No album has succeeded better as a snapshot of a city and its punk subculture than X's debut album, boldly titled Los Angeles. From the William Burroughs cut-and-paste sex and violence of "Johnny Hit and Run Paulene" to the Beverly Hills sleaze of "Sex and Dying in High Society," X depicts a morbid, kicks-oriented demimonde going up in flames. "All those songs are from actual incidents," says singer Exene. "They're not just made up."
In all essential respects, X's Los Angeles was not that different from the city Jim Morrison celebrated and damned in his work with the Doors. In fact, the Doors' keyboardist, Ray Manzarek, became X's producer. "I thought Exene was the next step after Patti Smith," Manzarek told writer Richard Cromelin. "She takes it further than any woman has ever taken it."
After being passed over by many major labels, the group signed with the small Slash Records and cut Los Angeles — with Manzarek producing and playing keyboards — for the low-budget sum of $10,000. The musical core of the group was punkabilly guitarist Billy Zoom, powerhouse drummer D.J. Bonebrake and bassist John Doe. Exene's untrained but arresting voice entwined with Doe's pitch-perfect vocals in unique harmonies that veered from normal intervals to dissonance. "We ended up with a reckless, offbeat kind of sound that was pretty at the same time, which is an unusual combination," says Exene. Before long, the same labels that had rejected the band were involved in a bidding war to sign them, and X was on its way to leaving a mark on the Eighties with a string of albums.
Doe and Exene, who had independently migrated to Los Angeles from the East Coast, wrote so compulsively about their adopted city because they had never seen anything quite like Los Angeles or its punk-misfit culture. "Any time you're twenty years old and in a big city for the first time, you're going to be writing up a storm," says Exene. "The thing I found incredible about Los Angeles was the flagrant inequality. You'd be on the Sunset Strip with people dangerously close to attacking you for money while all these Rolls-Royces were going by. You just feel like everybody's insane there. No one really has any values. They just make up a little story to act out, and that's their life."