Tag Archives: X

The Incline of Western Civilization


Los Angeles punk has always had its own distinct aesthetic, inspired by New York and London but shaped by its environment: the West, Hollywood, the ‘burbs.  Somehow, LA punks seem to be aging more relevantly than their peers. This weekend I saw three artists from the earliest, old school days of Los Angeles calling: Alice Bag (the Bags), Phranc (Nervous Gender), and John Doe (X). Punk’s disruption of traditional beauty standards and of heteronormativity always seemed particularly radical in the shadow of Tinseltown, but these AARP-age idols show that choosing original style over the surgeon’s knife is the best revenge. Their music has also matured not declined. Chops may not be punk’s raison d’etre, but these three have them: Doe has always been the genre’s most golden-voiced crooner, but Bag and Phranc are also skilled singers. They flubbed some lines but their harmonies were pitch perfect as they played their second gig as the act with the best “shipped” name ever …. wait for it … PHAG!


Phranc (I love the guitar sticker!)

If you don’t know what a shipped name is, then clearly you don’t have a teenager:  Short for relationship, it means the single name that results from the union of two, such as Brangelina, Kimye, and now, Phag. Phranc and Alice have known each other since at least the early ’80s, when they both were in Castration Squad. As that act’s name indicates, they were (and are) gender warriors. They found refuge in punk’s embrace of outsiders, as they discussed on a panel at the Grrrls on Film festival at Loyola Marymount University in 2016. But Phranc in particular also found racism and homophobia, and eventually she rejected the scene and rebranded herself as the “All-American Jewish Lesbian Folksinger,” revealing the warm, womanly tones underneath punk’s noise and her flat-top ‘do. She’s still a little bit folky, while Bag’s a little bit rock’n’roll, as they sang Friday night at the Razorcake 100th issue party at Avenue 50 Studio. They were parodying Donny and Marie, but the original goal of their union, they said, was to be the Smothers Brothers. And sure enough, their act is satiric, slapstick, and also pointedly sincere. They sang songs dissing Mike Pence and praising Malala. They passed around their prototype for a new $20 bill, featuring Harriet Tubman instead of Indian killer Andrew Jackson. They were funny and sweet and sloppy and pissed. I told my compatriots Allison Wolfe and Sharon Mooney that we had to start their fan club now, and I have the perfect name for it: The Phag Hags! Continue reading

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“The Feminist Meeting”

Queens of Noise

Exene, Allison, and Evelyn

Why do we keep reinventing the wheel? How come every generation of women musicians has to address all over again the confrontation between expression and exploitation, as if a hundred women haven’t gone before them? These were some of the questions raised last night at Queens of Noise: Music, Feminism, and Punk: Then and Now, the Aloud event at the Los Angeles Central Library that I hosted with amazing extra-special guests Exene Cervenka and Allison Wolfe.

Apologies to those who were not able to get in to “the feminist meeting,” as one would-be attendee described the event (according to a colleague). The podcast will be posted next week — and goddess, I hope it goes viral. Of course I’m biased, but, led by an Exene on fire, we addressed crucial issues of the value of and need for women to make themselves heard, not just seen. Riot Grrrl, Rock Camp for Girls, Pussy Riot, the Runaways, X, Beyonce, Miley Cyrus, Kathleen Hanna, Bratmobile, mentoring, self-esteem, Sister Rosetta Thorpe, books, history, documentation, activism, etc. — these were just some of the issues and topics we addressed in a wide-ranging, cross-generational conversation. The audience asked sharp questions. And Exene sang a song. It was an EPIC night.


Queens of Noise – Event – Library Foundation of Los Angeles.

via Queens of Noise – Event – Library Foundation of Los Angeles.


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Allison Wolfe Joins Me and Exene

The extremely good news is that Allison Wolfe (Bratmobile, Cold Cold Hearts, Cool Moms, Original Grrrrl) has been added to the Queens of Noise bill at the Los Angeles Public Library. The bad news: The event “sold out” within hours. Still, keep checking the site for standby tickets or come early that night and hope to grab a seat.

via AllisonWolfe.


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Exene, Me, and Special Guest!

The Library Foundation of Los Angeles’s winter schedule is now available online, so I can let you know the super news: I will be presenting alongside one of my all-time heroes, Exene Cervenka, at a special Queens of Noise night that kicks off the winter series. Plus, there will be another very special guest, TBA. X are one of my favorite bands; it was because of Exene that I got my first tattoo; her collection of poems Adulterers Anonymous (with Lydia Lunch) was my bible in college. I’m beyond stoked to be part of the prestigious ALOUD series, and to be with Exene is just the icing on the cake.

