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The Story Behind X’s “Los Angeles,” a Thrashing Punk Critique About Intolerance That Remains Relevant Today

John Doe joins the podcast and also discusses his cover of Exene Cervenka's "Alone in Arizona"

story behind the song x los angeles john doe
The Story Behind the Song: X’s “Los Angeles,” photo by Kristy Benjamin
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    Punk rock in the mid-to-late ’70s and early ’80s meant different things to different people, depending on which city you were in. For Los Angeles, it was the band X that helped define the sound from their Venice home.

    The band’s two front-people, John Doe and Exene Cervenka, met as Los Angeles punks frequently did in 1977: at an off-kilter Venice poetry reading. Soon after, they transformed their poems into songs of social rage and carved their names into our collective consciousness with a flaming “X.” 40 years later, their debut album, Los Angeles, still sits in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time (#320 in 2020) — and the band clocks in as #13 on Consequence‘s own list of the Best Punk Bands of All Time.

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    X’s most iconic song happens to be the title track of that debut LP. “Los Angeles” reflects all of that city’s deep complexities, including racial, sexual and religious intolerance, in a biographical tale centered on a figure known personally by Doe and Cervenka. As told via lyrics intended to shock, this person so hated others in LA not like herself that she moved several time zones away to escape them. Her POV is so raw that certain radio stations that previously championed the song no longer play it. But the song’s driving power remains and was always meant to be a social commentary, a thrashing no-holds-barred critique about intolerance that is perhaps even more relevant today.

    In this seventh episode of The Story Behind the Song podcast, host Peter Csathy interviews X’s John Doe about the origins of “Los Angeles,” co-written by Cervenka and produced by Ray Manzarek of The Doors (a band also known for writing songs about LA’s deep, dark underbelly). The two also discuss Doe’s recording of Cervenka’s very different, haunting song, “Alone in Arizona” from Doe’s 2016 solo album, Westerner. They dive deeply into Doe’s musical journey, from the early influences of his home in Baltimore, to his own “escape” to LA, to the formation of the band, and to what’s next for X following their 2020 album Alphabetland (their first with the original line-up in 35 years). They also discuss trying to re-start X’s current tour cut short by Omicron.

    Listen to the podcast above, or check out the full video of the discussion below.

    Then, make sure you’re subscribed to The Story Behind the Song wherever you get your podcasts to catch each episode of the monthly series. You can also keep an eye on the Consequence Podcast Network for updates on all our podcasts, and follow host Peter Csathy on Twitter @pcsathy and check out his company CREATV Media.

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    Theme music courtesy of Juan Pieczanski.

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