By Brian Nixon, Special to ASSIST News Service
ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS – May 3, 2017) — 1977 was a year of major cultural movement. The first personal computer was released, the Commodore PET, and Apple Computers was incorporated as a company. Star Wars hit the movie theaters. The TV minis-series Roots takes the US by storm. Elvis Presley died. Jimmy Carter was elected President. And in Los Angeles, the west coast American punk rock band, X, formed.
Founded by John Doe (b. John Nommensen Duchac) and Billy Zoom (b. Tyson Kindell) and later joined by Doe’s girlfriend, singer, Exene Cervenka (b. Christene Lee Cervenka) and drummer, DJ Bonebreak, X helped define the first wave of punk rock rising from the streets of LA alongside The Weirdos, The Screamers, The Germs, Joan Jett, and the Go Go’s. And unlike the east coast variety, the west coast sound incorporated elements of rockabilly and alt country into the sonic landscape.
I distinctly remember the first time I heard about both punk rock and X. Punk rock came via an African American friend that ran with me on a track club, the Albuquerque Dust Devils. One day after practice we were talking music. He asked me the type of music we listen to at home. I said “rock” (mainly through the influence of my brother and uncle). And by rock I meant hard rock: ACDC, Van Halen, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith and the like. I asked him what he listened to. He replied, “punk rock.” I sort of looked at him funny. “What’s that,” I replied? He gave me a quizzical look and said, “You know, the Sex Pistols, the Clash, and groups like that.” I was stymied. I didn’t know these bands. And now in hindsight I’m thinking my friend had his pulse on what was hip and happening at the time. This was about 1978-1979 when this conversation occurred.
But it wasn’t until David Hatter that I heard about X. David was an aficionado of music. He was on the cutting edge of all things cool. With his spiked blond hair, leather, and hipness in tow, David was both knowledgeable and passionate about the music he loved. I told David about the new groups I had heard about from my friend at track. David said something along the lines, “Oh, yeah. These guys came out a few years ago. Where it’s at now is with the west coast punk bands, X and Black Flag.” Again, I was lost. Both bands were not in my sonic scenery. And I didn’t go out of my way to listen to them—at least for another year or so.
1981 changed things. When I was trying to move away from my brother’s music — hard rock — I began to pick up on what David was throwing down. And MTV helped me along the way. It was on MTV that I was introduced to the modern sound swirling throughout the world. Over the next two years I remember seeing videos by Echo and the Bunnymen, U2, Talking Heads, Split Endz, The Police, Blondie, the Cars, and many others. They all had one thing in common: they weren’t hard rock. But when I first saw the video of X’s Hungry Wolf in 1982 I was able to place a name to a sound. I caught up to the cool that David was dishing out.
Unknown to me Hungry Wolf and the album it appeared on Under The Big Black Sun was a semi musical departure for X, incorporating a broader palate of sound: Americana, rockabilly, etc. Famed Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek produced X’s early albums, including Under The Big Black Sun. And even though I knew The Doors, as a kid discovering new music it was a proud moment to hear X, a time where I was able to put two and two together: I knew what the heck David Hatter was talking about.
Let me say that I never became an uber fan of X. By 1983 the old school punk rock sound began to fade and a new, post-punk sound began to emerge. Post-punk was a mixture of punk attitude with an atmospheric soundscape. Our family moved from New Mexico to California in 1983. In California I followed the post-punk route with bands like Joy Division, Echo and the Bunnymen, Psychedelic Furs, U2, the Cult, Jesus and the Marychain (and secretly a classical music lover). I eventually started a post-punk band myself, later singed to an independent label. But I continued to follow bands like X from a distance, primarily through front man John Doe. Between 1982 and 2017 I purchased a few of John Doe’s albums, mainly his alt-country music and various collaborations.
So when I read in a local newspaper, the Alibi, that X was to perform in Albuquerque as part of their 40th anniversary tour I immediately got online and ordered a ticket. I needed to see — for the first time — the band whose name sparked an interest in a new musical world. And to top it all off the original lineup was in place: John, Exene, Billy, and DJ. It was a must.
As I walked up to the El Rey Theater in Downtown Albuquerque, I noticed two things. One, there were lots of older people like myself; gray hair was everywhere. Two, there were younger punk rock kids, yearning for the good old days when punk was new and influential. I approached one of the younger kids. He called himself Yucky. I asked why he was there. “I love X,” was his reply. Are you seeing the show tonight, I ask? “I can’t; I’m too young. So I thought I’d just sit outside and hope for a look.” Fair enough, I said. I take a picture for posterity.
I then talk to one of the gray haired guys standing in line. I open with, “Don’t these guys know that all of us old guys go to bed by 10:00 (we were just told X were not on stage until 10:00)? The fellow gray-haired guy replied, “Yeah. I just calculated in my head that all of the members of X must be in their 60’s. This is late for them as well.” We both laugh. And his insight is correct, they are all in their 60’s.
In the article I read it mentioned that X was touring old-school style — in vans. Exene said, “…There’re two vans. One van is for equipment. It’s fun. Bands that use busses have tons of money. They take a lot of money. We’ve never liked busses. Who wants to spend all your money on stuff like that? We take care of ourselves. We’re hardworking, old-fashioned. We are from another time…To me, we’re the same kind of people. Punk rock is a type of folk music; it still is very much about building community” .
