Editor's note: The band's record contract prevents us offering a stream or download of "We're Desperate." Still, you can't beat the video footage below with a stick.
"Every other week I need a new address," begins X's signature battle cry of hard life in the land of plenty, "We're Desperate." As X emerged from the L.A. punk scene as a torchbearer, the band symbolized punk's crustiness, the American class war, and the same nihilism embodied by many of its rockabilly predecessors.
Many punk bands suffered from the monotone delivery of their songs and message, and lots of punk rock now sounds dated. But X's songs—with their rockabilly and country heart, accessible song-story lyrics, and elastic sound—have retained a timeless core.
Talking about the song from Boston recently, co-founder Exene Cervenka—known for her swaggering stage presence and forceful use of language, both in song and spoken word and poetry—was in more relaxing, quiet climes. She was in a Boston art museum, looking at a French religious statue. "I'm trying to find a place where no one's around," to talk more easily. Still, for Cervenka, the song resonates as loudly as ever before.
"It stands for the exact same thing it did then," she says. "I don't know anyone who's not having a hard time paying their rent to landlords, or bills, or dealing with health insurance. But now it's people who own houses and are dealing with that or something else."
Cervenka is getting used to living on the road again, as the band makes the rounds. "I'm not on the party train yet," she says, "but the thing I take away from it is the crowds." Feeding off the energy of an audience has always fueled X. "We're doing all-ages shows on this tour, and there are so many kids at the shows jumping around, it's like, 'How could you have a better life than this?'"
INDEPENDENT WEEKLY: Is "We're Desperate" kind of timeless?
EXENE CERVENKA: I think most of our songs are that way. We didn't really plan it that way, you can't, but I'm glad it ended up that way.
Can you talk about one specific thing from that time that made the song real for you?
It was constant for us, finding a place to live. I lived in a one-bedroom house with other members of the band, and we were always struggling with things.
Your songs have never really been covered in redefining versions. X has always retained the songs as its own, it seems.
I guess they're all identifiable with us. It's sort of like doing "Sheena is a Punk Rocker." It's like, well yeah, but it's The Ramones, ya know? I wish they would [do more covers] because it's always fun when people do that.
How does your spoken word work intersect with the band at this point?
One doesn't influence the other. It was always like the band thing was the band thing. Four people playing these songs.
X plays Cat's Cradle Tuesday, May 27, at 8:30 p.m. Detroit Cobras opens, and tickets are $20-$23.