Wednesday, June 11, 2014

"Los Angeles": X's Cynical LA Tale

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X’s blistering “Los Angeles” is among the acclaimed LA punk band’s finest tracks.  The song has a raw, visceral power that typified the best of the burgeoning LA punk scene in the early ‘80s.  John Doe and Exene Cervenka’s passionate co-lead vocals add a sense of sense of urgency to the song, and Billy Zoom’s hard-driving guitar and D.J. Bonebrake’s rapid-fire drumming keep the adrenaline high and the rock quotient amped up to 11.

Penned by Cervenka and Doe, the song is about a Los Angeles woman who’s come to the end of her rope. She feels alienated, unhappy and overwhelmed and decides to leave La-La Land. These feelings awaken her deep-seated prejudices, and she lashes out at anyone who is different from her, including blacks, Jews, gays, Latinos and the wealthy (“idle rich”). The caustic lyrics even contain the infamous “N” bomb.

Some people have misinterpreted the song and wrongly accused the band of being racist and homophobic. However, the song doesn’t reflect the band’s beliefs but those of the close-minded, bigoted protagonist. It was apparently inspired by a close friend of Cervenka’s who had moved to LA from a culturally homogeneous small town. She no doubt experienced a bit of culture shock during her time in the diverse, multiracial City of Angels.  In a 1980 interview with BAM Magazine, Cervenka discussed the separation between the band’s beliefs and those of the song’s protagonist:

“People don't understand. When you read a book, you don't think the narrator's the person who wrote the book. There's a separation," Cervenka explained.

“Los Angeles” is the title track from X’s 1980 debut album, which was produced by the late Doors co-founder, keyboardist and songwriter Ray Manzarek.  Cervenka and Doe co-wrote all the tracks on the album, except for an inspired cover of Doors classic “Soul Kitchen.” The album is a superb collection of punk and rockabilly tracks and is now considered one of the most influential punk albums of all time.  A number of noted music publications have included the album on their greatest albums lists. Additionally, the song “Los Angeles” is hailed as a rock classic and was included on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of the 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.

X was formed in Los Angeles in 1977 by bassist/vocalist/songwriter John Doe and rockabilly guitarist Billy Zoom. Doe’s poetry-writing girlfriend (and later wife), Exene Cervenka, joined the band as a vocalist shortly thereafter.  A year later, drummer D.J. Bonebrake was brought into the fold.

Following the release of Los Angeles, the talented punk outfit continued to record great music throughout the ‘80s and early ‘90s. X made a huge impact on punk rock and is widely recognized as one of the most influential punk bands to come out of Los Angeles.

"Los Angeles" at Amazon

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