Exene Cervenka throws the first pitch for the Chicago White Sox vs Los Angeles Dodgers Wednesday, August 16, 2017 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Josh Barber/© Los Angeles Dodgers, LLC 2017

Arts and Entertainment

Exene Cervenka: 40th Anniversary of X

At a poetry workshop in Venice during November of 1976, Exene Cervenka met John Doe, who alongside Billy Zoom and D.J. Bonebrake, would write and release approximately twenty records and tour the world over the past forty years as Los Angeles-based punk band X. Integrating the Americana sound of country and rock, with elements of…
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/ramynke/" target="_self">Ashley Ramynke</a>

Ashley Ramynke

December 21, 2017

At a poetry workshop in Venice during November of 1976, Exene Cervenka met John Doe, who
alongside Billy Zoom and D.J. Bonebrake, would write and release approximately twenty
records and tour the world over the past forty years as Los Angeles-based punk band X.

Integrating the Americana sound of country and rock, with elements of poetic angst, X created
an iconic sound, as captured in their 1980 album “Los Angeles,” and heard during live shows in
infamous punk venues like the Starwood and the Masque Club.

The city of Los Angeles is now honoring X with the 40th Anniversary exhibit at the GRAMMY
Museum, and invited frontwoman Cervenka to throw the first pitch at the August 16, 2017,
Dodgers game.

In anticipation of the final shows of X’s 40th Anniversary Tour, Cervenka elaborates in a friendly
and honest interview how this 40th anniversary celebration reinforces how critical the fans have
been to the band’s duration, and fondly shares memories of her youth in Illinois, her excitement
at recording with a new generations of musicians, like the band Skating Polly, and how the 41st
Anniversary of X may lead to new music.

Playing at the Masque Club in the late 70s, did you ever imagine that one day the band would be celebrated by an exhibit at the GRAMMY Museum, you would throw out the first pitch at a Dodgers game, and that the band would be touring in your 40th year together?
“Well, I don’t know how to describe it. I feel very grateful and we’ve been grateful for a long time.
For a couple of years now. We’re still playing and people are still coming to see us. But the thing
I like the most is it’s kind of a happy thing for everybody. I think of it like a big family reunion or
celebration of some sort, where everybody’s involved. Like the media people that talk to us,
we’re so excited, they have been interviewing us for thirty years and they were just so happy for
us. And our fans, and our family, and our friends are so happy, that it just makes it bigger than
ever for the band. The Dodgers thing to me was the greatest moment of probably my entire
career, and top five of my life. It’s just like a dream come true kind of thing. And it’s nice because
it’s not like making a million dollars, or having a number one record, or getting a giant GRAMMY
award, it’s more integrated into our lives. You know, it’s LA and it’s the Dodgers and it’s a
museum thing where our fans can see it. It’s not just something given to us, it’s like a shared

How did you personally decide which items you wanted to contribute to the exhibit at the GRAMMY Museum?
“The thing is, it’s not like we have everything that we’ve ever gotten. That’s the sad thing; people
steal from you, you give stuff away, you lose things, things get broken. But I think my favorite
thing that I contributed was all the buttons, the fan-made buttons especially, and then all the
other band member’s buttons, and some clothes and things like that. But it’s neat seeing
everyone else’s too, to see that everybody kept different things. When John and I were married
we had a lot of stuff, and then somehow he ended up with a lot of it, more than I did. So he gave
me some stuff recently that was really cool and that I hadn’t seen in a long time, he shared that
with me. It was great to see everything together, they did a great job and they really listened to
us and got the spirit of the band with what they took, because not everything was chosen by us.
There was so much stuff and everything about it is just authentically X.”

