X has played thousands of shows in its 40 years together, most of which have long ago faded in the fog of memory of the L.A. punk rock quartet.
Not so with the band’s first Lincoln appearance 34 years ago.
“I remember that show at the Drumstick,” said drummer D.J. Bonebrake. “You don’t remember most of them, but that one I do.”
There’s a good reason for that as Bonebrake recounted his view from the drum kit of singers Exene Cervenka and John Doe's confrontation with a fan.
“There was a guy who was bugging us before the show,” Bonebrake said of the October 1983 show. “He was on psychedelics or really drunk. He was going ‘Where’s Jim Morrison?’ Not Ray Manzarek. People expected Ray (who produced the first X album) to be there. We go on stage and the guy was standing in front and he started spitting on Exene. We yelled at him to stop it. He didn’t.
“John, in the middle of a song, pulled his bass off and jumped on the guy and started pounding him. The fight was over in the second round. But John broke a couple ribs. He had to deal with that. You get a couple broken ribs and you just have to deal with. That’s hard for a singer. It was tough on him.”
During the melee, which lasted a couple minutes, people started grabbing things off the merchandise table that was being manned by Bonebrake’s wife, who jumped over the table to save the T-shirts.
X had another memorable experience on Aug. 16. But it wasn’t a show. The band was honored by the Los Angeles Dodgers, who invited them onto the Dodger Stadium field before the game — wearing jerseys with their names on the back.
Cervenka, who practiced for weeks, threw a perfect first pitch. Doe sang the National Anthem and Bonebrake soaked in the experience.
“It was cool, it was a fantastic night,” Bonebrake said. “That’s one of the weirdest things ever. People always ask ‘Did you expect to be playing after 40 years?’ Well maybe. But that was totally out of left field. I grew up in L.A. The first game I went to was at the Coliseum before they built Dodger Stadium. Growing up listening to the Dodger games and Vin Scully, it’s a part of L.A. life. Suddenly, here we are and we’re out on the field. That was the most amazing feeling, feeling what it was like.”
On Oct. 13, “X: 40 Years of Punk Rock in Los Angeles” will open at the Grammy Museum in L.A., where it will be on view through March.
“That’s an honor too,” Bonebrake said. “It’s really great they asked us to do that. We donated whatever we had around the house. I had an old drum kit that was gathering dust, lots of posters. I think we gave them too much.”
The honor aside, Bonebrake has some qualms about being enshrined in a museum and seen as a piece of history.
“You aren’t going to retire me that quickly,” he said. “Once you’re in a museum, you’re not alive. I went to a museum in Washington, D.C., once, one of the Smithsonian museums and looked at all these stuffed birds. I went outside and saw a real bird and I was taken aback. I don’t want to be a stuffed bird. I want to be alive.”
So how do you stay alive?
“To not be a museum piece, what you have to do is play well,” Bonebrake said. “That’s when you transcend the superficial ‘stardom,’ the reality TV stardom, the media recognition. We still do that. That’s why people come to shows. When we actually play, we play really well. We put everything into it, at least I do.”
That’s what X will do when it returns Monday to Nebraska, stopping at Omaha’s The Waiting Room on its year-long 40th anniversary tour.
That will mark the second time in as many months that Doe and Cervenka have played the Omaha area as they opened for Garbage and Blondie at Stir Cove in mid-July. But that wasn’t really an X show with neither Bonebrake or guitarist Billy Zoom there.
Monday's show will be a carefully designed, career-spanning set that will include at least 20 songs.
“The show has an arc,” Bonebrake said “We start out rocking a bit, bring it down and, at the end, we give you ‘Los Angeles,’ ‘Nausea’ and all the loud, rocking stuff.
“Los Angeles” is the title cut of X’s 1980 Slash Records debut album. The disc is filled with songs driven by Zoom’s high-octane rockabilly guitar and Bonebrake’s powerhouse rock ‘n’ roll drumming with Cervenka and Doe blending their voices in edgy harmonies singing their poetic lyrics of underground life in the City of Angels.
That was a far different approach than the likes of the Germs, Fear, the Circle Jerks and Black Flag — something that is immediately evident watching “The Decline of Western Civilization,” director Penelope Spheeris’s 1979 documentary about the L.A. punk rock scene.
“We were kind of oddballs on that scene,” Bonebrake said. “Billy had so much experience. He’s older than the rest of us. He’s in his late 60s. He started playing guitar when he was 4 or so. Rock ‘n’ roll wasn’t even around. He was playing cowboy music, trying to imitate Roy Rogers or something.
“I started in 1967, so I had 10 years of experience, playing all sorts of rock 'n’ roll — they called it top 40 which was Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, Bowie. And I had the orchestral stuff and I played in the jazz band. So we could play. Some on the scene could and some couldn’t and some tried to hide it.”
That, in fact, is why Bonebrake left the Eyes, an early LA punk band that also included future Go-Go Charlotte Caffey, to join Cervenka, Doe and Zoom in X.
“We were different than some of the other bands,” Bonebrake said. “That’s why I joined X. They were bringing a variety of songs and influence as opposed to the straight-up punk beats. We were an oddball band on that scene. People would say ‘X, they kind of sound like Elvis Costello or something.’ That was supposed to be a put down.”
There were plenty of other put downs in the early ‘80s, first in L.A. and then as X began touring, scaring the populous across the country.
“We looked a bit odd,” Bonebrake said. “We were kind of frightening to people. Exene would be thrown out of restaurants. They wouldn’t let her eat. When you’re younger, you want that in a way, it gives you power.
“I’ve always been the nicest guy in the world, a guy you could talk to. But when we first started, dressing weird in the Hollywood scene, I shaved my head. People were too frightened of me. You don’t want to look like you were just released from an insane asylum. I started to taper a bit, so I wouldn’t scare the kids and the little old ladies.”
X’s second album, “Wild Gift,” that perfectly refined the “Los Angeles” sound, was the near-unanimous best album of 1981. Then came “Under the Big Black Sun,” which showcased the band’s country leanings. Two more albums followed before the group had a lineup change with guitarists Dave Alvin and Tony Gilkyson replacing Zoom in 1986 before X split up the next few years.
Regrouping in the early ‘90s, X put out “Hey Zeus” in 1993, went on hiatus in 1997 and started playing shows again in 2004, releasing a very good live album in 2005.
Given the fact that X hasn’t made a studio album in 24 years, is there a chance the band will record some new music?
“I don’t know,” Bonebrake said. “We been talking about a lot of different things we can do. There’s a possibility. Hopefully, we’ll be able to record a couple songs and put them out. You don’t have to do a whole album any more. We do have a live record coming out, from South America when we toured with Pearl Jam. They recorded all the shows and let us have the tapes, well, they’re not tapes, the files. That was so nice of them and shows how much they supported us.”
Regardless of whether there’s new music, X will be out there, staying alive and enjoying the long-deserved recognition as one of the great American bands of the punk era.
“It’s funny, how you end up being the iconic band where in the beginning you were the oddballs,” Bonebrake said.