I was first introduced to the band X in 1981, at the age of 13. A friend and musical mentor listened to them frequently and was a huge fan. As with most of his music suggestions, I loved what I heard. In fact, X quickly became one of my all time favorite bands and have remained so for the past 35 years.
X has a sound that is a unique mixture of rockabilly, punk and even folk and country. They remain one of the few bands in the world that always produced a sound that was uniquely their own. From the poetic lyrics to the slightly off-kilter harmonies of singers John Doe and Exene Cervenka, I was drawn in at first listen and fully expected the band to remain in my top ten for the rest of my life.
X has been a part of my life for decades. My children know every song. My daughter attended her first concert when she joined me at an X show at the Irving Plaza just before she turned 16. This band meant something to me . That all changed after the tragedy at Sandy Hook.
I was unaware at the time, that Exene had a you-tube channel where she posted truther/conspiracy theorist rants that made her, quite frankly, sound like she had lost her mind. When a friend told me about Sandy Hook conspiracy theorists (A concept that literally turns my stomach), I did some research and found that Exene was among them.
To put this in perspective, I live about a mile and a half from Sandy Hook school. The families affected by this tragedy are a part of my community. I know some of them personally. I witnessed the devastation to a community and our entire country. For months after the tragedy, you could hear a pin drop while grocery shopping in town. People walked around in shock. The sadness was a living, breathing thing that I’m certain you have to experience to understand. Like others that lived or worked near other unspeakable tragedies we have experienced in this country over the past 2 decades, it’s so much more real when it happens right in your own back yard.
It was like a punch in the gut. This woman, an artist that I had admired and respected for most of my life, had turned into a human being that would accuse people in my very own community of being crisis actors. People that had suffered the greatest loss a person could imagine were being slandered by someone I’d admired and idolized. Delving deeper, her rants ranged from the typical conspiracy theorists views about the government attempting to take your rights away, to bat-shit crazy postings that made her appear racist, misogynistic, homophobic and truly scary. My mind was blown. Punk was about acceptance, right? I vividly recalled my own punk youth where, except for the greatly disdained racist skinheads, everyone accepted everyone else. But then I remembered something I’d tried to push back in my own mind for a very long time. Something I liked to make myself believe had nothing to do with Cervenka’s own personal views (although rumors have always persisted about the racist nature of certain band members). And the lyrics to the song Los Angeles came back into my head. And they scared me.
“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
She had to get out”.
I first became aware of Cervenka’s madness a few years ago and I stopped listening to the band. But after seeing John Doe and his band play a few X songs on tour recently, I started to listen again. I spent a month believing I was going to attend a show last night at the Irving Plaza. I even worked on getting a press pass. But yesterday morning, I was driving and decided to put X on. When Los Angeles came on, my mind was made up. I would not be going to the show and I’d be deleting the X songs from my playlists.
I’m fully aware that I certainly must listen to other songs that are, by nature, against my own moral code in one way or another. And I am certainly a huge believer in Freedom of Speech. But just as I witnessed Drive-By Trucker fans leave a show I was covering recently because the band had put up a “Black Lives Matter” poster (Really? Have you never listened to a DBT song?) it remains my choice whether or not I can support a band whose views (At least those of Cervenka) are so completely opposite of my own. And for me, the answer is no. John Doe is a different person and a different story. I will remain a fan and he remains a great musician in my eyes. He has also attempted to distance himself from the words of Cervenka.
Exene took her you-tube channel down after the shit hit the fan about it in 2014. She even issued a statement where she tried to make peace, but certainly never truly apologized. But morally, I can’t forget the things she said. Maybe Exene is truly mentally ill. If so, I genuinely feel sorry for her. But maybe this punk icon is really nothing more than a punk. There comes a time in your life when your own moral code makes you make some decisions based on what you believe is right and wrong. If I ever forget again, which I’m certain I won’t, all I will need to do is replay those lyrics in my head. Goodbye, X.