Remembering When Los Angeles Was All Shades of Punk

Members of the iconic LA-based punk band X gathered to reflect on a moment of musical zeitgeist.

Los Angeles has birthed many musical acts over the years— the Beach Boys, the Doors, and most recently Haim. In the world of punk, there’s no local band more celebrated than the legendary X. Launched in 1977, vocalist Exene Cervenka, vocalist/bassist John Doe, guitarist Billy Zoom and drummer D.J. Bonebrake were among the first wave of the American punk scene. Now, 40 years after their debut, all four original members have reunited for a mini-tour.

In 2003, X’s first two studio albums, Los Angeles and Wild Gift, were ranked by Rolling Stone as being among the 500 greatest albums of all time. Los Angeles was ranked 91st on Pitchfork’s Top 100 Albums of the 1980s. The band received an Official Certificate of Recognition from the City of Los Angeles in acknowledgment of its contribution to Los Angeles music and culture.

At a recent concert and Q&A at the Grammy Museum in Downtown LA, the band reflected on their decades-long career, from the highs of the punk movement, to the evolution of their sound today. According to a piece that ran in Variety, Exene explained the band’s literary leanings that sent them apart.

“’There was a similarity to what John liked to write about and what I liked to write about,’ she said. ‘He liked maybe to write more about the wider picture, in ‘Los Angeles,’ ‘We’re Desperate,’ ‘Sex and Dying in High Society’—a lot of those songs were about the culture. It was short story writing, it was Nathanael West, it was Raymond Chandler, it was John Fante, it was the dark side of life, it was 1930s Los Angeles, and that kind of stuff. And I wrote initially more about emotional feeling—relationships, weird, love-hate, kind of crazy stuff.’”

Unsurprisingly, another Los Angeles band made an early impression on X, especially the lead vocalist. “’I was 12 when I heard the Doors’ ‘Light My Fire’ on the radio and it changed my life… My mom knew I liked that song so she turned it up,’ said Exene. But it was the first time she’d heard the radio play the expansive LP version. ‘You’re a little kid and it goes into that long version and you’re in the back seat of a car in Illinois with your parents, and suddenly your life changes at that moment. You become aware. Literally my consciousness changed, and I became a different person.’”

You can read more about X and their impact on Los Angeles culture here.

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