X at the Whisky a Go Go, August, 1980, photo by Lynda Burdick.

X at the Whisky a Go Go, August, 1980, photo by Lynda Burdick.

RETROSPECT

In Search of X-tasy

Does anyone remember the Paragons and the Jesters? In high falsetto voices they whined about the ache of first love way before I ever felt it. They prepared me for heartbreak in such a visceral way that I couldn’t wait for it to happen. Love? Was it going to come to me like chickenpox, or did I have to go out and get it? What if I never figured it out and it passed me by? What if I was just an empty person… with nothing but hunger and gnawing desperate urges every time this music played? I asked Mom but she didn’t believe I was old enough for this discussion… even after I turned 40. My grandmother just laughed in my face—she laughed for days—every time she saw me, she laughed. In my room I listened avidly, hunched over my tiny record player, trying to catch the feeling, maybe imitate it… try dancing it. There is nothing like music to tell you how to feel because it doesn’t use adjectives.


Motown continued to tease me about love in the most ecstatic way (Mom was right, I never did get that good at it, but boy, could I dance. At 11, I told Mom I didn’t believe in God. At 18, I heard the Doors sing “This is the End,” and told Mom I did not want children. She said, “If you are in trouble come home.” Then the Velvets sent me spinning through the best creative period of my life coupled with the best drug habit I have ever enjoyed, only to be matched later on in LA by the most deadening marriage. (It was the ’80s—not a good tune time.) I was rescued again by music; the insane howl of Exene and her band, X. Waking up out of my coma marriage, I join one of the least known but in my opinion one of the best music scenes ever, starring that least favorite emotion: fuckin’ anger. Afterwards, even heavy metal was okay. I don’t want to get maudlin here—I like Eminem—but without empathy you can’t move people, and rap just yells at you.


I retired into opera where I have been known to sob uncontrollably—that is, until atonal opera dragged itself onto stage. The conceptual art scene has no human emotions. The image used to set your brain on fire—now it’s the explanation. Now it’s puzzle art, the art of inventing and explaining something out of nothing.


Don’t worry; I know you have a lot of money invested in all this art stuff. I’ll be dead soon and that will be the end of it. Meanwhile music isn’t dead—we live in America and there will always be country & western and thank fuckin’ God for that. Here’s to Iris Dement, my current favorite—and here’s to Alan Vega!