WHO ARE THEY
Of all the first-wave west coast punk bands that emerged in the late-'70s, X was among the longest-lived and most influential, while significantly broadening the parameters of the genre.
X was formed in Los Angeles in early 1977, when bassist/vocalist John Doe (born John Duchac) and vocalist Exene Cervenka (born Christine Cerankova)--both recent transplants to the city--became acquainted at a poetry workshop. Both were interested in Beat and Romantic literature, as well as artists that emerged from the nascent punk scene on the East Coast, in particular Patti Smith and the Ramones. Doe and Cervenka soon began dating, and around this time Doe had began playing punk-inspired music with ex-Gene Vincent guitarist Billy Zoom (born Ty Kindell). Cervenka joined Doe and Zoom, singing her poetry over their revved-up blues and rockabilly songs.
By early 1978, after a handful of performances in L.A.'s quickly growing punk scene and several temporary drummers, D.J. Bonebrake was plucked from The Eyes to become a permanent member of X.
X's pulp-noir lyrics, groundbreaking (for its time) combination of musical influences, as well as Cervenka and Doe's unique harmony singing, made them early figureheads of the L.A. scene, and attracted the attention of former Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek, who would go on to produce several of the band's albums.
Slash Records released "Los Angeles" and "Wild Gift" in 1980 and 1981, respectively; both are undisputed classics of the genre. The following year, X signed with Elektra Records, who subsequently issued "Under the Big Black Sun" in 1982 and "More Fun in the New World" in 1983, both just a hair less impressive than "Los Angeles" and "Wild Gift," though redeemed through still-impeccable songs and further exploration of country, rockabilly and blues. Like many punk bands at the time, X's embrace of more sophisticated musical textures proved to be relevatory for future generations--in this case, paving the road for much roots-based alternative music over the next decade and casting an enormous shadow over Tucson's burgeoning desert-rock style, which remains popular today.
None of X's subsequent releases had as much of an impact as their 1980-84 output, but what they had accomplished was more than enough. Although they haven't released a studio album since 1993's "Hey Zeus!," they remain a popular and relevant touring act.
BUY THIS ALBUM
Slash's 1988 two-fer reissue of "Los Angeles" and "Wild Gift" on one disc is absolutely essential to any rock music collection--punk or otherwise. From the stylized savagery of "Johnny Hit and Run Pauline" and "Nausea" to the true-crime melodrama of "Sex and Dying in High Society" and the downright fun "The Phone's Off the Hook, But You're Not," X articulated humanity in horror and the seedy underbelly of West Coast-sheen. Or, "Beyond and Back," as they titled a song from this period.
Truly, almost every track from the first four albums is a winner, but particularly stunning is the complex and frightening "White Girl" and conversely, the stampeding statement-of-intent "We're Desperate."
X is playing the Rialto Theatre with The Blasters Friday, Dec. 5 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $23 for the general admission all-ages show. More info at rialtotheatre.com.