LET THE FUTURE ALONE. AND THE PAST LET'S CALL Los Angeles.

Presently, Exene Cervenka has a dog, a son, a new band (so newly formed it doesn't have a name; she says it "kinda sounds like X"--but I have the feeling everything in her life "kinda sounds like X"), and a plane ticket to her gig as one of the headlining poets at the Seattle Poetry Festival.

Like her collection of found things scavenged from garbage off the streets (a habit she picked up in the '70s), her art--whether it's punk, poems, lyrics, or kitsch--is an unsorted pile of ideas, and to sort through her work and organize it in some fractured way would be a lie. Wouldn't be punk neither.

After the fall of the underground, or maybe its rise (her first label, Slash, is now housed in the Polygram high-rise), Exene Cervenka casually discusses the way every interest of hers has been co-opted. This is her ideology: inevitably, "Everything's co-opted the minute it's developed." I imagine her examining her nails as she tells me this, checking for snags and chips as though her next statement will be, "Everybody dies, honey. Everybody's gotta die." I can't say it's apathy; she's more assured. And I have to remember--and you should too--that this isn't some kid in a tattered Clash shirt inherited from an older brother telling us that his great ideas have been stolen by the mainstream media. "Co-opted" has been co-opted, and so it really isn't her fault that she's confined to such clichés. No, the casual exhale of Exene's artistic dilemma comes from having been around, and has the dusky tone of wisdom.How do you feel about living so long in Los Angeles?Obviously, I'm okay with being here. There is always some kind of upheaval going on or some kind of weird thing, and it is really, terribly hard to keep an accurate self-image, because it seems like there is no alternative to the superficial culture. It's very youth-oriented, very glamour, very beauty, plastic surgery, everyone works out.... You have to have a certain standard of beauty and esteem [yourself] here as a worthwhile person. You have to remind yourself that it's not reality--but still, it preys on you.What is the difference between performing as a musician and performing as a poet?Sometimes you want a band around you, so that you can just sing the words. It's a safe environment. Poetry is the opposite: you don't have anybody with you. You're traveling alone. If you're jittery or nervous you can't really tell anybody, like the promoter, "Oh, I'm really scared. Do I really have to go out there?"On your most recent spoken word album, Surface to Air Serpents, you have a piece that seems bitter, on the topic of MTV's discovery of poetry as spoken word. What is the difference between spoken word and poetry for you?I moved to California and I was already a poet, and that's how I met John [Doe]: at a poetry workshop. Being poets was the last thing anyone would ever be. It was like being a beatnik. Unless you were an academic, there was no place for it. There was no way to make a living, so it was truly bohemian. And then punk started at that time and I merged into that. But I kept doing poetry.

"Spoken word" to me is a codified term. It's like how bands get a video director and do a video. The difference is, spoken word is more performance-oriented, and poetry is more writer-oriented. I'm more of a writer. Yes, of course [MTV is] always going to go with someone who is yelling and screaming and is cute, instead of someone who is writing really intelligent, brilliant poems [like the ones] in The New Yorker.

The spoken word section at [L.A.'s] Tower Records includes Beat Poets that Rhino Records reissued, Al Gore, the Pope, and Henry Rollins.Do you have any artistic regrets?I have a regret about everything I've ever done.How do you feel about punk nostalgia?I don't believe there is such a thing. Not in my life. If you are a 19-year-old kid and you're wearing a Germs logo on the back of your jacket, I guess that's it. Everyone is nostalgic on some level because they can't really live in the present artistically, let alone the future.Do you still collect religious pamphlets?No. They're not as individual or as regional as they used to be; now they're mass-produced. Ever since the early '70s, I've collected trash. Everything that I found on the ground I would save. Like candy wrappers, bible trash, a receipt, a note, a laundry list--just whatever I found. But during the '80s it stopped being regional. It started being, you know, Mars bars.Are you a happy person?Happy. Well, let's see... happy is a feeling. It's not an emotion. It's not a deep thing. You see someone you haven't seen in a while, it makes you happy. Your dog did something cute and it makes you happy; your friend says something funny and it makes you happy. Someone gives you a compliment and it makes you happy. There are no happy people.

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