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Punk of the Month: Exene Cervenka

July 13, 2011

Exene Cervenka

Girl Germs might be an all-female show, but we have plenty of supportive gentleman friends – and even some honorary ladies – who number among our compatriots (see: DJ Phizzy, King Cole and Marinos of On the Corner; Evan and co. over at Fancy Pants Gangsters; and Chris and Qualler of Blogulator Radio, among others).

You might remember our friend Nate; he guest DJ’d on Girl Germs back when we were all the same station. Nate is resuming his role as co-host (along with another GG dude-friend, Adam) on the Out of Step podcast, and he’s still our go-to expert on all things punk. Nate has kindly agreed to write a monthly feature for you all called Punk of the Month–a profile of a female artist who has broken ground on the punk scene.

Make sure to tune in Friday, July 15 for a special punk-themed episode of Girl Germs guest-hosted by Adam, and check out Out of Step’s 10th anniversary show at the Triple Rock Social Club!

The late ‘70s/early ‘80s Los Angeles punk community was a scene well known for its unique and colorful characters, but one still managed to distinguish herself from the rest: Exene Cervenka!  Blessed with a schizophrenic, kitchen-sink approach to fashion; a haunting, unconventional sense of melody; and a proletarian work ethic, Cervenka first demonstrated her aesthetic gifts via LA’s most beloved foursome, X.

Cervenka was born in Chicago to a working-class family and raised in Tallahassee, Florida.  She quit school at age 16 and her mother passed away shortly thereafter, leaving the young Cervenka to help raise her two younger sisters.  After relocating to Los Angeles in 1976, Cervenka met future musical (and romantic) partner John Doe at a poetry workshop.  The inclusion of rockabilly-informed guitarist Billy Zoom and Eyes drummer DJ Bonebrake soon completed the original lineup of X.

With its fusion of punk-rock energy, literary wit and a variety of American roots influences, Cervenka and her band created an appealingly original sound and style.  Its popularity ever rising, X released a series of critically lauded and musically adventurous LPs, beginning with 1980’s groundbreaking Los Angeles.

Dipping her toes even deeper into the broad pool of Americana, Cervenka formed the more country-leaning group The Knitters in the mid-1980s.  Following the initial demise of X later in the decade, Cervenka began a sporadic solo career, releasing such albums as Old Wives’ Tales and Running Scared.  The mid-‘90s found her singing and playing guitar alongside X drummer DJ Bonebrake in the visceral punk outfit, Auntie Christ.  Further efforts would follow in subsequent years, such as Cervenka’s three albums with the Original Sinners, a gutsy roots-punk outfit that often recalls her musical output with X.

Exene CervenkaCervenka’s creative impulses naturally pushed her into other disciplines.  As far back as 1984, she had demonstrated an interest in the spoken word, including collaborations with kindred spirits Lydia Lunch and Wanda Coleman.   She released most of her other spoken albums on her own Year 1 label.

Cervenka has also authored her share of books, including Virtual Unreality, published by Henry Rollins’ 2.13.61 imprint.  Her cooperative release with prized photojournalist Ken Jareke, Just Another War, offered an unflinchingly honest glimpse of the first Gulf War.

As a musician, author, poet, spoken word artist and more, Cervenka’s broad array of talents and fiercely independent drive makes her truly worthy of the Punk of the Month distinction.  Exene, we salute you!

–Nate Rastetter

Nate is an alumnus of the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and co-host of Out of Step on the Fancy Pants Gangsters network. He has volunteered at Extreme Noise Records in Minneapolis since June 2000 and presently serves on its Board of Directors.  He seriously, fanatically loves record shopping.  Music is his mistress and vinyl is his vice.  He is also a moderately talented bass player.

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