Exene Cervenka – 40 years a Punk

In 2020, and in the midst of lockdowns we were delighted to find Exene Cervenka at a similarly loose end. Catching up by phone from her home south of Los Angeles we talked about the most recent X album ‘Alphabetland’, touring the UK and X’s place in the mosh pit of modern musical history. Here’s an excerpt for the full interview we did with Exene that appears in Blogzine 5.

In 1977 Exene along with band-mates John Doe, guitarist Billy Zoom and drummer DJ Bonebreak formed what would soon become one of the most successful bands to come out of the LA punk scene. Releasing the seminal punk album ‘Los Angeles’ in 1980, they chalked up a further 7 studio albums until pressing the pause button in the mid 1990s, before returning in 2020 with ‘Alphabetland’.

Now recognised as a singular and influential force, X are rush of big ideas, with their lyrical prowess and reckless guitar hooks, who were finally chased down by the establishment and honoured with their own visual retrospective. In 2017 the band were invited to collaborate with the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles to curate the exhibition ‘X: 40 years of punk in Los Angeles’…

Exene – It was quite something! The museum really did a great job, if you ever come out here it’s one of the best museums – people are really excited to share their collections of these one off music related things.

PGD – Punk increasingly turns up in academia or forms the basis of popular culture exhibitions, how do you think you can best communicate the ideas of punk to a different age group or a different crowd?

Exene – I don’t think I would try at this point. I think it’s way complicated, I think there might have been a time you could have done that, but now young people have such an assault on their psyche and their sense of self, that they’re getting pulled in a lot of different directions. They have a lot of freedom but they don’t have a lot of rules or guidelines or the same norms or morals of the olden times – which wasn’t that long ago – so although they can do anything they want, which in a way is total freedom, it’s also anarchy if there are no rules. In the punk days we had all this freedom but we also had pretty strict rules, sometimes too strict.

The thing with punk was that it was such an odd collection of people it was almost like a Noah’s Ark, where there was two of every kind, because it was really young kids and really old people.

PGD – When we first started going to shows in the UK we were probably around 15 so we were the young kids…

Exene – It was the same for me when I was too young to be a hippy! But that was different because you couldn’t just go to the ‘hippy scene’. Hello I’m 12 and I think I’m ready. Good times!

Back in the Punk days there were people from all over the world, and kids who had run away from home, then it was famous people actors, artists, bohemians it was just such a great mix of people and I don’t think we even noticed young, old, male or female. I didn’t notice anything about people’s sexual preferences unless I had a crush on them.

I was pretty naïve, not coming from a big city background, but you didn’t focus on that because there were too many weird things going on.

The poetry scene, the performance art scene, the folk scene, don’t forget all that stuff was happening. I was in the poetry scene before I was in the punk scene, and all that stuff merged because a lot of people came from the punk scene to Beyond Baroque and vice versa.

X – photo by Michael Hyatt

PGD – X toured extensively all over the world back in the day, what did you make of the UK when you first came?

Exene – The first time we were there was in the late 70s…and it was everything you ever heard about; the warm beer and the pub closing times, and the buses and the mailboxes and those giant red telephone boxes! Black cabs, and going to get Indian food, or fish & chips in newspaper, going to clubs and getting to play – it was great!

It was so foreign, and I think it was the first time I’d been out of the country; it was exciting because of the scene there. I was like ‘You really have warm beer? Can we go get some, I really want to try it!’ It was a fun and fascinating time for a young person to experience.

PGD – Hopefully, one day you’ll come back to the UK, and we can take you around a few vintage shops, and have some of those warm beers …

Exene – Boy that would be something to look forward to! I tell you, if we ever get out of this, I’m gonna hold you to that!

X’s 2020 album ‘Alphabetland’ is out now on Fat Possum Records

All things X at www.xtheband.com

More Exene at www.exenecervenka.net

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