In the pantheon of American punk rock, The Ramones rightfully get held up as standard-bearers with the rest of the CBGB’s crowd following in quick succession. (The fact that The New York Dolls, Dictators and Stooges oftentimes get glossed over is a story for another time.) With all this lending itself to being such an East Coast-centric point of view, the uninformed look at the music scene on Manhattan’s Lower East Side at the time as all that was going on at this time. Meanwhile, a separate, vibrant movement was taking place at the same time on the Left Coast at storied venues like The Masque.
One of the standard bearers of that scene, X, have spent time in the considerable shadow of their New York City cousins, despite making a considerable mark. Founded in 1977 by Exene Cervenka, John Doe, Billy Zoom and DJ Bonebrake, the quartet’s brand of punk fused rockabilly and roots rock while The Ramones’ inspiration came from girl groups and ‘60s AM pop. Fast forward four decades and X remains the only American punk band of that era with all its founding members (Billy Zoom’s current state of health not withstanding. More about that in a bit) still together playing. (For a guide to X, click here.) And while the California foursome has had a number of hiatuses thanks to side and solo projects, Zoom leaving the band for a number of years and even acting gigs for Doe and Cervenka, the past 17 years have found X regularly touring. Doe credits maturity for fueling this creative harmony.
“[The band’s relationship] has been the best that it’s been in a long time or even ever. In any kind of relationship you either move forward, forgive and forget or you move forward and say, ‘It’s best if we don’t stay together.’ As people, we’re much closer together because we realized that we mean a lot to each other,” Doe explained from a tour stop in Cleveland.
This bond is being tested even more given the recent diagnosis Zoom was given at the end of June for an aggressive form of bladder cancer. With Doe sideman Jessie Dayton stepping in for Zoom on this already booked current tour, the members are taking care of business on the road while maintaining contact with their sidelined bandmate and friend. And while his condition is of concern, catching it early was key and the response to a GoFundMe account set up to help defray medical expenses has done wonders to keep morale up for all parties involved. (To contribute to the Billy Zoom GoFundMe account, visit www.gofundme.com/yx66a4.)
“There’s a point where you take things for granted [when you’re younger],” Doe said. “And that goes for the feeling that we have with the people that have donated to GoFundMe and the kind of comments that they’ve left. What people have said about Billy, it really tugs at your heart. You realize that this person could have given $20 and not said anything but you felt compelled to say that our music has meant something to them for 30-something years. Billy’s going to do six-week treatments and it’s all localized. Evidently the success rate is fairly high for this kind of thing.”
Long a critic’s darling, most casual music fans might best know X for its heavy metal-like 1984 cover of “Wild Thing” that was later re-released as the lead single of the soundtrack to the 1989 film Major League. That said, Doe hopes to educate music fans about those early years of the Southern California punk scene and X’s role via a book he’s working on called Under the Big Black Sun (which is also the name of a 1982 X album) slated for release in fall 2016. In it, Doe, along with guest writers including Jane Wiedlin of The Go-Go’s, and Henry Rollins, will contribute chapters giving their perspective of what was going on in Los Angeles at the time and what they thought was going on around them. Throughout it all, Doe is dutifully proud of his band’s legacy. (To read about John Doe’s favorite X songs, click here.)
“At this point, I know what we’ve done. We’ve stuck it out and made some really great songs and four good records. We brought rockabilly to the punk rock world and Exene and I singing together is unlike any other duo. It’s really good. You take those three good things and that’s more than enough.”
X will be appearing on Aug. 1 through 3 at The City Winery,
155 Varick St., NYC. For more information, call 212-608-0555
or visit www.citywinery.com.