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Getting on the X

January 23, 2016



As much as I’d like to be able to claim that I was at the forefront of cultural change and rode the burgeoning underground wave of punk rock in the late 70s, the plain truth is that I did not.  In fact, not only was I not an early adopter, I actively and vociferously denounced the movement at the time as the crude effluence of petulant morons.  Those filthy, carping “punks” – in all the slurring, pejorative sense of the term – couldn’t hold a candle to my illustrious hard rock heroes.  Sure, I had been floored by the cantankerous performance by Elvis Costello on Saturday Night Live in late ’77, but c’mon, he looked like Buddy Holly and besides, it was a one-off moment for me that failed to spur further exploration.

The closest I came at the time to opening my mind to the safety-pin-bedecked gobbers was via an embrace of Blondie circa ‘Parallel Lines’ and the first B-52’s album, both of which groups were then lumped in as part of the punk movement by mainstream media in my neck of the woods.  I however clearly knew the difference between these idiosyncratic but non-threatening bands and the system-hating, ne’er-do-well razor-blade fetishists in the Sex Pistols and the Dead Boys.

Wild GiftIt was 1981 before the internal prejudices began to weaken and I allowed myself to openly experiment with music that I understood to be categorically “punk rock” without any softening edges.  The band that finally opened my eyes and ears was X via their second LP ‘Wild Gift.’  Unfortunately and much to my dismay, I am unable to recall what led to my acquisition of the album.  I have vague impressions of either seeing X on the TV and being moved to make the purchase, or simply having received it unordered as an LP of the month through a record club membership, but neither notion successfully coalesces into an actual memory.  However I came into possession of ‘Wild Gift,’ I found it exhilarating from the first listen… and I still do!

‘Wild Gift’ is a relentless blast of short, fast songs featuring slam-poetry lyrics riding over the top of manic rockabilly guitar and nervous, jittery drumming, provided by Billy Zoom and DJ Bonebrake respectively.  The skittish energy of the music is both reinforced and weirdly mellowed by the shouty, discordant-but-still-somehow-harmonized vocals of Exene Cervenka and John Doe.  Their shared whiny, perpetually-complaining singing styles mesh to create a melodiousness that is unique to X.  Imagine if it were possible to concurrently pogo and gracefully sway all in one fluid motion; that’s the ‘Wild Gift’ experience.

X (on Bandstand)

Every song on the album causes a physical reaction, whether it be an enthusiastic head bob along to the bopping “The Once Over Twice” or involuntary toe-tapping to the off-kilter “Adult Books,” which sounds like what must happen when one mixes speed and quaaludes.  (Disclaimer: VotF does not endorse illicit drug taking.)  While it is the vocals that generally wear the engineer’s hat here, the hopped-up, almost surf rock guitar playing and snares-and-cymbals drumming are what propel the train down the tracks throughout, relentlessly chugging even in the (relatively) moodier songs like “White Girl” and “Universal Corner.”

Anyone who’s spent any time at all on this site knows that, for me, “guitar-driven” isn’t so much a description as itBilly Zoom is a personal theology.  So I’ll end by noting that Billy Zoom proves himself one hell of a guitar player on ‘Wild Gift,’ equally impressive providing unrelenting rhythms or blasting out rockabilly-tinged solos.  As an added bonus, his riffing and short breaks in “It’s Who You Know” are nearly Motörhead-esque in their old school rock and roll glory.


X: It’s Who You Know


From → Music

  1. I only started discovering X a few years ago! Off the back of one of my favourite bands collaborating with John Doe. Everything I heard led me to believe they were one of the very best. Right good.

    • Great to hear of others enjoying X; sometimes I think if it weren’t for John Doe’s acting roles, nobody would remember them. What was the band he collaborated with?

      • He did a smashin’ country album with The Sadies (Country Club). I’d heard his name, but hadn’t listened to X or even his solo stuff before then.

  2. I remember when “punk” LPs started arriving in the record store where I worked. Wish I’d been on the ball enough to come with something as wonderful as “the crude effluence of petulant morons”. I was not that lyrically deft back then, but the phrase captures my gut-reaction perfectly.
    Eventually I decided to listen a bit more and found that it was like everything else in rock. Some rubbish, much OK, a pointy phalanx of brilliant. You post will have me keeping an eye out for X, even though I’m only lurking in the vestry at the church of the Guitar-Driven God.

    PS> My X moment was the Aus/US hybrid Radio Birdman. Must write that post.

    • I’m not 100 percent sure those were my exact words back then, but I’d certainly raise my right hand and swear to the spirit of them (smile).

      One of the nice things about the passage of time is how it allows the prejudices to slip away and opens all kinds of opportunity to discover wonderful new among the old. Finding that phalanx is a little easier in hindsight as well, methinks. I sincerely look forward to the eventual Radio Birdman post; unfortunately my knowledge of Aussie punk begins and ends with just the one The Saints song.

  3. Really interesting, as always. I’ve got cover versions of a coupon of their tracks but I’ve never knowingly heard a track by X. I keep meaning to check them out, particularly since Brett Easton Ellis seems to mention them a lot in his writings too.

    The US underground was such an interesting, fervent, fertile pool at the time.

    • Do give them a try. I think they’re right up your alley. I doubt you could go wrong with any of their first three albums, but this one, being my first, is my personal fave.

      • I’m usually a bit of a debut LP guy myself. I will.

      • On a similar-ish tip, I’m discovering the Replacements at the moment, do you know them at all? Let It Be (great LP title!) is brilliant.

        • I’ve got Hootenanny and Tim, but no Let It Be. Had to look it up just now to discover that my two bracket it release-wise. Found both mine orphaned in used CD shops at some point and must admit that I haven’t given either enough attention to be able to offer an opinion on them or The Replacements in general. Guess I’m not the adoptive father they might have hoped for … your comment has served to make me admit I may be dropping the ball however. I’ll consider engaging a little more with the brats and see how it goes.

  4. Only know of X from the Decline film. The guitar player was pretty nifty, I can remember that much!

    • Ya know, I’ve only seen snippets of the “Decline” films here and there, but I remember that I want to watch them every time I hear mention. Maybe now finally… As for Billy Zoom, “nifty” is exactly right. He could really play, had a great non-punk smile always plastered on his face, and was highly skilled in rock poses (probably still can, has, and is as I understand X continue to tour on occasion).

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