She had to leave Los Angeles.
In 1980, “she” was an unnamed L.A. transplant, made bitter and hateful by a city famous for eating its young.
Twenty-eight years later, it is Exene Cervenka who, like the friend she sang about nearly three decades earlier, had to get out — out of the metropolis she immigrated to in the late ’70s, to a place where she could paint, hang out with her chickens and not sit in traffic for hours: Jefferson City, Mo. And don’t expect her to return any time soon.
“I ain’t coming back to L.A.,” Cervenka says emphatically. “I may move again, but I’m not coming back to L.A.”
Of course, at this point it doesn’t matter where she makes her home: Cervenka, 52, is and always will be #the# domestic goddess of Los Angeles punk, just as her band, X, remains the L.A. punk band, despite not having recorded anything new in 15 years. That is what happens when you release an album as pivotal as 1980’s Los Angeles. Previously the neglected middle child of the international punk scene — too glitzy for London, not artsy enough for New York — with their debut, L.A. finally had its definitive document, a record that, like Nevermind the Bullocks for England and The Ramones for New York, couldn’t have been spawned anywhere else but the streets of Hollywood.
X’s reign as the city’s best band continued for three more perfect albums. All the while, the group seemed to have the tools to break out huge: a painfully cool power couple up front (Cervenka and then-husband, singer-bassist John Doe), a blond rockabilly guitar hero (Billy Zoom) and a discography full of great songs. Alas, X never transcended its cult status. Still, Cervenka regrets nothing. And besides, this ride isn’t quite finished yet.
VCR: A lot of music critics celebrated 2007 as “the 30th anniversary of punk.” Looking back, the classic L.A. punk scene still doesn’t get the respect it deserves. Why is that?
Cervenka: It doesn’t get the respect because it didn’t have the pop icons, like Blondie and Talking Heads and the Sex Pistols and the Clash. It had great bands, just no one took L.A. seriously. I don’t know why. I think it’s because we didn’t have the attention. People didn’t take it seriously at the time, so there’s nothing to look at now and say how great it was because there are no records.
What was it like for you back in the late ’70s, joining a band and having no previous musical experience?
Terrifying. Absolutely terrifying. I’m 20 years old, around these accomplished musicians, in the middle of this revolutionary punk scene that was creating this huge upheaval, trying to be a poet and trying to sing and trying to come up with some idea of who I was and what I was doing with my life. I just moved to California from Florida and didn’t know anything about living in a big city. It was all pretty terrifying and pretty exciting.
Is there any possibility of a new X record?
I’d love to make a new record. I think we could make a really good record now. There’s been money offers for us to do another record, and we could always do it if we wanted. For some reason, it just hasn’t happened yet. I think it’ll happen if John and I write a song together. It’ll just take one song and then we’ll have a whole record.
Do you feel there is something left unfulfilled in the story of X?
Well, the story’s not over. We’ll see what happens as time go on. We might have a song in a movie and all of a sudden X becomes really popular. We might turn into the Grateful Dead — I don’t fucking know. But that time was very magical, and I wouldn’t trade any of it for anything. If we had become really famous like the Go-Go’s it might have been fun, and that would’ve been nice, but I think what we did was just too much for the public and too much for the radio to play. They just couldn’t play it, they just couldn’t wrap their heads around it, so people didn’t hear it. And when they do hear it, they generally like it, so maybe in the future a lot of people will hear it and we will have that success. Who knows?