Periodically, in the process of living, a band comes to saturate my life. I am not talking about obsession here, not the saturation born of compulsive listening to a single or multiple albums by a band, which has, for whatever reason, taken possession of my imagination. There have been periods in my life when I listened to X a hell of a lot, in which they did saturate my life from the inside out, through my head let’s say. But seated on my couch, a Sunday afternoon, sipping placidly from a mug of Opium tea, I cannot help but note the fact that more than most bands, X presses against me from the outside as well, most notably in people’s relationships, both old and warm with the patina of years and newly kindled, to the band.
An example of the latter: just the other day I received an email from a friend who felt inclined to tell me that he had purchased an X record, as a history lesson he said, to complement the balm-like effects of the more “contemporary,” largely Canadian music which he and his girlfriend have been listening to. I’m sure at some point I was drunk and no doubt chain-smoking through a sweltering evening on his porch, as was my habit last summer, and got onto how this band X is great and he should really listen to them. (I probably said something about how it was especially important because he is a Californian as well, but more on that later.) Anyway, the record he bought was Los Angeles and he says he likes the song about how rich girls all want to marry their daddies.
Rewind. A photograph of my graduation day: me in a silly cap and beleaguered Cincinnati Bengals tee, beneath, of course, the dignified regalia of a graduation robe, only too obviously hungover from days of fastidious “celebration”; beside me, one of my closest friends, in town for the graduation, not only wearing a white X shirt (one which he would not let me borrow for fear that I would stretch it to irrevocable proportions), but in fact, looking splendidly Billy Zoomish—slick, greasily coiffed hair, flashy shoes, the perfected punk rockabilly cooze-hound look. A part of my life.
And one final portrait—a bartender at the Blind Eye, a favorite local watering hole which is operating in speakeasy fashion for the moment, who doesn’t hesitate in the least when stating flatly that X is his favorite band. During a recent stint in San Francisco, he saw them play, and informed me that, “Yeah, it was good, but they kind of just played all the crowd pleasers at the expense of their newer material.” By crowd pleasers he meant songs from Los Angeles, Under the Big Black Sun and Wild Gift, the triumvirate of early ’80s albums, firmly set in the burgeoning punk scene of the moment, which are the root of the reverence in which a great many people hold the band. And by newer he meant everything after those three—the other, not so iconic as endearing, albums sporadically released since. I mention this not to point to him as one of those “I know more about this band than you” assholes, but on the contrary to paint him as a fan deeply immersed in everything that X has offered the world, and therefore, not surprisingly, drawn to material which has perhaps not been given the attention that it should have been by most of us.
I just referred to the music that X has made as having been offered to the world. At the risk of being thought exceedingly literal in my interpretation, I have chosen to think of Wild Gift as just that, an offering, simply a gift—though not a simple gift. That “wild” is a part of the title is illustrative of the fact that X was at the time a band not only consciously, but willfully reckless. And as with many other Los Angeles bands at the time, this was in part a response to stifling boredom and unrest, dissatisfaction with the sprawling suburban landscape emanating from the city and the regimented existences it offered as possibilities. It was a wildness fixated on, if not decapitating outrightly, devaluing a broad range of authority figures and the mores which they espoused. But more than that, it was an expression, through music and excessive living, of the irreducible inner turbulence which artists have been rendering actual for time immemorial.
Perhaps no other punk band was as much a part of this tradition. Certainly it is not difficult to imagine John Doe and Exene Cervenkova meeting as wild eyed, enfant terribles, poetic sensibilities in search of the proper medium in which to ply their art. That they came upon the perfect form—a form at once utterly their own, and organically sown from their influences—is evidenced throughout Wild Gift; in the bubbly guitar and nervous sexuality of “Adult Books” which climaxes in Exene and John alternately cooing and shrieking the eponymous words; every time Exene sings “He hung me with the endless rope,” and the band falls back in behind Zoom’s rhythm guitar in “The Once Over Twice”; in the paean/condemnation of carnal/spiritual love that is “When Our Love Passed Out on the Couch.” The unresolved tension of the two singers was never more enticingly chaotic and riddled with energy than on this album, and perhaps that is why it seems their most volatile and desperate effort. While conjuring a specific time and place, X also happened to succeed in conveying something universal and visceral—that something which we are listening for every time we put on an album for the first time.
The Avengers – Died For Your Sins
Germs – (GI)
Sons and Daughters – The Repulsion Box