The 1981 minor motion picture the Decline of Western Civilization presents a cross-section of the early 80s art-punk scene in Los Angeles. The bands featured fall into three categories. The typical hardcore acts like Black Flag, the Circle Jerks and typical to a lesser extent, Fear. Then there were the outfits that were each in their own way kind of a mess like the Germs, Alice Bag Band, and Catholic Discipline. Then there was X, in a shining category by themselves.
I first saw the Decline early on in college at Pete and Mike's friend Steve Whitten's house. It was a revelation overall, but X stood out as far more together, expressing more of a distinct point of view, as if they aspired to be more than they were but in an effortless way. Leading up to the Decline's opening credits, director Penelope Spheeris opens with a montage of each band's reading the disclaimer that they'd be filming during the band's set. Lee Ving of Fear read it in a German accent, Keith Morris concluded the statement with "and you can tell them to fuck off." Alice Bag read it angrily, and Darby Crash mumbled his way through it, as if he can't read. Exene of X read it like a junior NPR producer and in my mind punctuated it with a little curtsey.
Part of my infatuation with X is the romance. The vocalists, John and Exene were married until 1985 or 86, which spanned their best years. A very dumb, dark part of me has always wondered whether Pete and I would be better artists if there was less harmony in our relationship. This song in particular is about infidelity--based on a true story!--in which John cheated on Exene with Lorna Doom, bassist for the Germs. I remember listening to this song by myself in the car driving to school and thinking that I could use some drama like this in my life. Being 20 is ridiculous. Still, contend with these lyrics. Just try!
Missing her man for an old girl (nineteen)
Drain every beer left over at home
And listen to ghosts in the other room
I love it! What you miss in reading the lyrics is that the parenthetical "nineteen" there is an Exene backing vocal and it's impossibly pouty.
Then, from the chorus:
Easy to fall
Part of your skull
Starts to break away
Drugged and in love
Out at a club
Pulling me outside
So the other thing here is that it's a man talking about his experience cheating on his wife AND HIS WIFE IS SINGING ALONG. Take THAT, country music! Try and fuck with that. Just try! It's so complex and ugly and emotional it all adds up to this uncomfortable, compelling, beautiful song.
HAVE YOU SEEN THIS VIDEO? I'm not sure where it came from. It's not posted from the official X Vevo if there is such a thing, but it has to be somewhat official. I normally hate in-the-studio videos, but this one is great. Pete's favorite part is when John gets caught with a cigarette in his mouth when his vocal cue sneaks up on him. It's quite cute. As someone in a band who does 100% home recordings, I've always been grateful that I don't have to sit around a studio for hours on end, but X makes it look almost fun.
I have more to say about X, but (spoiler), they'll be back and I gotta save some stories for that post. I do love X so very, very much. I think if they had a deeper "acceptable" catalog, they'd be my third or fourth favorite, all time. Los Angeles and Wild Gift are both perfect albums and I dig Under the Big Black Sun ok, but like so many other bands of their generation, they kind of crapped out, not knowing where to go once their scene died. It's hilarious and bitterly ironic that such amazing underground songwriters are best known by the mainstream by their cover of "Wild Thing" that appeared in Major League.