X bassist John Doe is a genuine American punk-rock legend. A gunslinger, if you will—not unlike John Wesley Hardin, who once shot a man just for snoring. Doe's bullets, though, come in the form of rockabilly and roots-aimed punk. It was the Wild West of hazed-out Los Angeles in 1977 where Doe and guitarist Billy Zoom answered each other's classified ads. Then came vocalist Exene Cervenka, whom Doe met at a poetry workshop in Venice Beach. Doe and Cervenka became amorous and would go on to marry, then divorce. For the life of the band, they would remain close, writing all the lyrics and singing in their shadowy, love-mated, minor-key harmonies. With drummer DJ Bonebrake, X began playing at the famous Masque club in Hollywood. They quickly cultivated a fervent following and caught the ear of the Doors' Ray Manzarek, who would go on to produce their early albums. Of the fabled "Class of '77," out of which sprang the Ramones, the Clash, and the Sex Pistols, only X remain intact and tour with the original members. They're one of the greatest bands that ever was and ever will be. Doe spoke. I didn't snore.
Exene was going to talk. But she's gone missing.
I'm here to help.
Where do you think Exene is? Is she doing the ring toss at a roadside fair on the outskirts of town as we speak?
She definitely could be doing the ring toss. I'm not my sister's keeper. If I had to say, I'd say she's at some sort of cult museum.
Staring at a wax figure—
Of Jim Jones. No. She's already done that. She's onto some other cult we don't even know about yet.
Or she's staring at a wax Tom Cruise. And it looks exactly fucking like him.
You'd never know it's wax. So what are you into, besides cult wax museums?
Dream psychology. What's the last dream you remember?
I usually just remember short parts of dreams. I'll remember the pattern on a fabric. That's the thing with dreams for me, I'll tell someone a dream, then immediately forget it. I don't have anxiety dreams. I don't have any more musical nightmare dreams. Exene, on the other hand, has very vivid dreams.
What were your musical nightmare dreams? You showed up to play a concert but forgot to put clothes on?
No, I'd dream I was onstage playing with someone I really respect and not know any of the songs. Or that I'd be playing my bass, but the strings would be rubber bands, so that there was no tension and I couldn't make a sound.
And you were nude.
I guess I had those dreams when I was a kid, of showing up at school with no pants on. But I'm okay with being either naked or clothed, so I don't have any embarrassing naked dreams.
Maybe hypnotherapy will help you remember your dreams more. I'm going to hypnotize you—right now. Let's do this. Don't hate. The sound of my voice relaxes you. Unconsciousness is near. You are getting v-e-r-y s-l-e-e-p-y. Imagine you are a grain of sand floating through space. [Pause] Take as long as you need.
Nope. Still here. It was a good effort, though. I like the part about sand in space.
X has been a band for 35 years. What's changed? What hasn't changed?
One thing that hasn't changed is the people who are playing the X music, which is probably our biggest achievement. DJ Bonebrake is just as ferocious now as he was 25 or 30 years ago. Maybe our subject matter is a little more distant? Maybe it's not quite as current, because a lot of the songs were written so long ago. However, they were written with a specific but universal theme. The lyrics about dealing with being disaffected or socially alienated in the song "Los Angeles" are even truer now than they were when we wrote them, because there are more people and the speed of life is faster. We still play loud and fast and with complete commitment, whether Ronald Reagan or Barack Obama is president—a lot of those things haven't changed, either. Instead of the New World Order, it's the corporations that are running the show. Whatever changes stays the same. I think the thing that's changed the most is that we're not as unhappy and not as self-destructive. Which is one of the reasons I think we've continued; we haven't killed ourselves with narcotics. We tried! [Laughs]
I like your scene in Boogie Nights. Your character is both bad and good.
It's funny, people come up to me and say, "You're such an asshole in that movie." The scene is a custody conference with Julianne Moore, a judge, and me, where I'm accusing Julianne of being a bad mother—because she's snorting coke and shooting porno movies. My character is trying to keep the kid away from it, but somehow I come off as the bad guy [laughs]. Paul Anderson is such an effective filmmaker, the way he frames the scene, with Julianne crying, I come across as the bad guy. But I'm not the bad guy!
What are your favorite X songs to play?
Well, Trent, that's hard to say, each song is like one of my children—I've always wanted to say that. "I really can't choose, because they're all my children." When I hear people say that, I really wish they could hear themselves. It's such bullshit. I don't really have a favorite song. I love it when we play songs we don't normally play. I'm twisting some arms to get a couple played these days. There are certain songs that are always fun to play. "The World's a Mess," the first time we ever played it in the rehearsal room, I knew. We all kind of knew, and looked around at each other and thought, "You know what, that's a fucking really good song." Sometimes we do a better version one night than the next.
What's one of the songs you're having to twist arms to play?
I'm trying to get Billy and Exene to relearn "When Our Love Passed Out on the Couch" and "How I (Learned My Lesson)." "The Have Nots" is another one. We have a lot of songs; it's hard to choose. That may be why people like Bruce Springsteen play for four hours, which I will never ever do.
How does John Doe get ready for a show?
Maybe a little quiet? Before the storm. Get a little focus on the fact that you're gonna go out there and play for an hour and a half.
What about that time in 1981 when you rubbed peanut butter on your tits preshow in Minnesota?
It worked so well, I've done it before every show since. No one knows. One thing I will do is tell everyone not to fall offstage. If you're pulled offstage, that's fine, if you dive offstage, that's fine, too. Falling offstage is a no-no.
You just toured South America with Pearl Jam. How was it?
It's incredible, the stamina people have down there. We were in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Costa Rica. People would come at noon. We'd play for 45 minutes, then Pearl Jam would play for two hours, with multiple-song encores. And the people were going nuts till the last note was played. They knew every word. Even that song from the '50s they do, "Last Kiss." Seeing 25,000 or 30,000 people singing that song, I kept thinking that if whoever wrote that song could see it, they'd say, "See, I told you that was a good song. I told you that was a fucking hit."
I know you've joined Pearl Jam onstage for their version of "Rockin' in the Free World," but I think you need to also join in on "Jeremy." There's the part on the end where you can unleash your powerful falsetto.
My falsetto may be one of those things that has changed in the 35 years.
What's next as far as your acting goes? Which comes easier for you, acting or music?
There's some things in the works. It's been a little while, because I've been busy with music. I think the last thing I did was a couple episodes of One Tree Hill. It was fun. They're nice people. Music is definitely easier. The acting is tricky. I do a lot of research and really pay attention to what the other actors are doing. When I get a job, I take it very seriously.