What’s more, the second night of the series is Richard Rodriguez presented by my esteemed colleague Ruben Martinez. Two scores for LMU. And later that month, Angelique Kidjo. It’s a great honor to be on this schedule.

[ALOUD] January Programs – Event – Library Foundation of Los Angeles.

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Punk Rock Notes

The squalid, raucous, raunchy haunts of old LA scenesters came back to ignominious life Saturday night at Notes from a Punk Rock Crash Pad, a group reading at Stories Books and Café in Echo Park. Denizens of infamous dwellings, most notably Disgraceland, recalled walls decorated with Maxi Pads and nights of vibrator abuse. There were lots of anecdotes of drugs and sex, usually combined. And there was a prodigious amount of name dropping: X, Runaways, Social Distortion, Gun Club, Screaming Sirens, Germs, and – winners of the most mentions – Tex and the Horseheads and Top Jimmy and the Rhythm Pigs.

Evening co-hostess Pleasant Gehman unveiled a freshly inked travelogue about partner swapping, speed dropping, and Them: the porn-shop vibrators she and her roommates came to appreciate for their efficiency. Lisa Cherry read from a frightening novel about a junky on the edge of self-destruction. It made me think of Sandy West. The women and one man at the Crash Pad are survivors. Not everyone is so lucky.

Noir was the tone of the evening, which included co-hostess Iris Berry, Chris Bailey, and Annette Zilinskas. Notes offered two hours of naughty, gossipy, decadent fun, and some stellar writing. Someone make this an anthology please.

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More Fun at the Lobster Festival

“That’s our production,” John Doe joked as the ginormous cruise ship that had just blasted him and Exene Cervenka into silence passed by the stage at the Lobster Festival in San Pedro Sunday. The ex (and now current again) X’ers who are also each other’s exes had been strumming and singing when the Royal Caribbean boat sounded its horn, rendering the musicians completely inaudible. Admirably, Doe and Cervenka stopped, saluted the decibel competitor, and lauded its hearty win — even while attempting to co-opt the ocean liner as a prop. It’s like that at the Lobster Festival; even musical semi-legends have to concede to the crazy, drunken commerce of life by the port.

The Lobster Festival is San Pedro’s county fair, an ode to dizzying rides, surly carnies, greasy food, and crustaceans. The latter cost $18, were surprisingly good for carnival food, and there were no long lines to buy them, as there were last year. This year, the festival also featured some good, local bands. On Saturday, Fitz and the Tantrums overcame sound problems to deliver their retro soul with sharkskin-suit style. Singers Fitz and Noelle Scaggs both have superb voices and an interesting dynamic; he’s all Bryan Ferry dapper, she’s all Tina Turner hot. The sexual and racial connotations of this pairing were a bit disturbing when, trying to affect some Southern soul man vibe, he called her “my girl.” But with songs as catchy and convincing as their KROQ hit “Moneygrabber,” I’m willing to risk political incorrectness and like FATT.

We could talk all night about the postcolonial ramifications of the Asian-pop-meets-indie-rock Dengue Fever, who followed FATT Saturday. All I’ll say here is that singer Chhom Nimol’s Cambodian diva wails were both sexy and heavenly, but the rest of the band weren’t keeping up.

I hadn’t seen John and Exene in many years; I was once a huge X fan. It was interesting to hear old punk songs like “Because I Do” and “In This House That I Call Home” stripped down, but even without the boat traffic, the acoustic guitars got a little lost in all that open air. Still, John and Exene have deep cultural history in LA; Cervenka, who was diagnosed with MS last year, saluted the region that has supported her art for 34 years.

Cole didn’t win any prizes at the water-gun balloon booth. But the weather was perfect, and when else can you see perfectly groovy hipsters wearing silly lobster hats.

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The World's a Mess

I’ve been singing the old X song “Los Angeles” in my head a lot lately, given my upcoming move. So I was particularly dismayed to hear that Exene Cervenka has MS. She’s always been an unapologetically feminist punk icon; I have a treasured battered copy of Adulterers Anonymous, her book of poems with Lydia Lunch. She led me to my first ink, in fact; first time I interviewed her, back at Brown, she had just gotten a tattoo in Providence, which, she informed me, was a city known for its skin artists. A couple years later, a guy named Rusty Needles put a tribal cat on my back.

As Exene blogs, she’s long been a supporter of Sweet Relief, the musicians’ health care organization founded by Victoria Williams, another gifted woman with MS. So hopefully, she’ll have some good karma in her own care.

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