Mild Thing

Exene Cervenka lightens up on anarchy and embraces punk pacifism

Exene Cervenka is a punk rock legend—and one who would probably be pissed if you called her that to her face. The anarchist front woman for X, the Knitters, Auntie Christ and the Original Sinners—not to mention her exceptional solo records—cannot be easily pigeonholed, however. If you think she hates Bush, think again. If you think she likes spoken-word performances—which she's famous for giving—you're wrong. In a nutshell, this complicated, forthright chick has an opinion on everything, and in this interview, she does not come off as extreme as she once did.

But fret not: no matter how Exene comes off, she still couldn't give a shit what you think about it.

OC Weekly: You often do readings of your prose—we saw you at the Rock Against Rape show 10 years ago. Do you like doing readings?Exene Cervenka: I don't like it. I've done it since 1975. It's okay when there's a context for it, but the poetry-slam thing put a damper on my interest in spoken word as a literary form. Except for Beyond Baroque in Santa Monica, LA is such a glamour-beauty-based culture it's hard to do anything of any substance. What's with that weird tone poets affect when they read?

The first time I heard that was in 1976; I'd never heard anyone talk like that. I think a lot of that came from Wanda Coleman because that was her natural delivery—she did it great, and it was unique to her. But it became this universal language. I've always thought it was hilarious that so many people do that. It really negates everything they're saying because it's false to begin with—you don't talk that way in real life. I can't stand listening to it.

The other one I'm tired of is the "proud sex worker" readings, which you get in San Francisco—and you're the only one not reading about your hardcore sex life or drug abuse.

Showing the reality of life seems to be your mantra. Like in your 1996 book about the first Gulf War,Just Another War.

I did that book with photographer Ken Jarecke. It wasn't really political. It was about showing what the war was like. It was just the daily face of the job they were doing—there wasn't a lot of war going on; it was mostly an air war. The commentary I wrote was more prosy; it usually didn't have anything to do with the literalness of the images.

Are you working on a book now?

No. I'd like to do another one in the future. We're finishing up a Knitters record right now and starting on an Original Sinners record in July on Nitro Records. And I have an art show at the Santa Monica Museum in September [2005]—I'm really happy about that. The main room is a show of all these great collage artists from the '50s on, like Allen Ginsberg, and then my show is in another room [the Project Room]. And I'm playing with X.

Do you still get a charge out of introducing kids to the music of X?

Yes, of course.

At least people never say you're on a "comeback tour."

They say that all the time! People ask, "Why did you guys start playing again? Are you doing it for money?" And I just kind of look at them and say, "You know, I don't really need to qualify or justify the fact that we play shows." I mean, we are a band, and bands play shows. Why is that so odd?

They think you have to be under 30.

And that's not true. The biggest bands in the world are U2 and Sting and Elvis Costello and REM—the Beastie Boys. And believe me, if the Ramones could get back together, I think we'd all go to see them play. If Joe Strummer was around, we'd go. I miss those guys. There's a million people like that who are gone, and we're never going to get to see them again. Why would people complain? If you don't like X, don't go see them, but if you do—aren't we lucky we're still all around? We have a limited time span.

Is there anyone who's gone that you wish you'd collaborated with?

Yeah, everybody. You just don't think they're going to be gone. I mean, Allen Ginsberg sent us a poem once that he wanted us to put to music, and we lost it in the shuffle in 1982 or something—it was just gone one day. Why didn't we put an Allen Ginsberg poem to music? And if it wasn't suitable for X, why didn't we start a side project and do it that way? We're not really a band that attracts other stars and celebrities, though.

So, no "Exene and Britney" album?

No, but I'd be happy to write a song for her. To cash the check. No, I wouldn't write a song for her. There aren't very many people who I respect. But on the other hand, I have to make a living. But none of those people would ever seek me out. She's probably going to die of a drug overdose anyway.

What about other pop icons, like Michael Jackson?
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