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Punk icon John Doe has a book about the old days and an album of new music

In "Under the Big Black Sun," singer and guitarist John Doe, of the band X, gives a personal history of the Los Angeles punk scene
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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UPDATE: Like what you're hearing? John Doe plays with Exene Cervenka at The Regent in downtown LA on Thursday, Sept. 15. Tickets run from $17.50 to $27.50. Cheap!

In the multi-author memoir "Under the Big Black Sun, a personal history of LA Punk," John Doe and other seminal voices tell stories about the scene that electrified LA in the late 1970s. Doe joined Off-Ramp host John Rabe to talk about the book and also play a couple tunes from his new album.

Doe starts his portion of "Under the Big Black Sun" by giving us in our armchairs a taste of walking onto the stage of the Whiskey-A-Go-Go on the Sunset Strip in the late 1970s.

When we walked down those stairs, I knew it would go from zero to a hundred in a blink, cymbals would crash & DJ Bonebrake would hit his drums so hard that he’d probably knock something over or snap a hi-hat pedal in two. I might pull the cord out of my guitar & stop the giant, rumbling bass. And we would forget about the a--hole soundman who said we were too loud.

After all the nights of rehearsals & learning songs, bad equipment at the Masque & other DIY shows, this would be louder than hell & there would be sounds hurtling past & swirling around us all & somewhere amidst that mayhem, there would be a moment when everything would slow down & I would see things slo-mo.

I’d catch someone’s face distorted by a shoulder or the palm of another’s hand. Or Exene’s hair would rise into a fan as she flipped it into or out of her face. I would glimpse her dark red lips making wonderful sounds that I knew were the only sound that could be made at that moment. She would tell the truth to all these people who knew she would tell the truth. There would be flashing lights & sharp, piercing guitar notes & monstrous chords & Billy would look like he was straddling a wide creek ...  

There would be sweat and DJ would have no shirt on. He would shine w/ the power of his driving hands & arms & legs & his eyes would roll back in his head & his chin would tilt upward and sometimes steam would rise from his back.

And we knew then that we were unstoppable & that we had power. And that something was definitely happening here.

-- John Doe, "Under the Big Black Sun"

In our interview, Doe talks about the angst and emptiness of America in the 1970s that led him and the other punks to get onstage and belt it out.

But he and his coauthors – including his X-wife Exene Cervenka, Chris D., Robert "El Vez" Lopez, Dave Alvin and Jane Wiedlin – also tell stories that, in composite, show these were much more than angry young people in revolt: They led real lives, hung out with friends, decorated their apartments, and collaborated with each other in a way that created a real era that still matters today.

We also talk in-depth about his new album, "The Westerner,"  and we have to say it was a real treat to sit two feet from stardom as Doe belted a couple tunes from it in the Mohn Broadcast Center.


You can hear all of our interview – including "Sunlight" and "Get On Board" – just by clicking the audio player.