IH: I’m heading down to Orange County, California, where I grew up, to meet with Exene Cervenka, a living rock and roll and punk legend. Exene is the singer for one of LA’s pioneering punk bands, X. Exene’s had a long and full career with the bands X, The Knitters, as well as several solo and side projects. I’m very excited to talk with Exene about music, life, and whatever else comes up.
Here we are with Exene Cervenka, rock and roll and punk rock legend. You were in X, well still are in X, The Knitters. There was Auntie Christ, The Original Sinners, and now just Exene Cervenka, correct?
EC: Yeah, I’m always me too. But yeah, but I also do a lot of spoken… I wouldn’t call it spoken word, I call it talking.
IH: [Laughs] Ok.
EC: It’s like the best way to tour. You know it’s hard to tour with a band nowadays. But you know, X and The Knitters can go on the road, but I’ve tried to figure out, what can you do where you don’t have to have a lot of equipment. Well, just go and talk. You don’t even have to bring paper.
IH: Just go and just let it out.
EC: So I do everything from talking, to playing guitar and singing, to X. Yeah, so.
IH: Ok, so now under Exene Cervenka there’s a full album. Well, there’s four now just under your name. Do you ever tour under your own name with a full band?
EC: Yeah, uh, well no. You can’t anymore.
EC: It’s too impossible. Gas is too expensive. It’s too expensive. People can’t go out. They don’t want to hire a baby sitter. They don’t want to go out at 11 o’clock at night. Nobody’s got any money. And so I don’t even expect that from people. That’s why I do the spoken word and the guitar thing. Last year I did a tour for “Record Store Day”, and instead of just playing on “Record Store Day” I played the entire month of April in record stores for free up the West Coast, so I played like 21 shows.
EC: And I had way more people at those shows. If you play at 4 o’ clock in the afternoon in a town and everybody can bring their kids and it’s free and it’s fun, you’ll get 2-300 people. And the thing is, then they all shop at the store, they buy your new record, and the store makes some money and you have a good time. Maybe you sell some t-shirts, you get your gas and hotel paid for and you go to the next town. That was one of the best tours I ever did.
IH: That’s really smart. That’s a really smart idea.
EC: And it helps everybody. It helps everyone so…you know. I should be a diplomat.
IH: [Laughs] Yeah you should. So now, so then, so obviously X and The Knitters will still play as full outfits when you know go out and do the tours –
EC: Yeah, always.
IH: So are you still doing Original Sinners at all?
IH: So all those are just recorded projects.
EC: Yeah, those were just recorded. Those didn’t really go anywhere fundamentally, so you know…
IH: Will you still play some of those songs by yourself?
EC: No. I always play new stuff.
IH: Got it. Fantastic. Well now let’s back it up I guess probably to the X days, and can you describe for me what it felt like when you first heard yourself on the radio?
EC: I don’t know when I heard myself on the radio. I don’t remember that moment, but I do remember playing Los Angeles for the first time for friends. And Kickboy Face from Slash Magazine, Claude Bessy, was there, and Chris D. from The Flesh Eaters, a few other people and me and John. And I was so excited. I wanted them to hear the record and then the second the needle went down I went, “Oh no, they’re going to hear the record, what if they don’t like it?” And I swear, that was the first time I ever felt like that was even a possibility. Cuz I wasn’t even judging, I was just makin’ a record, you know?
IH: You know, what’s really funny, that’s what I remember the first time, too. The first record I ever made when the needle first touched down. I remember that moment. I remember where I was, so that actually would be the better question to ask. “Where were you when the needle first touched down?”
EC: Where were you when the needle touched down?
IH: [Laughs] Yeah.
EC: Um…but you know the X days were…the early punk days were pretty indescribable, pretty phenomenal. You know?
EC: Very not known, really. There’s a very big misconception about the early punk days… about what it was about: who was part of it, what it sounded like, what it looked like. All that stuff’s kinda been trampled, because you know the early punk days were ’75 – ’80 you know?
EC: That’s when it was the punk days. And then I always think of the hardcore scene as kind of overlapping into that and kind of taking over the punk mantle, and then that original punk just kind of got forgotten about.
IH: Do you think that a lot of the, like, the earlier 80s bands, like 82, 83, 84, those eras. I mean, would you even consider that post-punk at that time?
EC: Which bands for instance?
IH: I mean, like a lot of the LA and Orange County bands like in the early eighties we had TSOL and Adolescence, and Social Distortion and those kind of bands come out of Orange County and then LA bands like your band, X, and of course, you know…
EC: Plugs and all that…
IH: All those bands were also playing through that era, but was that almost..?
EC: No those were just like the kids comin’ up into the scene, you know, which is really good lifeblood. You want the kids comin’ up into the scene, right?
IH: So still growing, you think at the time?
EC: Yeah. Sure, I think those are the kids that came to the shows and as soon as they could they started bands, you know?
EC: That was the point, you know, was to spawn that.
EC: Which is one of the reasons that all these places changed the drinking ages in every state to 21. Because from 18-21 you were either going to college or trying to figure out what you’re gonna do with your life…maybe you’re going to go into the military. You go to a show, a punk rock show? You’re going to be changed forever.
IH: That’s it.
EC: You’re gonna make a whole different decision tomorrow. And when they changed that drinking age to 21 it wiped out the college crowd, it wiped out all the Seeker kids, the confused kids, the kids looking for something, the kids with no place to go, and it just told them, “No, you cannot experience this.” And that’s why they changed the drinking age to 21, I’m positive. Because otherwise you’d have to believe that they cared about our safety.
IH: [Laughs] Right.
EC: And, you know, I mean. You can’t, you know, make that choice.
IH: Absolutely. Well that’s interesting because a lot of people tried to make all-ages clubs at that point as well. And people were successful at it, but the thing I noticed especially when I was young and playing in punk bands when I was 14 to 15, is that the club would be there for 2 or 3 months or 4 months and then it would be gone. Then another club would open up, an all ages club and it would be open 2, 3, 4 months and then it’d be gone. And what I started learning is that the insurance…carrying the insurance on a club like that with having minors in the building past 10pm, right, and stuff like that, became really difficult.
IH: So you’re talking about that drinking age being raised to 21, now there was an insurance problem that kept people unable to keep doors open to clubs because of how much it cost to carry those insurances. Small clubs, they were 3 bucks for people to come in. And not selling alcohol.
EC: And the only bands that could do that were 4 guys in a band that didn’t have to stay anywhere except on a floor. If you had any requirements past that, it was pretty hard to do that circuit.
EC: Cuz I’ve been in and out of that circuit, too, and it’s pretty hard. You know, you play a show and ask if anyone has any room where you can stay. You know? For five people, you know?
IH: That’s all my tours sometimes…
EC: We all manage, right? I mean, punk started before the Internet and before cell phones and before, you know, video, really. I mean, just when video was like still giant cameras, and everything was film. I mean, and we fuckin’ exploded that out into the world. So now it should be easy for people that are young to spread messages like that, you know?
IH: It is a bit easier, absolutely. And it’s interesting what you said how a lot of people have a misconception about what the punk scene was like when it was starting in the mid-seventies. Cuz the younger generation only has really documentaries to watch about it and there’s photographs and there’s some moving images. And they’re talking to people that were there. They’re talking to some of the bands that were there. But I think everyone has their own interpretation and their own story to go with it. So I can see how the idea, may have been, has gotten maybe diluted a little bit along the way.
EC: Yes, and you know why, the original punk scene wasn’t as like sensational as the hardcore scene. If you were wearing a vintage dress and cowboy boots, just like I’m dressed now, and you were walking around people would make fun of you. But they couldn’t really label you as much if they didn’t like you, and if your hair was messy they would throw things at you, but it was mostly, like, an intellectual, artistic, musical, social, revolution, political, anti-corporate culture scene.
EC: And it wasn’t until the hardcore thing came along, the timing was right because then people were caught up, “Oh this thing is happening,” and the technology was caught up. More people were drawn into punk by then and they were, you know, because they heard about it and wanted to cover it, and then that, you know, was like so theatrical. It was like 300 people onstage, jumping off the speakers, and riots, and really forceful guys just singing, and forceful guys in the audience with their shirts off just…You know, it drew the media’s interest, where a quiet more contemplative version of that wouldn’t. Not that we weren’t all very powerful and very scary and threatening. I know we were.
IH: [Laughs] Yeah.
EC: We did it in a way that wasn’t…I mean I don’t want to use the word…I don’t know what the word is. It’s two different worlds, you know?
IH: Sure. And there was a lot of media attention at one point back then. I mean, obviously with a lot of the British punk, too, you know they tried to put, you know, a lot of these guys on big record labels and put them on talk shows, and they thought it was going to be the new thing. So there was an instant media attention, but I don’t think anyone could really figure out what was happening out of that whole cluster of bands. Yeah.
EC: Nobody could. In fact, when I was on American Bandstand one time, Dick Clark said to me, “Can I ask you a question?” And I said, “Sure.”
EC: And he said, “You know in the 50s when rock and roll started, I had all these great people on the show,” and he was naming like Little Richard and all these people, you know, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lewis, “And then in the 60s, Jefferson Airplane,” and you know, whoever it was that was on his show. You know, The Beatles, you know or whatever. I don’t know who was on his show.
IH: Was this on camera he was asking you?
EC: No no. He was asking me in the back before we went on the show. And he goes, “And then the 60s happened and all those people came on, and now it’s, you know, the punk thing is happening, and why isn’t it on the radio? Why, why won’t anyone… Why isn’t it like the 60s and the 50s?”
EC: And that was my question that I would ask him, being Dick Clark, “What do you think is going on?” And I just thought, “Oh no, now we’re all just screwed, because….”
IH: Because Dick Clark doesn’t even know.
EC: He knows something’s wrong, he can’t put his finger on it, and so I just said, “Well if you don’t know, I don’t know…just I don’t know.” I don’t know. But now I do know.
EC: So I do know what’s going on. It’s my belief that after Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison died, and after the end of the Vietnam War and all that, and then music became kind of softer. The edge was kind of taken off because that’s what happen. You know, they just start out gangbusters, and then they soften the edges then it just gets watered down and more duplicated and more 3rd, 4th, 5th generational. But after those guys all died, cuz I was around then, I was very young, but it was a super shock. And everybody was blown back by that, that whole movement. And it was already kind of becoming commercialized and everything. But what had happened was that was the music that was on the radio. And when they all died, and then punk came along, there was already a certain group of people who had started in college and FM radio who were pretty powerful, like in Chicago WCFL. You had famous DJ’s then, you know?
IH: Right. Yeah, right
EC: And that music was going strong, and we were like, here we’re going to replace it. And they said, “No, you’re not. We’re going to make classic rock out of this. We’re never gonna let you in.” And that’s what happened. And there was no place for it because everyone was playing the music that wouldn’t die. The music that they loved, that they wouldn’t let go of. It was trauma. If those people hadn’t died, maybe things would have been different. I don’t know, but I remember the trauma of that. But you know, so there was no room. They just refused to let us on. Just refused.
IH: That’s amazing. And yeah I guess everyone would have their own opinion, I guess, about why it didn’t happen like it should have, but your take on it’s very interesting. I never thought of it that way.
EC: Well, you know, that’s part of it. I don’t know, I wouldn’t say that’s the whole sole reason, you know? I mean, part of it had to do with how weird the music was. You know, but the Eagles and Linda Ronstadt, we’ve talked about this a million times, Fleetwood Mac, that was what was on the radio. That was California music.
EC: Then we come out on Sunset Boulevard, you know, out of Hollywood Boulevard, and confront that straight. Head on.
IH: Like night and day between the two.
EC: And start confronting it and call it out, and just start attacking it.
EC: Of course they weren’t gonna put us on the radio. “Here’s Fleetwood Mac,” and then, “Here’s X,” you know? And also back then there was the big gravy train. There was payola and drugs, limousines, and sex, and everybody had big huge recording budgets, there was money everywhere. You know, it was like cocaine central, you know? And the industry was really spoiled. They just had so much money then. And so the stars and the people who support the star system were all very happy with what was going on. Why bring in a bunch of punks to say, “This is terrible,” you know? No one’s gonna do that.
IH: Yeah it kind of makes sense from a big record label corporate financial standpoint I can see that, I can see that being a big part of it.
EC: But that was also like, that was also like a choice that people could make. Now that doesn’t happen because the corporations are so tightly in control of every aspect of our lives, especially the media and the corporate culture, that we wouldn’t be allowed in now for a totally different reason which would be censorship.
EC: So now there is no money, and there is no in-road into the corporate culture. There is no door-in anymore for anybody unless you play the game so strictly along their rules. I mean you have to be totally in on that to exist.
IH: Oh sure, of course.
EC: But, you know, I like it right now in terms of what young people are doing, and old people. Everybody. They’re getting creative. Because when things are bad, people get hopeless and they kind of get depressed. But when things are hopeless, you know, and there really is no solution, black humor comes out, creativity comes out.
EC: Like in times of trouble when there’s a famine or something, it’s like, “Well guess what I learned how to make? Shoe leather soup. Ha ha ha.”
IH: Yeah, I was gonna get water out of this rock, you know?
EC: But you know, people get really creative, and they come together and they unite when things get tough. No one’s gonna let, you know, American music die ever, so.
IH: No, of course not.
EC: So, it will keep resurfacing in new ways.
IH: And that’s what I think is interesting about the music industry and music in general, has ended up in this stage. Back then you’re talking about just money and just drugs and it just got so bloated. That popped, you know? And then, it popped when there were a lot more talent and a lot more people able to learn instruments and make bands and playing music. So now everybody is coming up out of that era in a new era where there isn’t that money that’s attainable unless you’re really the top pop thing, you know? So I feel like it’s making for a lot better music being made, and better bands and just better artists in general whether you’re like a singer/songwriter or a full outfit of four or five people. There’s just people spending a lot more time on quality versus quantity, now. So I think it’s kind of good that happened in the music industry, you know? I mean, corporate America…whatever, there’s you know…. But in corporate music I’m glad it blew up when it did. Just exploded when it did and then sorta had a chance to rebuild.
EC: Well it’s like it used to be, you know? Baseball players, country singers, poets, you know, poets didn’t use to think, “Well I’m gonna be a big poet someday and have a big house in Beverly Hills.” You know, neither did singers or baseball players. You know, just if you were good at something, you did it. If you weren’t good, you didn’t.
IH: You got a job doing what you were good at. And some just got exploited unfortunately.
EC: But you know of course there’s a balance between those two realities. But if there’s no temptation to sell out, you’re not gonna sell out.
IH: Absolutely. Now you mentioned Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison and all of those people earlier, which kind of brings me to a question that I wanted to ask you. Before you were a musician, before you had any bands, was there…a song? Do you remember hearing an artist or song along the way that really pushed you to wanting do this for a living? And make music?
IH: There isn’t one?
EC: I’ll tell you that’s a no / yes answer. Let’s see, when I was thirteen, I was…I loved…I heard the song “Light my Fire” on the radio. That was back when the radio played different kinds of music. Outside Chicago we could get, in the Midwest you could get, like, radio far away. And it was my favorite song and I loved it. And one day I was driving along the road with my parents and they were in the front seat and I was in the back seat and that song came on, and my mom and dad knew I liked it, so they kind of turned…well I mean they didn’t blast it or anything, but you know it’s an old car radio like 63 car probably…
IH: Yeah. One speaker.
EC: So they turned it up a little bit, right? And I was just sittin’ there grooving to “Light my Fire” and just loved it. And it went into the long version, which I had never heard, and by the time that song was over, I was a transformed person. And then for Christmas my mom got me that record. That really was the big musical point in my life where I got it. And perhaps that’s what makes me play music now, but that’s not what made me play music in ’76.
IH: Right. I see.
EC: So perhaps, that was a fundamental…
IH: So that was a turning point of what music meant to you. You know, absolutely.
EC: I’d never connected it, like, “Wow, I want to play music now.” It was never like that. I didn’t ever want to play music. I just fell into it.
IH: I think that happens with quite a few people and actually some of the best stuff I know is borne out of just that: an accident. You know? Somebody didn’t plan on it…
IH: So what made you, what pushed you to do it in ’76? Was it just a circumstantial, coincidental thing or at that moment you had a moment of clarity like, “This is what I want to do with my friends?”
EC: I didn’t want anything. I didn’t want anything. I didn’t want to be anything, I didn’t want to do anything, I wanted to just exist as a free spirit kind of. But what I found out was, I came to California with no money. I was sleeping in someone’s kitchen – five people in a one-bedroom apartment. And I got a job through – Jerry Brown was governor and he had this program for women. If you had no education, no job skills, and you were like, basically homeless, you could get in this job program and they would train you. Pay you minimum wage while you trained and learned a skill, and then they would place you in a non-profit for like three months and then you could conceivably go find a job after that. It was a great program, but they put me at “Beyond Baroque”, which was the biggest literary, poetry epicenter of California besides Ferlinghetti, you know the bookstore in San Francisco. So I moved into the apartment upstairs from where I worked as a typesetter, and I had underneath me a meeting room, and every night I’d hear these people singing Happy Birthday and all these people talking. And I’d never been to AA, I didn’t even know what AA was, so I was like, “What is this, a cult?” And I could hear these people going [murmurs] all together, and they were saying The Lord’s Prayer. And I was like, “What are they saying? They’re all chanting.” And they’d sing happy birthday every time and I’d be like, “What are they doing down there? Are they a birthday cult?” And then I found out that there was a poetry workshop down there, so I went down to that. And it was the night John went – John Doe from X – and he sat next to me and we chatted and we hung out and he told me about the punk scene that was happening and he had a car and I didn’t, and it was all in Hollywood and I was in Venice so he took me to The Masque, and I met Billy, because he’d already met Billy. And that is the way that happened.
IH: So yeah, that really wasn’t planned out at all. That was very circumstantial. [Laughs]
EC: Well, I was writing poetry and John told me he was playing music with Billy, and some of my words were really good, could he use them in a song? And I said no.
EC: No. Absolutely not. What do you mean? He goes, “Well I have this band I want to start with Billy. And we’re looking for a drummer and I really like this song you wrote ‘I’m Comin’ Over’ and I want to put music to it.” I go, “Well I have music.” And he says, “No, you have a melody.” I go, “No, I have music.” He says, “Well do you play an instrument?” I’m like, “No,” and he goes, “Well that’s the music. What you do when you sing is the melody.” And I go, “Well I have the words and the melody, so that’s two out of three. So I’m keeping my song.” He goes, “All right. Well why don’t you come sing it, then?” I said, “All right, I will.”
IH: So you guys were challenging each other. I can see you guys sitting in the car – he’s droppin you off at the house, and you’re going back and forth about this. [Laughs] “Fine, I’ll show up then.”
EC: It was a little contentious. It was all I had in the world…was my words. I had no money, I didn’t have a place to live, I had a job that was gonna end in a month or two, and then what was I gonna do? I didn’t have like a boyfriend or anything to take care of me. I’ve never really had anybody take care of me. And so, you know, I was pretty guarded about my stuff. And then, you know, suddenly I had to get used to the idea that I was gonna sing in a band, which I’d never done before. X is my first band. You know? But they’d all been in a million bands…so…my experience was completely different from yours.
IH: And that could be intimidating, too, walking in with a bunch of people who have already done this and you’ve never done it before.
EC: Are you kidding? You don’t think Billy Zoom was intimidating in ’76, man? He is the most intimidating person in the world.
IH: [Laughs] I’ve heard things. I don’t know for sure, but I’ve heard things.
EC: And he’s the sweetest person and he’s great, but he’s enigmatic, he’s eccentric, he’s a genius, he’s funny, he’s the funniest person I’ve ever met. He has the best sense of humor of anyone I’ve ever met. He should be a stand-up because his humor is unbelievable. He’s great, but intimidating.
IH: But very serious about music. Very serious about music.
EC: Well they’re really really good, so to walk in there and he was like, “Ever write a song before?” I was like, “I’ll figure it out.” And I did. I figured it out.
IH: That’s all you can do. Now, we were talking about The Doors earlier and how “Light My Fire” was one of those songs that could have quite possibly changed your life. What’s really interesting about that about that is fast forward back down to X, you know, coming together, and now you guys ended up working with Ray Manzarek.
EC: I know. It’s weird.
IH: Which is amazing! See I thought that was amazing in general, but now you’re telling me this story about hearing “Light my Fire” it makes it…
EC: Well let me tell you this. So I hear that song on the radio and completely become transformed. Then I get it for Christmas, and then I’m just the biggest Doors fan in the world in my little town of a thousand people. And then of course Jim Morrison dies of a heart attack allegedly. And then life goes on, you know? And then way I move to Venice, California, just out of nowhere else to go, out of desperation to get out of Florida. And I start to realize that The Doors, that was kind of a center there for The Doors, and I got all the Doors records used and I had a record player and I would to just play them over and over. And I loved them so much and I really got into California because of that. And the fog, and Venice, and the war was ending and people were still coming, just re-integrating into society in ’76, and then here comes Ray Manzarek. So it’s pretty weird. You know? And he produced our first four records.
IH: I mean it’s almost like that whole story was all pieces that were supposed to come together to make that happen I guess. It’s too bizarre how that worked out.
EC: It’s incredible.
IH: I mean, out of anybody. It could have been someone else. It could have been anybody, you could have met Eric Clapton and he’s like, “Oh I love you guys. I’m gonna produce you guys.” You’re like, “Cool, Eric Clapton’s producing us, this is great.” But it had to be Ray Manzarek from the band that you loved that really changed your life when you were young. That’s really very interesting.
EC: Yeah, it’s pretty weird.
IH: So when it comes to songwriting, what’s your process? Do you write about things that are happening right now? Do you write about things that were happening in the past? Do you just make some stuff up? I mean what… do you have a process?
EC: Well I did spend a couple years writing love songs exclusively, and that was, you know that was my experiences, other people’s experiences, the past, the future, the present. But right now…mostly right now I write sort of old…well I’ve always kind of written old fashioned-like, you know? But right now I’m writing really old-fashioned gospel-y.
IH: That’s cool.
EC: And old fashioned…protest.
EC: And also I wrote some anti-Illuminati hip-hop songs.
EC: And one is called “Hecho in Chino” which means, “Made in China” in Spanish. And it’s about the Russian 98 Cent Store with everything made in China for Mexican shoppers.
IH: Say that ten times fast.
EC: And how…don’t buy it anymore. So I made, like, this hip hop…it’s like a hip hop song, and my friend on the East Coast who is like in this really great instrumental band, the Cosmonauts, made the bass track for all these songs, and then I’m gonna have a drummer. So we start out with the bass track and the words, and then I’ll make a kind of cadence for them. So that’s something I wanna do. So I’m working on that. I forgot about that.
IH: That’s probably the last thing I would have expected to hear from you. “I’m writing a hip hop song.”
EC: It’s not gonna be like…you know, I’m not gonna be like, pretending to be a guy singing a hip hop song. I’m gonna use that as a starting place to make my version, you know?
IH: Sure. Well, so here’s something I wanted to talk about also, which could very well lend to what we’re talking about…Is not too far back, you were diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.
EC: Yeah, let me just head that off at the pass. About sixteen years ago I got diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, and then I went to another doctor who said, “No, you don’t have that.” So I went, “Great, I don’t have it. Ha ha ha.” And then about five years later I had some other weird stuff happen and then I went back and had to get more tests done and MRI’s and all that and the doctor said, “I think you have Multiple Sclerosis, but I’m not sure.” So I went to another doctor and he said, “Nah, I don’t think you do.” So this went on and on…
IH: I’m exhausted just hearing about it.
EC: I know, it’s practicing medicine, right?
EC: So I go to Missouri, I go to the doctor, he says, “You’ve got it, you’ve got it. I’m sure you’ve got it. Take this medicine every day. Inject yourself with this medicine every day.” So I do that for a while, and then I don’t have any insurance so I can’t do it anymore because the medicine is $7,000 for every three months. So I said, “You know what I don’t have it again.” You know what I mean? Do I or don’t I? So I go to this new doctor and he did the same thing, “You do. You don’t. You do. You don’t.” And now I’m seeing another doctor and he says I don’t. So what I found out, which is really interesting, through this public statement about it, is that there’s a lot of women, most of them younger than me by far, who are having mystery neurological ailments that can’t be diagnosed and are being misdiagnosed as Fibromyalgia and MS and lupus, and they don’t know, and Epstein Barr and maybe it’s this and maybe now, now it’s that. Now a lot of people I know have been diagnosed with MS and they have real, tangible, hardcore symptoms and hardcore test results. But not everybody with MS has either of those things.
IH: Like, not so obvious. Yeah.
EC: Yeah. So you don’t know if you have it or not. You can’t really diagnose it. That’s why they keep saying, “You have it. You don’t. You have it. You don’t.” But I do have weird mystery ailments.
IH: So as of this moment there is not a definite diagnosis.
IH: Well that’s great to hear…that part of it.
EC: Well what concerns me is not that. Because coming out with that thing that I said that changed my life forever because it gave me this whole different view of humanity: and how good, caring and loving people are, because people rushed to give me help with that. Strangers and fans and people sending me books in the mail, or meeting me at the show in a wheelchair saying, you know, “Thank you for saying you have MS, and this is a doctor that you should find out about, and I made you this necklace.” You know, things like that.
EC: People are just so good, you know? So that was ok. That sustained me when I was sick and I was having medicine and not knowing really what was going on. But the bigger picture is what is wrong with people that we can’t find out what is wrong with them? Why don’t we have care for people so we can find out what’s wrong with them? Why wasn’t I able to take medicine for my illness? And how do we find out what’s causing these mystery ailments? There’s a breast cancer epidemic as well. You know? And young women. Young women. But this is like, fishy. There’s something environmental, probably the chem trails with the aluminum and the barium and the strontium that comes out of the sky if that’s what that is. We don’t really know. But definitely they’re poisoning us. This is…find somebody who doesn’t believe that. You know?
IH: Well there’s a lot of people who would choose to not believe it, even though they know somewhere in the corner of their mind there’s something going on. And I kind of want to bring this back to music because everything you just said is very intense stuff. And obviously you’re very passionate about how you feel. And you know, and then also talking about you being misdiagnosed and diagnosed and misdiagnosed. Does all of that – everything we just talked about right there – does that all lend to how you decide to …I mean, to songwriting? To some of the songs you write? Like do you have a song that completely encompasses any of that, or all of it, or just little bits and pieces of that?
EC: Songwriting is a reflection of where you’re at, you know, emotionally and stuff. And it’s where you’re at intellectually, you know, the more language command you have or the more vocabulary you have, or the older you get, the better you should be. At expressing yourself, right?
IH: Well my question to you, being that this episode of Down the Highway is about Los Angeles: Do you think there’s a Los Angeles sound, musically?
EC: Yes. The Los Angeles sound musically is almost, strangely enough, a mirror of the architecture of Los Angeles.
EC: Which, that there are the…this fantastic, beautiful architecture from the 1800s let’s say, we’ll go back to that. And there’s a rich musical history here…the Mexican music and stuff. The people who were here first. And then, of course you had the 60s music, let’s just pick another one that was here. But like the architecture here, it’s a pastiche of these, like… There will be, like, a Spanish style bungalow next to kind of a Tudor house, next to something from the 20s that looks like a spaceship, and that’s the way Los Angeles was built.
EC: And that’s what has happened over the years is all the great stuff’s been torn down and replaced with horrible L-shaped shopping centers and apartment buildings and parking lots. And it’s kind of destroyed…the musical history’s been destroyed as well. Like what I was saying about the punk scene, nobody knows all these bands and what that was about or celebrate it like a national treasure. And it should be! But, so to me it feels like that, you know? It’s temporary in a way. It’s destructible but it’s beautiful, it’s classic. It gives the world some of its most beautiful images: The Brown Derby restaurant, you know? But it’s gone.
EC: The Ambassador Hotel…let’s kill Robert Kennedy. But it’s gone.
IH: Do you think that music has left with those…
EC: Well I think it does come and go like that here.
IH: Interesting. Yeah.
EC: That’s why I don’t think it has a sound per se, like, “The LA sound.” You know, I mean, you have The Beach Boys and you have The Doors.
IH: Yeah, which, of course, I mean, that is LA. You know – California.
EC: And I mean, who’s scarier, Brian Wilson or Jim Morrison?
IH: Well, I would probably say Brian Wilson. But anyways…[Laughs]
EC: Right? But anyway…But it’s like everybody for themselves. It’s like day of the locust. It’s like, everybody comes here with a dream and they want to fulfill that dream, and along the way that dream gets destroyed. And they get destroyed. Or they survive and they just claw their way to the top. But there’s always that underbelly of the Charles Bukowski, John Fante, X, Germs, Plugs, weirdos, you know, Sunset Strip, you know, underground music now and the 20s music that jazz that’s being played by a lot of young people now that will resurface, you know. And you just try to keep propping it up. Trying top prop up the scene, propping up your town. Saving what you can save, preserving what you can preserve and making it nice, you know? The sprawl of the Los Angeles area and Orange County, which is connected to it, was responsible for some of the factionalism from the Hollywood punk scene and the hardcore scene from South Bay. And it also makes it so it’s isolated, you have a West Side scene that’s totally different from the Echo Park scene, you know?
IH: Yeah. Like 2 miles, 3 miles away.
EC: So it’s like, try to get a band to come down and play Orange County. Well what’s happening is now everybody’s doing that. I’m seeing that a lot. Everyone’s traveling around to different towns and they’re playing a lot. So they’re playing in Long Beach one night then at Redwood downtown the next, then My Place down in Orange, and then all the way in the Valley. And just everyone’s moving around, and trying to, you know…and it’s not just for money cuz you’re not making any money. It’s to play music.
IH: Yeah, and I find that part of Los Angeles very interesting. I think it’s really…I never thought of it in the way that you think of it, that the music can tie in with the architecture. Well, you wanna play a song? One of your new songs?
EC: Oh right. Oh my goodness I forgot all about that part. All right. Let’s take a break and do that.
IH: All right. Cool!
Music, influences, and government. Exene’s interview is filled with insight into the music she has been a part of. What happened and whats going on . . . now and beyond.