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. 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 subtle shades of Americana and blues. 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 15. 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 lived about a mile and a half from Sandy Hook school. The families affected by this tragedy were a part of my community. I knew some of them personally. I witnessed the devastation that followed that day. For months after the tragedy, you could hear a pin drop while walking around town. 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, I began to realize how much more real it seems when it happens right in your own back yard. And instead of joining together as a country and standing in solidarity against this gun violence epidemic that had now taken the lives of babies, people viciously attacked the families and spewed the unbelievable story that this tragedy was a hoax. It went further than just words. Families were harassed, threatened and intimidated by these conspiracy theorists. Many had to move from the area or live in hiding because of death threats to themselves and their families. Not only did these parents lose children in the most horrific and unthinkable way, but they were being mocked, harassed and threatened by right wind media darlings like Alex Jones, who encouraged his supporters to harass them.
Discovering Exene Cervenka was among them was incomprehensible. 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 monster. Someone that would mock dead children and support people who harassed their families. People that had suffered the greatest loss a person could imagine were being slandered by someone I’d admired and idolized. Delving more deeply, I saw the pattern. Exene’s you-tube channel rants ranged from the typical conspiracy theorists views about the government attempting to take your rights away, to unbelievably vile postings that were filled with racism, misogyny, and homophobia and were more like the rantings of someone who had lost all semblance of reality. 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. Had she lost her mind? Or were these kinds of things representative of who she had always been? 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.
“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”.
While these lyrics could have just been part of a characters story, something about them always felt wrong. I understand that lyricists write about characters that have nothing to do with them or their beliefs. But something told me that in this case, they did. Seeing Exene’s now defunct YouTube channel solidified this belief. Right or wrong I just can’t abide it.
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 and hope she gets the help she needs. But maybe this punk icon is really nothing more than a punk. There comes a time in your life when your own moral compass leads you to 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.
Despite the vile words and actions of Exene, the band seems to have sold its soul in order to keep performing with someone that stands by her views. At a recent show, Exene ended the show with “Let’s Go Brandon” the vile, juvenile euphemism those on the far right use instead of having the balls to say what they mean out loud. And while Billy Zoom has always been tied to right wing ideology, John Doe and D.J. Bonebreak have not. But instead of condemning the words and actions of Exene, John and D.J. Seem to have made the decision to allow the words and beliefs of Exene to drive the narrative of the band. Men who appear to value a dollar more than decency or what’s right, more than the lives and memories of dead children.
Looking more deeply into all of this, it’s also come to my attention that in addition to the racism, madness and misogyny Exene spewed on her now defunct YouTube channel, I have found interviews where she calls women “sluts” ( a term any woman should find repulsive) , goes after black people for using the N word, and tells us that we women should be happy we live in a time where sexism and misogyny are no longer rampant. Really. Let’s also remember that she released a recording of herself reading the manifesto of the unibomber. Jesus. She’s never hidden who she was. We’ve just refused to see it because we loved the music so much.
A few years back, I was able to speak to the manger of X. When I voiced my shock and outrage at the words of Exene regarding Sandy Hook he said to me ” We both know Exene said those things, but can’t you forgive people their faults?” No. When it comes to denying the very lives of children shot down in their classrooms, I most certainly can not.