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Punk Stalwarts X Discuss Playing Debut Album on Tour

Singer Exene Cervenka also leaves open the possibility recording new songs

June 23, 2011 1:40 PM ET
Billy Zoom, DJ Bonebrake, Exene Cervenka and John Doe of X in Los Angeles, 1980.
Billy Zoom, DJ Bonebrake, Exene Cervenka and John Doe of X in Los Angeles, 1980.
George Rose/Getty Images

Ever since the late Nineties, the original X line-up has reunited for sporadic live work. This fall, the group will be celebrating the 31-year anniversary of the release of their 1980 debut Los Angeles by playing the album in its entirety on each stop of a U.S. tour (with a screening of their 1986 film, The Unheard Music, occurring before each performance).

In an interview with Rolling Stone, singer Exene Cervenka discussed X's debut album, the possibility of new material and dealing with multiple sclerosis.

What do you recall about when X recorded Los Angeles?
Looking back at it now, we didn't take anything seriously. I was a hellion – all I wanted to do was write songs, write poems, drink, get high, play music and go to shows. It was a wonderful time. I think it was big in our minds, but it was hard to take it seriously, because we still weren't at the point where we realized things were going to happen.

What did Ray Manzarek bring to the band as a producer?
When we met Ray, I was just a crazy kid, and it really gave us some validation, but I don't mean validation like, "Now we know we're good." It was more like, "Oh, somebody cares about what we're doing, that cares about music, and is really good." Ray coming along kind of changed everything for me, because it made me take things a little more seriously.

Are some of the songs, specifically "Johnny Hit and Run Paulene" and the title track, based on real people the band knew?
Some of them are completely, literally, specifically about people. Or ourselves. And some are not, some are totally made up. But if I told you what, maybe that would ruin things.

Did you have any idea at the time that Los Angeles would be a punk classic?
I had to go over my friend's house and play it. I remember the first second we put that needle down in front of our friends, I went, "Oh no, they're going to hear the record . . . what if they don't like it?" I hadn't thought about that at all!

Everything's different now than it was then. I mean, you got in your 1956 Ford, you didn't have a phone, you didn't have a TV, you didn't have a computer, you didn't have a camera. It was like 1956 to us – everything was like that then. We lived in the past, we cruised around like it was the Fifties or the Sixties all the time. That's how we lived, that's what we liked. So I was kind of living in a fantasy world, but I was totally into the moment, only. A lot of people ask, "Do you think you'd still be playing now?" or "Do you think Los Angeles would be considered so important?" Of course we didn't think any of that. We had no idea that anybody was even going to hear that record.

Are you looking forward to playing Los Angeles in its entirety?
I'm always looking forward to playing with X. We've been doing it a really long time, and I value every second I have with that band on stage or off, because I know that tomorrow might be the last show. I hate to be that way, but it's true. Anybody could say that – that's a good attitude to have. "Tonight is going to be the best show of my life because it might be my last one." Every band should act like that, and not be careless about it. 

Is there any talk of X recording new material?
We talk about it, and the reason we haven't isn't because we don't care about giving people new songs or that we don't have songs. It's more like we've become kind of this "legacy band," but I think we could do new songs and that would be great. We're a funny band, we're a stubborn band, we're an interesting band, and I don't know what's going to happen tomorrow. I would say sure, why not, we're going to make some more X songs! [Laughs]

How are you doing currently dealing with having multiple sclerosis?
It's an ongoing thing. I will say this, I'll make a little bit of a political statement – almost every woman I know is sick with something. I've lost friends to breast cancer, lupus, fibromyalgia, MS. All kinds of autoimmune disorders, and no one can quite diagnose a lot of it. A lot of women come to me and say, "I have the same problem you have, I was told I had MS 15 years ago, and now I'm told I have this." And I'm in the same boat as everybody else – I've been told I have all kinds of conflicting things about what I have and what I don't have. The reason why I came out publicly with the MS diagnosis was because I'd been sick 16 years off and on with something I couldn't figure out. Doctors had told me I had MS and other doctors told me I didn't. Finally, I just got fed up, and said, "OK, I've got it, leave me alone." And ever since I said I got it, now I've got doctors trying to tell me it's something else, because that's the way doctors are – they're practicing medicine. I will say this – I am probably stronger than I've ever been in my life.

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