X factor 

The original members of L.A. punk band X reconvene and find new meaning in their music.

X, reunited with its original lineup, plays 8 p.m. Monday at Tower Theatre. - GARY LEONARD / PROVIDED
  • Gary Leonard / provided
  • X, reunited with its original lineup, plays 8 p.m. Monday at Tower Theatre.


8 p.m. Monday

Tower Theatre
425 NW 23rd St.


In More Fun in the New World: The Unmaking and Legacy of L.A. Punk, John Doe compared touring with his band X in the 1980s to a kind of self-centered mission trip.

“We felt a duty to spread the gospel we thought we were,” Doe recalled in the book, published in June. “Some nights we probably sucked, but some we outplayed even ourselves.”

In the book, Doe proceeds to describe how the pressures of touring and recording as one of LA’s most revered if not most commercially successful punk bands began to break up both X and his marriage to bandmate Exene Cervenka, but the band’s original lineup has since reunited and plays 8 p.m. Monday at Tower Theatre, 425 NW 23rd St. In a phone interview with Oklahoma Gazette, Doe said X has overcome the obstacles that originally caused the band, responsible for classic punk albums Los Angeles and Wild Gift, to split up.

“People say that a band is like a family, and families are complicated,” Doe said. “But we like each other, and we’re cool. All the bullshit’s been settled, so it’s good.”

Though he and Cervenka remain romantic exes, Doe said he still considers her his creative soulmate.

“We just share something that’s a little bit different,” Doe said. “When we sing together, we kind of know where each other’s going. If one improvises, the other one picks up on it really quickly and can go there with them. And we’ve been through a lot. We still write songs together, and that’s another kind of connection that is difficult to come by. That’s one of the reasons that we tried to be adults and didn’t blow the whole band apart because we weren’t married anymore. It’s kind of ancient history.”

Their unique vocal interplay (often described as “off-kilter”) took time to develop, Doe said, and they continue to work at the dynamic.

“We worked at it for two or three years before it really started taking shape,” Doe said, “and it still can be a challenge when we work on new songs. Exene has an unconventional way of singing, which is really unique in the harmonies that she chooses. We learned how to sing together like that. So it wasn’t immediate, but it just developed organically. It wasn’t preconceived.”

Working on the memoir More Fun in the New World — which also includes chapters authored by other LA music icons including Keith Morris (Black Flag, Circle Jerks), Louie Pérez (Los Lobos) and Jane Wiedlin (The Go-Gos) — gave Doe more perspective on his life, making him reevaluate some of his decisions and behavior.

“I had to admit to not being the best person I hoped to be,” Doe said. “I think we were all pretty vulnerable, pretty honest about the past and didn’t try to make ourselves out as the hero. Although, we survived, so that was good. You don’t want to be too full of yourself. If you’re honest, you find out something about yourself, and there were a lot of aha moments.”

In the book, Doe described how he “could be quite a mess.”

“Exene began to feel bullied by my constant work ethic and stifled by our constant ‘John and Exene’ identity, losing her sense of self,” Doe wrote. “How I wish I could have given her more time to herself and not been insecure, demanding or needing a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week partnership. … Really, it was too much to ask of two people to spend every day, all day working, playing, partying and socializing. … Exene and I also began to argue, which I now realize was initiated by my expectations of what I thought Exene should be doing. I was so foolish.”

The passage of time has also caused Doe to reconsider some of X’s song lyrics, recontextualizing them.

“Unless you inhabit a song and then live in the moment while you’re singing, then that’s what’s called phoning it in,” Doe said. “The lyric that’s changed the most is ‘I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts,’ which was written around the time of Reagan and our involvement in El Salvador and the new romantics from England kind of taking over the radio and things like that. There was a lot of kind of negative stuff going on, but we had the chorus, ‘I must not think bad thoughts,’ which was kind of sarcastic I think. Here’s all this bad stuff, but you have to be happy. … Now it’s more of a wish and trying to keep yourself above the negativity. Trying to rise above rather than get dragged down by all the day-to-day things that can make you feel like crap.”

Doe said X is able to fully recreate the song — along with “Dancing With Tears in My Eyes” and “Poor Girl” — live after adding multi-instrumentalist Craig Packham, who plays rhythm guitar on some songs to recreate the kind of multi-tracking lead guitarist Billy Zoom recorded in the studio. Packham also plays drums, freeing drummer DJ Bonebrake to play vibes on some songs and allowing the band to “stretch out a little bit” and experiment with the arrangements.

Remaining relevant

In “The New World,” Doe and Cervenka sing, “It was better before they voted for what’s his name / This was supposed to be the new world.” The song, released in 1983, still sounds relevant today. Doe said he is “not a political analyst,” but some of the problems X were discussing then have only gotten even worse.

“As negative as the way Reagan made the country feel, it’s nothing like now, nothing as divisive as it is now,” Doe said. “I don’t think it’s the end of the world, but it’s messed up. I think that there’s a lot of hate that’s stirred up, and people react to that one way or the other.”

The music business, though now controlled by streaming services, continues to be bullshit, Doe said, but older bands remain relevant and newer bands such as X’s sometimes tourmates Skating Polly are still managing to make meaningful music.

“There’s this really, really good music, and the music business is all destroyed because of streaming and Pandora and Spotify,” Doe said. “But, you know, you’ve got to find a way to make it through. Everybody does; you will eventually. Luckily, I think people are getting paid a little bit better. Not much, though. Those companies are still reaping the lion’s share. I don’t care whether they they’re showing a profit or not, but I know that when I get a statement from ASCAP for streaming and I get 100th of a cent per play, there’s 20,000 plays, and they’ll say, ‘Here’s 20 bucks.’ That’s 20,000 3-minute segments of content that they’ve used, and they give me $20 for that. So that’s pretty much like the old days, when people got their publishing stolen. Having said that, I think that there are bands that are from our era and later that are still touring that people want to see, and there’s new people that are picking up that mantle.”

Tickets are $30-$40. Austin duo Folk Uke are scheduled to open. 

Visit towertheatreokc.com.

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