Wednesday, Dec 19 2012 06:43 PM

MATT MUNOZ: Punk's past is present with X

By The Bakersfield Californian

Blue sparks are sure to fly when iconic Los Angeles punk band X returns for what's become an annual post-Christmas shindig at Buck Owens' Crystal Palace on Wednesday.

This marks the group's third holiday visit to Bakersfield in as many years after returning with a vengeance to the world of live touring with original members John Doe, Exene Cervenka, Billy Zoom and D.J. Bonebrake.

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with Jonny 2 Bags and Salvation Town

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Buck Owens' Crystal Palace, 2800 Buck Owens Blvd.

Admission: $18.50 to $24.50, plus service charge

Information: 328-7560 or


Still performing regularly to sellout crowds on their own -- plus high-profile opening slots for bands like Pearl Jam -- the group continues rolling on their own terms with the vigor of a band half their age.

"X has its own path already," said Cervenka, 56, during a phone interview last week a few hours before showtime in Philadelphia. "We have a group of people we work with, and so it's easy to go back and do it every once in a while. But, it's grueling being on the road, physically and emotionally. I'm in the van. I still love it."

A pioneering band from the '70s Hollywood punk underground, X originated with one foot in the present and the past: razor edged, but laced with vintage rock 'n' roll rebelliousness. Their lyrics told stories of life among the urban decay of Southern California accompanied by melodies that evoked the spirits of their rockabilly idols. Cervenka's unique vocals matched with Doe established them as a musical force previously unheard.

As the Ramones did for the East Coast, X was interested in writing honestly about the West Coast, which Cervenka said was commonly portrayed inaccurately by those reporting from the outside.

"My first apartment when I moved to Venice, California, was $180 rent a month. People didn't need cars as much, it wasn't as crowded, people could find each other. There was no Internet or cellphones. Some people had home phones, but not everybody. Nobody had television or cameras. There wasn't any MTV or videos back then and really no record labels.

"But somehow across the country and in Los Angeles, everyone found each other and made these communities, and it was interesting. It was hard to find. It was like a secret society in a good way, and whoever could find it was in. If you could find it, you were welcome. Everyone belonged -- young, old, all kinds of people from all over the place. It had its own energy source, and a very strange, powerful thing."

That reality is what she says came up missing in early films such as Penelope Spheeris' 1980 account, "The Decline of Western Civilization," which attempted to capture the L.A. punk experience during a particularly turbulent period. A striking image of Cervenka was prominently used to promote the film, but she admits to only having seen the film once.

"It just wasn't accurate of what that was like back then. It was a sensationalized version of what that filmmaker wanted to portray. It was a very big scene. It was a lot of interesting people and a lot of compassion, sisterhood, brotherhood. You know, it was a real complex situation and it didn't really come across to me in that movie. It served to perpetuate all the violence that was coming up at the time and to make it more so. It kind of created a culture of violence around punk, which I think was kind of a death note for it. I saw it when it came out; that's pretty much enough for me. It didn't serve a purpose for the people that were in it; however, it did introduce people to a whole radical way of thinking and a different world."

She said the film and other contemporary accounts of the music scene missed the prominent and empowering role of female musicians had in punk bands during that period.

"It wasn't a sea of crazy boys. There were women in a lot of bands, and also it was like an audience of women and men. The Bags had women, The Controllers, the Go-Go's, the Germs, The Motels, and then there was us and bands that came through like Blondie. Anybody that wanted to take a turn could be in a band."

Cervenka suggested many of today's pop artists take a cue from the past as she did when she began performing.

"I like the women who were just singular, singing and songwriting, like Patti Smith, Donna Summer, who were amazing because of what they possessed inside. I don't see that much nowadays with a lot of girl singers, and a lot of girls in good bands have this really terrible need for some reason to be sex objects. It's like they're insecure about their insides. All they are is an outside body, and that's kind of sad to me. Also, that scene wasn't about who was in the band, it was about who was there and hanging out. There were tons of women, fanzines, everybody did everything back then. It was really good."

It's a particularly reflective time for Cervenka and X, what with the looming 30th anniversary of their major label debut, "Under the Big Black Sun." But Cervenka isn't confident that the history of punk will ever be told accurately. But that's not the point anyway.

"They can romanticize it, but they can never romanticize it enough to express how incredibly romantic it was. I don't mean like a boy-love-girl kind of romantic, but I mean in a bigger, historical sense, where serendipity and things are just so magical and weird and preposterous and crazy."

Opening will be Social Distortion guitarist and vocalist Jonny "2 Bags" Wickersham and his band, Salvation Town.

Savage Radio

After a few test runs, Bakersfield independent terrestrial radio station 89.7 FM KSVG launched its first official broadcast on Monday.

Co-founders Jake Chavez, 45, and Greg Looney, 40, both of Bakersfield, had dedicated themselves to bringing the nonprofit station to local airwaves, applying for their broadcast license five years ago, then following that up with a lengthy run of paperwork, construction, meetings and inspections.

"We're bringing people back to radio, which is cool," said Chavez. "We're actually helping the other radio stations in town by bringing them back to listening, too. Everyone will benefit."

After meeting their FCC signal test deadline on Nov. 5, Chavez said it's been an ongoing process to get the station fully licensed. Powered by an antenna stationed 28 miles south of Bakersfield near the foothills of Arvin, the station can only go live from noon to midnight.

"It's more of a beam directed toward us than a cloudburst antenna reaching a wider range. With the FCC, the broadcasting hours could change at any time."

Following a blast from the station's Facebook page on Monday, the low hiss coming from the assigned frequency was soon replaced by the hard-rocking sounds of "All My Friends Are Dead" by the band Turbonegro, into a mixed bag of tracks by hardcore heroes The Refused, UK singer Morrissey and others.

KSVG currently has 15 revolving DJs lined up to fill time slots with mixed, format-free playlists and specialty shows with a concentration on indie and college rock.

Under its nonprofit status, the station hopes to raise funds to expand the airwave reach of KSVG. Chavez invites Bakersfield to give it a test listen and offer some feedback.

"Right now, we need the people to support us, so we can grow."

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