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X Founder Exene Cervenka Returns to Downtown L.A.

By Ed Fuentes
Published: Thursday, January 27, 2011, at 08:25PM
Exene Cervenka Maggie St Thomas

Exene Cervenka, the Godmother of vanguard punk-rock X, will baptize new solo work at the Redwood Bar & Grill on Friday, January 28, at midnight.

As X front woman and co-founder, Cervenka's lyrical wit was thrashed out in songs co-written by then-husband John Doe. During the early 80s, their albums, produced by ex-Doors keyboard player Ray Manzarek, placed the band on major rock critic's lists. Then, through side projects The Knitters and The Original Sinners, the poet-songwriter dipped deeper in the romance of roots-rock.

After a four-year sabbatical in the Midwest, Cervenka recently returned to the Southland, where she now lives in Orange County and works as a schoolteacher. X and The Knitters still perform together, layering personal and professional time with Doe, X drummer DJ Bonebreak, plus Dave and Phil Alvin of The Blasters.

Cervenka’s second solo album on alternative country label Bloodshot Records, “The Excitement of Maybe,” is due March 8th. Appropriately, the CD/LP cover wears a heart on its sleeve.

“It’s 12 love songs,” says Cervenka, adding that romance has resonance in all her work, whether it is “unconscious, subconscious, consciously.”

“I write about love because that's what I am most connected to lyrically,” she adds. “I always have.”

And even with all her success, Cervenka is excited about the Redwood gig that takes her back to a small club.

ED FUENTES: You wrote your previous solo release "Somewhere Gone" while living in Missouri. Where was “The Excitement of Maybe” written?

EXENE CERVENKA: All these songs were written between July 2009 and February 2010. Some were written in an Anaheim backyard under the Disneyland fireworks. “I Wish It Would Stop Raining” was written in Memphis, and “Love and Haight” I wrote in San Francisco. I was touring a lot.

EF: Are there were different stages in your career when considered yourself a lyricist / poet / vocalist or a vocalist / lyricist?

EC: It doesn’t matter what I consider myself. I make art or music or prose and then turn it into songs or poems or collages, or letters to my friends. I try to make everything I do as artistic as possible.

EF: In 2009 you disclosed that you had been diagnosed with MS. Have long time friends become more important?

EC: Yes, more than ever I value my friendships. I meet new friends all the time and I value that, too. I like being alive this long and having some, at least, of my friends still hangin’ out.

EF: Those friends include John Doe, who you first met at Beyond Baroque, hallowed ground for the creative underground. Are we missing that sort of neighborhood now?

EC: I think that is what the Redwood Bar is doing. There is a grassroots musical movement now because of the economy and other social forces. There are a lot of artists and songwriters, musicians, poets, working hard under the radar. I expect new, creative and wonderful things from the new generation coming up.

EF: X was part of the last rock movement before MTV, and I am fascinated to hear your POV about Madonna [who began when MTV did]. Did Madonna exploit women as well as media?

EC: I’m not sure what Madonna’s legacy will be. It depends on what the next generation of women do. Will they reject sexuality as the way to artistic success? Or will women continue to debase themselves for the approval of men and the media?

EF: For anyone who may not know, how was Downtown back in the 80’s when it had a strong underground music scene?

EC: Mostly it was Al’s Bar, the Atomic [Café], and of course the Hong Kong Cafe. I went to Madame Wong’s maybe twice. Once when X played there and Billy’s guitar got stolen, once to see a band. It was more of a new wave venue . . . Hong Kong was punk. I am so glad Chinatown is thriving but not changing, and that some of the old bars and venues Downtown are alive again. I mostly hung around the avenues in the 80’s.

EF: How do you recall each Downtown venue, and if I am not too forward, does it prompt a song title? Like Al’s Bar?

EC: Beer on the pool table. Don’t even think about puttin’ that giant beer down on my pool table! Loud cement music reverberating.

EF: Atomic Café?

EC: Late night drunk food

EF: Madame Wong’s?

EC: New wave cul-de-sac.

EF: Gorky Park?

EC: Bastion of hope for Downtown; a great community place.

EF: Pershing Square?

EC: Homeless in the shadows.

EF: The Redwood Bar has that same small club feel from back in those days, more so with Phil Alvin as roots-rocker in residence. Is that the attraction to playing there?

EC: Yes it is! I like the underground feel, the old L.A. Times’ reporting ghosts that used to drink and smoke and tell stories there. The artists that play there are important to see and hear. It’s a sensibility they have about music that needs to be respected and preserved.

EF: Which is harder? Teaching or being a punk-rock legend and goddess?

EC: Teaching is much harder than being the 'queen of punk.' Helping five-year olds learn to read was, and is, one of my favorite and most awesome experiences. Teachers are overworked, underpaid, responsible for someone else’s children, and lots of ‘em all at once, for seven or eight hours a day. The responsibilities are big. One of my conscious concerns with teaching is how will what I say effect this person; not only now but when they are older. Building their self-esteem, helping them learn how to socialize . . . all very heavy important-for-the-future stuff. I love children so it was rewarding. But I also love the people in the clubs, and I care as much about what I do effecting them. I work hard because I care!

Exene Cervenka / Fri Jan 28 with opening bands Le Bestia and Los Scandalous / Redwood Bar & Grill / 316 W. 2nd St / (213) 680-2600

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