D.J. Bonebrake - drums; Exene Cervenka - vocals; John Doe - vocals, bass; Billy Zoom - guitar
Few bands have managed to capture the essence of a time and place like X. Creatively light years ahead of contemporaries like Black Flag and the Germs, this quartet of Los Angelans trod the often imperceptible line between amateurish simplicity and fine art. Rather than "Good Vibrations" polish or glitzy, Aqua-Net-and-spandex sleaze, this is the REAL sound of Southern California: desperate and desolate, but still looking cool and ready to party.
Though punk was, in some ways, a reaction to the lingering self-righteousness of the doomed '60s counterculture, it would never have existed without hippies, mods and beatniks. Perhaps it was providence, then, when Ray Manzarek of the Doors stepped in to produce X's debut. No stranger to the seedy violence and washed-up glamour that percolated beneath the sunshiny surface of L.A., Manzarek helped capture some of the same dissatisfaction and grit made popular by his band more than a decade earlier.
It's an impressive blend of influences X has distilled into their trademark rumble, and one that is positively encyclopedic by punk standards. D.J. Bonebrake's frantic, tribal rhythms propel this performance at Brooklyn's L'Amour - kinda like The Ventures on Benzedrine - leaving just enough room on top for the high and lonesome prairie wind that Doe and Exene dust up with their dissonant harmonies. Somewhere in the middle, you'll find Billy Zoom holding it all down with heavy rockabilly guitar and a permanent, beatific grin. Together they created the New West, where cowboys drink beer in the bottoms of drained swimming pools and sleep on the floors of Silver Lake squats, just waiting for the end of the world.
With New York and London out front, the Left Coast had a considerable length to make up when it came to punk; luckily the Golden State has no shortage of free-thinkers and weirdos. Had their sound been easier to cop, X would no doubt be the godparents of California punk, but sometimes you pay a price for singularity. As it stands, their music perfectly documents the dichotomy of Californian youth culture at the end of the 20th century.