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Beyond and Back With X: The Dark and Seedy World Of Los Angeles Returns....

FERNDALE, MICHIGAN – The heart pounding opening of the 1980 film, “Decline of Western Civilization” set the pace for what was to come. Penelope Spheeris’s landmark motion picture about desolate punks and a bleak, violent night life gave the nation a close up view at L.A.’s music scene. It was poorly lit, poorly shot in some cases and had a homemade feel to it. After a brief introduction of the punks from the local scene we are thrown into the mosh pit and the band that is playing is – X.  The beat is primal, almost Neanderthal in appearance and the mood is ugly. This is 1980 L.A. with no filter on it.

The story goes that director Spheeris was told to grab her camera and crew and head down to the club to shoot some bands. The other bands who were around the scene included Black Flag, The Circle Jerks, Alice Bag and X. Nothing was planned and there wasn’t any script and nobody knew what kinds of performances would be captured on film. Some of the performances that were captured identified the music scene and became immortalized in the film soundtrack. The LP, “Decline of Western Civilization” is pretty jarring. It’s got a picture of Darby Crash on the floor looking like he is near death wearing a black iron cross, (think Nazi) and has black magic marker drawings all over his face and body.

The VHS home video box isn’t much better. The cover art looks like a ransom letter and the mood is just as ugly and dark. Someone could get hurt or even killed in this scene, (and people did – singer Darby Crash later took his own life in 1980 before the film’s release).

The band X showed the dark side of L.A. life and did it with a sense of despair and reckless abandon.  Singer Exene Cervenka wailed into the mic and screamed on cue. Her wild frayed black hair frames her thin face which projects torment and human anguish. Guitarist, Billy Zoom, on contrast is all smiles and is dressed in a glitzy get up and projects artistic style. He rocks back and forth and is beaming and plays a fast riff on, “Beyond and Back”. The song is catchy and is nothing like the first song we hear on the film’s opening. X is very versatile and can really deliver some rocking sounds.

The Doors keyboardist, Ray Manzarek, jumped on the band early and produced some of their early albums. These albums defined the band’s sound. The albums, “Los Angeles”, “Under The Big Black Sun”, and “Wild Gift”  jettisoned the band into the punk mainstream. They were more than just loud, progressive and angry --- X, had something to say. They popped up on MTV’s 120 Minutes with the tracks, “Burning House Of Love” and, “See How We Are”. The spotlight went back onto L.A. again with the I.R.S. Record Label TV show, “I.R.S.  Cutting Edge” with host Peter Zaremba, (from the retro rock band – The Fleshtones).

X – Plays The Blind Pig, Ann Arbor, MI – Early 90’s

The album, “Hey Zeus” came out in 1993 and got some alternative chart attention. I caught the supporting tour at the Blind Pig back in the day. It was a good show and I was just cutting out of town to grab my piece of the corporate money pie. For a goof I thought I would give Exene Cervenka a corporate finger point gun sign instead of shaking her hand after the show. She didn’t find humor in it but I sure did. I had a feeling these guys were anti-corporate but I just couldn’t resist.

From there I lost track of the band and didn’t even know if they toured at all. Guitarist John Doe was popping up in movies of all things and was in the Jerry Lee Lewis bio-pic, “Great Balls of Fire” with actor Dennis Quaid. He also popped up in several other movies including, “Road House” and, “Boogie Nights”.  I enjoyed seeing them pop up in different projects and hearing rumors about reunions. I knew things were getting serious when I was hearing about Billy Zoom sightings and the name D.J.Bonebreak popping up in artistic circles.  D.J. was the original drummer and I hadn’t really heard about him in years but suddenly there was talk about another full on reunion.

Up until this point I thought my only option to see the band would be on the DVD release film by Shout Factory.  The DVD, “X: Live In Los Angeles” was an art director and rock journalist dream come true as well as for the punk fan. In my mind I was thinking I would have to fly all the way out to Los Angeles to actually see them. The idea of going to L.A. was out of the question.

Energetically that place always scared the bejeezus out of me. I had a chance to go there in the late 90’s and chickened out on a bus ride from Las Vegas. I opted for a trip to nearby Long Beach, CA instead. There were crazy people on my bus and one rasta guy in particular wore a Wonder Bread bag on his head keeping his long braids in place. He reeked of pot and looked crazy and he was one of the more normal looking people. When the bus got to the L.A. connection I stayed on the bus.


I didn’t want to go to L.A. or Hollywood. I mean I have read all the horrible stories of heinous people like porn star John Holmes and murdered actress Elizabeth Short, (she was found in an abandoned field cut completely in half). There are scads of horror stories as if the film, “Decline” didn’t scare you enough. From the days of slam dancing, heroin addicted casualties like John Belushi, Darby Crash the band X has been through it. I read somewhere that Exene actually has one of the original Germ’s burn which is a circle tattoo impression on her wrist. Only the closest people in the Germ’s friends actually had one of these from that period.

Now after all of that lush and rich history comes the original members on stage for one night only at the Magic Bag in Ferndale, MI. Ray Manzarek has passed on, (he died in 2013). I don’t know all the ins and outs of the band or how close they really came to life and death danger but they certainly sing about it. I get the impression that we are lucky to get a chance to see them even perform. There is a sense of dread around this band but I could be way off. I know they have some happy moments now and then but I just have to spend some time to search for them.  I particularly liked, “Breathless”, (a Jerry Lee Lewis cover) and, “The New World”.

They can really deliver some rocking sounds -- I can tell you that.

Oh yeah, I will be there. Don’t miss these guys.


The Magic Bag Theater
22920 Woodward Ave,
Ferndale, MI 48220



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