To say the least I needed to see the van. And, yes, they were there along with a truck.
After a fine opening act — a trio whose singers took a page from Exene — X took the stage. For a Monday night in Albuquerque the 600 plus people in attendance was a great turnout for the small historic theater. And as the start of the 40th anniversary tour it was probably a good place to iron out any wrinkles.
The band was fabulous; performances tight; singing, strong and clear; interaction with the audience real and relevant. And since two of the members have health issues (Exene had an MS-related scare and Billy is in remission from cancer), they were unusually energetic, probably getting pumped for the long haul ahead.
The crowd went with them the whole concert, singing along with the songs culled mainly from the first few albums, yelling compliments, and giving whistles and shouts of love. For me, my favorite moments were the songs representing Under The Big Black Sun. It’s here we were able to see DJ play the vibes, Billy play sax, and the crowd ride along the infectious grooves of Hungry Wolf with a long drum solo in the middle. Marvelous stuff.
To say the least, I needed a memento. I purchased John Doe’s memoir of the LA punk scene entitled Under the Big Black Sun: A Personal History of L.A Punk. Others were in line for the assortment of t-shirts and scarfs.
It was a night to remember.
If there’s one thing I can say about punk rock is that it represents something greater and grander than just the music. True, punk is a scene, but it’s also a state of mind. X represents it all with guts and glory.
Do yourself a favor; check out one of their upcoming shows:
5/3/2017 /Oklahoma City, OK / Diamond Ballroom /tickets (http://www.protixonline.com/events/details/?event_id=573)
5/5/2017 /Kansas City, MO/ Knuckleheads /tickets (http://bit.ly/2leWUuS)
5/6/2017 /St. Louis, MO / Delmar Hall /tickets (http://bit.ly/2leWUuS)
5/7/2017 /Nashville, TN / City Winery /tickets (http://bit.ly/2n5XI6T)
5/8/2017 /Charlotte, NC / Neighborhood Theater /tickets (http://ticketf.ly/2o0DVTh)
5/9/2017 /Carborro, NC / Cat’s Cradle /tickets (http://bit.ly/2ngfph2)
5/11/2017 /St. Augustine, FL / St. Augustine Amphitheater /tickets (http://bit.ly/2mkmHiphttp:/bit.ly/2mkmHip)
5/12/2017 /Ft. Lauderdale, FL / Culture Room /tickets (http://bit.ly/2mG31Z2)
5/13/2017 /Orlando, FL / Beacham Theater /tickets (http://ticketf.ly/2mjl1rS)
5/14/2017 /St. Petersburg, FL / State Theater /tickets (http://ticketf.ly/2m1zn1w)
5/16/2017 /Atlanta, GA/ Masquerade /tickets (http://bit.ly/2lLPPD0)
5/18/2017 /New Orleans, LA / One Eyed Jacks /tickets (http://bit.ly/2mAqqN6)
5/22/2017 /Houston, TX / Heights Theater /tickets (http://bit.ly/2n4yXrf)
5/23/2017 /San Antonio, TX /Paper Tiger /tickets (http://bit.ly/2n2WYLF)
5/24/2017 /Austin, TX / Mohawk /tickets (http://bit.ly/2mkeQ3w)
5/25/2017 /Dallas, TX / The Kessler /tickets (http://bit.ly/2mFJ6JZ)
7/2/2017 /Oakland, CA / Burger Boogaloo – Mosswood Park /tickets (http://ticketf.ly/2lMf3Rl)
8/18/2017 /Solana Beach, CA / Belly Up /tickets (http://fgtix.to/2nPYWQT)
9/6/2017 /Las Vegas, NV / The Brooklyn Bowl
9/8/2017 /Salt Lake City, UT / The Complex /tickets (http://bit.ly/2nxayXk)
9/9/2017 /Denver, CO/ The Summit
9/11/2017 /Omaha, NE / The Waiting Room /tickets (http://bit.ly/2ovtvOm)
9/13/2017 /Minneapolis, MN / First Ave
9/14/2017 /Milwaukee, WI / TBA
9/15/2017 /Chicago, IL/ TBA
9/16/2017 /Detroit, MI / El Club /tickets (http://ticketf.ly/2nxxwNQ)
9/17/2017 /Buffalo, NY / The Town Ballroom
9/19/2017 /Portland, ME / The Port City Music Hall
9/20/2017 /Boston, MA / Brighton Music Hall
9/21/2017 /New York, NY / Stage48 /tickets (http://bit.ly/2o2XYmt)
9/22/2017 /Philadelphia, PA / Underground Arts
9/23/2017 /Falls Church, VA / The State Theatre
9/25/2017 /Pittsburgh, PA / Rex Theater /tickets (http://ticketf.ly/2oS6QID)
9/26/2017 /Kent, OH/ The Kent Stage
9/27/2017 /Columbus, OH / Skully’s Music Diner
Photo captions: 1) X Tonight at the El Rey Theater. 2) Yucky waiting backstage for X. 3) Punk Rock Truck. 4) X Live in Albuquerque. 5) Brian Nixon.
About the writer: Brian Nixon is a writer, artist, musician, and minister. He’s a graduate of California State University, Stanislaus (BA), Veritas Evangelical Seminary (MA) and is a Fellow at Oxford Graduate School (D.Phil.). To learn more, click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Nixon or https://twitter.com/BnixNews.
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