classmate who I was not surprised to run into at the show, listened as I explained how I, a 23-year-old raised on “Lamb Chop’s Play-Along” and cheesy Top 40 radio, became exposed to such a band.

“It’s great that you can be new to the music and still dig it,” she said. “To me, that actually.gives them more validity [in that] their music can still touch people who are newly exposed to them.”

“You’re just a baby,” was another comment I heard from a fan who was surprised to see such a young crowd equally excited about seeing X.

Iglar has been a fan of X since the ’80s. While in school at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, she befriended some kids from New York who turned her on to X.

“Fights were breaking out,” she said, recalling her first X show back in Madison.
Iglar concedes that though they haven’t lost any of their stage energy they have some “wear and tear on them.”

“I’ve seem them age and they’re still rocking,” she exclaimed.

Exene Cervenka (vocals), 52, still manages to spit out an eerie sound, a mix between a screaming cat and a pre-pubescent schoolgirl. John Doe (bass/vocals), 54, still slaps the strings just as hard as he did way back when. D.J. Bonebrake (drums), 53, beats on the skins with so much intensity one would think time hasn’t passed. Zoom (guitar), 60, with his signature black leather jacket, maintains his ready-for-action stance and benign demeanor on stage.

A Vast Repertoire

A live performance from these punk demigods is an exhilarating treat.

Tapping into their vast repertoire, the band opened up the show with “Your Phone’s Off the Hook, But You’re Not,” and followed with such numbers as “Blue Spark,” “Los Angeles,” and “Devil Doll,” among other classics.

Every corner of the Fonda vibrated, thanks in part to the excellent sound system, an upgrade from the primitive equipment used in the early years. No distortion, no feedback, just the clear, crisp sound of punk rock.

The pit was reminiscent of the footage in the documentary. Right in the middle you could see young kids pogo dancing and gyrating back and forth with their arms flailing the air, hardly concerned if they happened to clobber their neighbor in their exuberance.

Suddenly, a ring formed in the pit to the sound of “Devil Doll” and I could see kids falling on the floor and eagerly bouncing up again. But it wasn’t violent. It was raw energy, excitement and passion for the music all rolled into one as the band belted out: “She never wears a dress on Sunday or any Monday afternoon/ devil doll, devil doll/ rags and bones and battered shoes..”

As the night wore on, the energy continued and so did the crowd’s insatiable appetite for more as it cajoled the band into back-to-back encores. I was one of them, cheering at the top of my lungs, begging for another song or two, to round out the night. It’s not everyday that you get the chance to see a group of living legends on stage, playing before a sold-out crowd.

X has survived the ever-changing tide of the music industry as well as the “death” and so-called resurrection of punk rock.

Their current anniversary tour, 13X31, celebrates this as well as several other things, one of them being the obstacles the band encountered during the beginnings of its career.

When the band formed back in 1977, the members never imagined that they would become what Rolling Stone reporter Chris Morris called “the city’s [L.A.] most respected and written-about punk band.”
It was their continuous, non-stop gigging, in and out of L.A., that gained them limited, mainstream success and placed them among the cräme de la cräme of the punk rock scene.

X had regular billing at the famed Whisky a Go Go on the Sunset strip, but it wasn’t until Ray Manzarek (keyboardist for The Doors) produced their landmark album “Los Angeles” (1980) that the band’s popularity burst into broader success.

This recording struck such a chord with Angelenos that they earned a city proclamation for contribution to local culture.

One of the Angeleno’s X touched during this time was Flea, bassist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who back in March of 2005, described X as being “the band that I always aspired to be as cool as, but never could.”
The following year, X released “Wild Gift,” with hits like “White Girl” and “Blue Spark.” Dismissing the dreaded second-album jinx, “Wild Gift” made the top 10 lists of the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times and Rolling Stone.

After the release of “Ain’t Love Grand” in 1984, Zoom left the band to pursue other interests. Cervenka and Doe divorced in 1985 but decided to continue to work together (she later married and divorced actor Viggo Mortensen). The chemistry between the two remains until this day. You’d think they were still married.

Eleven records make up the band’s extensive discography.

Back on the Road

Staying true to form, X continues to tour across the country through this month, with more shows to be announced in the near future.

Relentless gigging is not something X has to do now in order to prove themselves because, after all, they already have. The sold-out crowds that they’ve played for, like the one at the Fonda, is a testament to this notion.
“I wish I could be more articulate,” said Iglar, apologizing for why she couldn’t fully describe what she liked about X. I said that for me it could be summed up in one word: genuineness.

Their love for the music and the fans seems to come straight from the heart. They were not some “creation,” assembled by a bunch of record company goons. And beyond that, they talk about things that are still relevant: love or lack thereof, government abuses, drugs and their effects.

Flea said it best: “X has remained, essentially, an L.A. phenomenon.Their music rips its way into your heart and fills it with purpose.”

Had I not been on assignment, I would have fought my way into the pit and pogo danced my way to the front of the stage to high-five Cervenka and to tell Doe, “I love you, man!”

I would have been that kid wearing the heavy eye makeup, just like Cervenka, flaunting the blood-red lipstick, the dirty Chuck Taylor’s, ripped jeans and a tattered Black Flag shirt. I would have been the kid emulating the youth who came before me, full of angst, despair and up to their elbows with the “f-k the world” attitude.

When the night finally ended, I felt like I’d accomplished a milestone. I was finally able to cross an X concert off my to-do list.