In the late 70s, a genre of music simultaneously growing on the West and East Coasts revolutionized rock music. This raw, intense sound became known as punk. It was supposed to be musical anarchy, and enforcing the kaos were such bands as The Ramones, The Clash, The Misfits, The Damned, The Pogues, Bad Brains and X. Punk bands typically created fast, hard-edged short songs, stripped-down instrumentation, and often sang about political issues and the anti-establishment. X had sophistication uncommon to the punk scene, and their songwriting was above average as well. The original line-up of X was, and remains to this day, John Doe, Exene Cervenka, Billy Zoom, and D.J. Bonebrake.
The superiority of X’s songwriting came from Cervenka. Doe found Cervenka in Venice Beach, CA at a poetry reading. He liked her poems so much he offered to perform them in his band. Cervenka had just moved to Venice from Florida and told him, no offense, but if anyone was going perform her poems, it would be her, and she soon ended up in the band, even though the furthest thing from her mind was actually joining a punk group of all things. Expecting to hear a much different type of person, Cervenka projects the kind of strong woman you’d expect from an anti-establishment punk band, yet just as wise in her older years as she was in younger days. Her views are strong and she doesn’t mince words, yet there is calmness in her voice. “I grew up in rural Illinois ’till I was 13,” explains Cervenka, “then I moved to Florida, then I came to California; I moved to Venice in 1976. When I met the other members of X, I really didn’t know much about the punk rock scene because it was just starting and I wasn’t trying to be a punk rocker–I was just trying to survive; I was writing. I didn’t come to California to be in a band–that was the last thing on my mind.”
“I never would have dreamed of being in a band,” continues Cervenka with a laugh, “but it was the only chance I had. I came to California I had eighty dollars in my pocket and was 20 years old. I got a job because back then they had programs to get educated and get work. I was working at a non-profit and I met John there at this workshop and you know we all had day jobs. When Los Angeles finally came out we could all quit our day jobs, but we really were just kids having fun and doing interesting stuff. You know it’s probably only about 40 people who created the whole club scene in Los Angeles and it grew a little and was happening in another city simultaneously with the help of world of mouth and/or intelligence flying through the ether.”
“X is still the original band members, which are unique in the world of punk rock,” states Cervenka, “and we’ve been playing a lot in the last ten years; we played with Pearl Jam; we went to South America and Europe with them and we’ve done a lot of nationwide touring. A lot of people don’t even know we’re together still or back together even though we have been for fifteen or more years. And you have to understand too that there is a media blackout right now and that six corporations control all media.”
“Six corporations controlling all media” is a bold statement, but Cervenka makes no apologies for speaking her opinion. “Well, when X started, we were really underground and punk was really underground and it was not really embraced by radio and commercial entities, but there were still record labels that would sign bands and there was still college radio or David Letterman or American Bandstand would have bands on and there was still an ability to make a living and be recognized, sell records and tour. But in the last 25 years or so, the entire entertainment world from entertainment newspapers, recording, film, radio—all of it had been taken over to the point where it is now just six corporations controlling everything and interested in controlling people more than anything, so you’re invisible. So I don’t always expect people to know that we’re touring or playing or anything because they won’t know—because it won’t be reported.”
“So what have I been doing the last ten years? I’ve been doing a lot of art, a lot of music, a lot of speaking and what has to do with spreading knowledge and exposing; I never was a mindless entertainer. You always continue to do what’s important, so my job is important and I continue to do it. I have a YouTube channel under my real name, Christine Cervenka. It’s really hard, you see, because if you’re an artist now–and people kind of know who I am I’ve been around a long time– but if I want to make a record I have to pay for it myself, record it myself; [no one’s going to release it] so I have to release it myself, and distribute it myself cause no one will help me. If I want to make a video I have to make it myself, if I want to write a book I’ll have to publish it myself. See, there are no opportunities unless you’re a superstar person to have your work put out there, and I don’t have that kind of money to finance my own projects; I just can’t do that anymore.”
Cervenka feels very strongly about the condition of the world, being able to survive in it and make a living in the destruction we’ve spread through gross stupidity. “They sent all the jobs to China,” states Cervenka as if reading a laundry list, “we closed down our manufacturing, we destroyed our Department of Education, we; they – they’ve ruined the economy, they’ve destroyed people’s ability to make a living, no one has any money, no one can afford to buy anything or just to go to a show, or buy a record or make a record or anything and the super-rich have all the resources and the money. Warner Bros. owns everything I’ve ever done on almost every label I’ve ever been on; they own the Los Angeles record and if I took like 15 seconds of the Los Angeles record and put it on an X video their lawyers would take it down within hours and I would get a copyright strike and my YouTube channel would get taken down. And it’s all about anti-piracy and protecting the copyright holder; well I never make a penny off my records and I probably never will. The only money X ever makes is touring. These corporations are as corrupt as the government because they are the government and the definition of fascism is when the government and corporate become one; that’s Mussolini’s definition of fascism and he would know.”
“No one would ever know we’re still out there,” says Cervenka, “so that’s the beauty of X and Blondie touring together. We get to go out there where people can see us and we can be alive and be in the world, do something fun and give people a really good time. Just making people happy and having a good time ourselves and being creative and great; you know you can’t always get that.”
So what does Cervenka think about what the punk scene is today? She doesn’t feel there is much of a scene because everything is so cleaned and sanitized; scraping your knee and running off to play without a little Neosporin doesn’t really happen anymore and the only ones getting dirty are the big six. “Well I don’t know if there is such a thing as a ‘scene’ since everything is corporately manufactured,” states Cervenka, “so I know there are good people making good art all over the world at all times but you probably won’t hear about them. I like a band called Not In The Face from Austin, Texas and they’re really great. They’re like a cross between ZZ Top and the Butthole Surfers; they’re like my favorite band. There are a lot of young people, both male and female, who play like traditional twenties jazz and stuff and crazy music from the thirties that are incredibly gifted musicians in their teens and that’s really the only music I like to see live.”
And what of making it big as a punk rock band? If you think trying to make your dream happen is playing punk rock and hoping for stardom, you don’t know dick. Playing punk rock isn’t about the money, the women, the men and how many units you sell; or at least that’s how Cervenka feels. “If that’s their dream, they’re not punk,” she states in a monotone voice. “We weren’t doing that to get recognized. Sure it’s great if that happens, but nobody started out doing it that way. We thought that we were going to overthrow society and create a new culture that would make the world a better place, but you see it’s 2013, so if you’re in a punk band, which would kind of like being a beatnik because it was so long ago and you’re trying to get recognized out of the 200 other bands trying to do the exact same thing you’re going to have to resort to doing all kinds of stuff to be first in line; you’d have to use sex and beauty and manipulation in the media and power just to get seen so then you’re not “punk”. You think there’s some great punk band out there and some record company guy is going to come out to see them and decides that the world needs to hear this important music so they’re going to promote it… and… [laughs] that’s not how it works.”
Whether you think you’re “punk” or not, Exene promises that just like all the other shows they’ve done, X puts on one hell of a soirée. She promises that it’s going to be just like every show they’ve played—except different. Again in a monotone voice she says, “We’re going to play all our best songs and we’ll play probably about an hour and it’s going to be great and fun and we’re going to give it like a thousand percent and then people will say, ‘hey you guys are great’ and we’ll say, ‘yeah and it was fun too.’” Don’t miss them on the Blondie tour; X marks the spot.
For more information about X visit: