The members of X didn’t start playing punk rock in 1977 expecting to become museum pieces. And there are some mixed, but mostly positive, feelings as X: 40 Years of Punk in Los Angeles nears its Oct. 13 opening at the Grammy Museum in L.A.
“Of course we’re honored and it’s great to get the recognition,” drummer DJ Bonebrake tells Billboard, “but it’s weird because my feeling is you can’t retire us now. I think about going into the Natural History Museum in the Smithsonian, looking at the stuffed birds for a few hours. It’s all fantastic, but we’re not ready to be stuffed and mounted yet. We’re still playing.”
Singer-bassist John Doe adds that turning 40 is both a milestone and a mild surprise to the outfit. “We had hopes that we would last for 10 or 16 years, but never 40,” he says. “At the very beginning we intended this to be a career, so that part’s not surprising. But to have the band together for this long, no. I think one of our keys to success is short-term memory and not holding grudges and basically believing that the music holds up and having our audience not be a bunch of all old people and things like that. But mainly the short-term memory is like, ‘What happened? I don’t remember that’ and moving forward.”
The X exhibit will be housed on the Grammy Museum’s second-floor Special Exhibits Gallery and feature original instruments and gear used by the band, clothing and other personal items, handwritten lyrics by Doe and Exene Cervenka, original concert flyers for X’s early shows in Los Angeles and some of Cervenka’s photos and artwork. The documentary X: The Unheard Music will also be shown as part of the exhibit. X will perform during a rooftop concert on the exhibit’s opening night.
Doe hopes the display will offer a sense of the “authenticity, honesty and straightforwardness” he feels have helped X continue to build an audience over the years. “There’s not a lot of tricks in what we do,” he explains. “Why are there some really cute 20-year-old boys and girls up front? I guess because we never had one really big hit song and didn’t have a really dumb haircut. Somehow we’ve maintained credibility because of that.” Bonebrake seconds that: “I just think it’s good music, and we play some good shows. We never had a hit record, so we have to tour. We can’t live off royalties. People see us, and they bring more people to see us.”
X’s 40th anniversary shows dig deep into the group’s catalog for “weird stuff” such as “I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts” and “Come Back to Me,” while Bonebrake has been playing vibes and guitarist Billy Zoom has picked up the saxophone for some songs. The group will be releasing Live In Latin America from a recent tour with Pearl Jam to those who contributed to the project’s Kickstarter campaign, and is planning a West Coast holiday tour for December that Doe predicts will be “very emotional.” X hasn’t released a new studio album since 1993, and Doe — who’s working on a second memoir — says he’s not sure if we’ll ever see one.
“There are two or three songs on every solo record I do that could be X songs, but it would take the four of us to sit in a room and just do it,” he says. “But it’s complicated to actually do that. It’s like a family, and families are complicated. We’ll see where we end up when this (tour) is all done. Right now all you can really do is focus on getting from Point A to Point B.”
And, Bonebrake says, that may be good enough.
“As people mention it, it’s amazing – ’40?! Wow! Where did the time go?'” the drummer says. “To be here playing, to be healthy, it’s a great thing. We’re still making good music. We all know people who have died or didn’t make it, couldn’t sustain it or whatever so we don’t take this for granted.”