What does it mean for you to have all four original members still playing together?
“It’s been going on since the 70s, so it feels great and I’m really happy about it. It’s weird when I
see old pictures of us, the way we looked and stuff, it’s like, ‘Oh, yeah we used to look like that.’
Because I’m so used to it being a living thing, and not like a nostalgic thing. So it’s alive. It’s kind
of like watching your kids grow up, it’s like you don’t look at them and go, ‘God, I remember
when you were four or I remember when you were five,’ because it’s just who they are and
they’ve always been them and this age now. And it’s crazy though to think we are still together. I
hope that next year is even a better and bigger year for us, that we get some new music or just
some fun stuff that we can do. Building on this, it’s like why not. People still want to hear what
we have to say and they want to see us play, so let’s keep going.”

On August 16, 2017, you threw the first pitch at a Dodgers game as a way for the city of Los Angeles to commemorate 40 years of X. What did this act mean to you?
“Well, you know, I used to play when I was a little kid. Baseball was my favorite thing and I
wanted to be a baseball player, but in Illinois in the 60s there weren’t girl sports like that, and I
lived out in the middle of the country. So sometimes my dad would play catch with me, but
mostly I would just throw the ball up in the air and run and catch it because I just didn’t have
anyone to play with. So I used to throw when I could with the kids, and I would play with the kids
if they would play with me ‘cause it’s hard for girls then to get boys to play with you when you’re
like twelve. Over the years, I’ve loved baseball and we’d go to games. And in the 80s especially,
John and I went to games a lot. But, when I went back to throwing the ball, I wasn’t twelve
anymore, and it was harder than it was when I was a kid, so I had to go back and practice hard.”

You were quoted in Rolling Stone as saying, “I think I understand regret in life more than I ever did,” and, “I understand people have reasons not to do things, but you never know with people and with bands. There are so many people who didn’t see the Cramps or the Gun Club.” What bands do you believe people should see now before they are no longer a band?
“That’s a really good question because there really aren’t that many. Well there is…I don’t want
to say that people are old…I just think that they’re really good and that if you hadn’t seen them, it
doesn’t matter if they’re young or old, to see them because they might break up. I say Joan Jett
for one thing, and Blondie, number one. Blondie is so great, they’re so great live, their new
record is so good. Debbie Harry is so incredible, her presence is so huge and she’s such a
positive, loving, beautiful person inside and out, that I just can’t stop looking at her. I love to see
her play, they’re my favorite. X actually did a tour with them also, so I’ve gotten to see them a lot
in the last couple years. And if they were touring, I would definitely go see them, even if it was a
road trip. ‘Oh they’re playing, where are they playing? Let’s go.’ I hope we can play with them
again so I can see them every night. That’s the road trip I want to take, opening for Blondie
again. Then there’s some young bands, the next band is Skating Polly, who is in the studio right
now making their like fourth or fifth album. And their very young, seventeen, twenty-two, and
twenty-one. It’s two sisters and a brother, and they did a record with Veruca Salt recently, an
EP, and they’re working with the same producer. I was just in the studio with them the other
night and I was listening, and they’re incredible. I mean they’ve been playing music since they
were little children, and they are just so amazing. So they are my favorites, and I would
definitely go see them. I would say, see The Blasters for sure. And see Dave Stuckey and also
Los Lobos. Blondie, The Blasters, and Los Lobos are the top three. Great bands that are still
great, if you haven’t seen them, ‘Why?!’”

What songs and albums have composed the soundtrack to your life?
“That would be an easier question to ask someone who was a lot younger, because you could
say song, or you could say albums, or you could say artist. For me you could pluralize that a
dozen times, and maybe then you’d kind of get a hint of it. There’s stuff that I would never listen
to again that I loved, and stuff that I will always listen too. I would say though, I think this is true
of anyone, even if you had crappy music to listen to while you were growing up. So Nirvana
came around for instance and people grew up listening to KIIS FM, or some grew up listening to
the new wave scene of New York, ‘cause that’s when they were young, some people listen to
hairbands. But whatever that music is, my music was like really early country, R&B, soul, and
then classic rock, kind of Almond Brothers, Doris, and all that. So great music and appropriate
music for my age, but the thing is, I think whatever music you listen to growing up becomes the
soundtrack for the rest of your life. It’s just really obvious with people. People will go and see the
worst band in the world because it reminds them of when they were young, and they dress up
stupid, but I shouldn’t stay stupid…that’s not very nice. “They” say that, that’s what I mean. Like
people say, ‘I’m going to go wear my new wave outfit and tease my hair up all stupid.’ They say
that, not me. I would just say that I was lucky enough to be born in an era when the music was
great, so the soundtrack of my life is probably American music.”

