Then and Now(ish): X

I love X. I just had to get that out there so you know where I’m coming from as you read this. They never really “hit” big time, but they were such an integral part of the L.A. punk scene of the late 70s/early 80s that despite the fact that they only have a handful of studio albums (three of them classics in their own right), X made such an impression on a diverse group of musicians that it will probably be just a matter of time before they regroup, record, and embark on a world tour so aging X’ers (that’s Gen X’ers) can slam dance like it was 1980 all over again.

Like I said before, their first three albums are classics. Los Angeles, Wild Gift, and Under the Big Black Sun should be on your “Must Have” list when fattening out your punk/post-punk collection. In some ways, X were a little too melodic to be considered punk. But their attitude, semi-political jabs and furious playing certainly reflected the punk vibe of the ’70s which X carried over into the ’80s.

“Los Angeles” is a disturbing song about intolerance and feeling like the entire city and all of its inhabitants are just shit and you can’t control any of the changes going on around you. It can be easy to infer that the members of X are an intolerant lot with lyrics like this:

She, had to leave
Los Angeles
All her toys wore out in black and her boys had too
She started to hate every Nigger and Jew
Every Mexican that gave her lotta shit
Every homosexual and the idle rich
Idle rich
She had to get out, get out
Get out, get out
Get out, get out

She gets confused
Flying over the dateline her hands turn red
Cause the days change at night
Change in an instant
The days change at night
Change in an instant

If this is the only song you hear from the band, you’ll probably write them off as white pride racist assholes. Many times the ugliness of epithets can make it hard to see other meanings in the lyrics, but because I’ve listened to far more X than this song, my reading of it is more about the last vestiges of intolerant L.A. who had come to hate all the demographic changes in the city.
I know, you’re probably saying to yourself, “That’s way too much analysis for a punk song.” Maybe. But the songwriting team of Exene Cervenka, and John Doe were no slouches when it came to penning compact, yet potent songs about the human condition:

Sadly, X’s energy and anger at the world had a short life span. By the time they recorded More Fun in the New World, they were able to get off a few zingers at the Reagan administration  in “The New World.”

But what they lacked in political punch, they made up for in some powerful music,  like “Devil Doll.”

… and a song whose main riff sounds like “Long Train Runnin'” by the Doobie Brothers in “True Love, Part 2:

Things started to slide downhill after 1985 when they tried to cross over from their cow punk roots to a more mainstream sound. Ain’t Love Grand (1985) and See How We Are (1987) were very uneven and somewhat boring records that gave off a big stench of “Sell out.”  Guitarist Billy Zoom couldn’t take the odor and left the band in 1986. And things really started to go south when X’s cover of “Wild Thing” was featured in the film and soundtrack to Major League.

By the time the group reformed in the early ’90s to record Hey Zeus, the fire was kinda-sorta there for songs like “Arms for Hostages” and “Country at War”

But to truly hear the fire and fury of what made X a great American band, go forth and buy the first three (or four) CDs and you’ll hear the magic!

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