You have created music with X, the Knitters, the Original Sinners, and Auntie Christ. Is there any musician or band you would still like to collaborate with?
“Well, Skating Polly, I’m going to sing with them today on their record, just the one song that we
wrote together. So that’s fun, so that’s a big one. I got that done. When we did the Blondie tour,
Garbage was also on that bill. I love Shirley Manson so much and really grew to love that band
on tour, and I would love to do something with them. I have some other friends, like I have this
friend Becky Lynn Blanca, she’s in this band Penny Matches and she’s like a 20s kind of jazz
singer. Not like over the top, like some people try to effect this whole thing, its her style of music
and she has a great voice so I’d love to do something with her. We’ve been talking about doing
that. Gosh, to tell you the truth, one of my dreams that I haven’t done yet would be to write
songs with lots of people. To kind of be a songwriter and see people do my songs. Like to see
Buddy Yokem do a song, or somebody like that would be like a dream come true. I wish people
would cover more songs, like X songs, because it’s a thrill to hear someone else do a song you

How were you introduced to the band Skating Polly, and what is your relationship to the band?
“It was a long time ago, and I think it was about seven years ago maybe, or six years
ago…no…six or seven years ago I was on the road in Oklahoma City. It was a cold, dark stormy
winter night in February and two little girls and their mom came to see us play. I was touring with
my band, it was my solo stuff. Anyway, Dexter Romweber and the Flat Duo Jets was opening,
which Dexter Romweber is one of the greatest American guitar players and singer songwriters
of all time, and Flat Duo Jets was his band. And there weren’t that many people there, and it
was like this kind of sad tour, because there was me and him and…so these two little girls
showed up with their mom and it was just like everything changed instantly. They were so
excited to be there to see these bands and to meet everybody, and we gave them some t-shirts
and they wanted to buy things. But I got their email because they said they were going to make
a record. I think they were eleven and fourteen at the time, Kelly and Payton. Then they sent me
their record, AND IT WAS SO GREAT! I LOVED IT SO MUCH! And I ended up producing their
second record when they were like thirteen and maybe twelve..I don’t know…they were really
young, they’re seventeen now and I met them like six years ago. Then we just stayed in touch
because they are such great people, and they have this great family. They moved up to Tacoma
recently, and they’re just really grateful, wonderful, beautiful, positive people who work super
hard. I mean, I’ve never known anyone to work as hard as they do, any band. It’s twenty-four
hours a day, and I don’t mean just work, but going to shows and listening to music, buying
records, talking to people about music, reading books, asking questions. Just being very,
very…just soaking up everything about life. It just so great to see.”

What are you able to express through your art and your poetry that you aren’t able to express through music?
“I think with art, my art is a lot more funny, whimsical, apolitical, it’s more about color and
structure, and coincidence, and the merging of disparate elements to make something a whole
that doesn’t really always make sense, but comes together somehow. And I think with other
kinds of writing, like I’m doing fiction right now. I’m working on two books. Saying I’m working on
two books right now is overstating my case. I barely work on it at all, I’m very disappointed that
I’m not working harder on that. But I think the thing about music is that it’s a group effort, and
like if I was going to write a new song, I want to make sure it’s a song that DJ, Billy, and John
would like. They would like the words, they would like the idea of it. It wouldn’t be like, ‘That
doesn’t sound like a X song,’ it wouldn’t be selfish. And whenever I work on new songs I think in
terms of who’s hearing it, while with art I wouldn’t. I would just think about me in this room and
I’m making art, nothing else matters. No one may every see it, that’s okay.”