A description of the classic West Coast punk band, X, at the height of their powers, followed by a description of Lydia Lunch in 2014.
October 25, 1983
Bill and I had dinner and sat around for a bit until it was time to head on down to the X concert. We had figured on sitting in front with Brian Wilcox, but his plans had fouled up and he was sitting in the front room far from the stage, having an unhappy fight with his girlfriend. We were at a loss, for the main room was packed full of cretinous black-leather-garbed punk warriors and we could not figure out where to sit. We found a table at last back by the bar, which as it turned out offered as fine a view as we deserved and wanted. Michael C. and Mike Shaw came by and sat with us, along with another friend of theirs. Everyone was primed and ready to party. The opening band was tight, but mechanical and mediocre. Even as everyone hopped up and down on the dance floor, they snarled against the band. I yelled “Go to hell” when they finished, which caused much amusement to Michael. My invective was not heard as far as the stage, I am sure, because of the general noise.
X came on and were greeted by a great scream of welcome. They were extremely tight and played magnificently. Exene had brown hair all in horrid uncombed doggie-clumps. John Doe had his hair slicked back rockabilly-style, but it soon came uncombed and stuck out damply all around his head as he played. Billy Zoom, the guitarist, was the real hero of the night. He let loose tremendous howling guitar riffs the whole night, without looking at the instrument, or sweating, or bobbing to keep the beat, or veins standing forth on neck or forehead. He stood there calmly and mildly, disregarding the all-encompassing eruption of loud music from the band which raged all about him, with a faint smile playing about his lips, and gazed about the hall, first in one direction, then in another, never losing his smile. He was like a smiling automaton. It was the most incredible feat of guitar-playing I’d ever seen, to play so effortlessly and at the same time keep up this hilarious smiling posing. He kept gawking at the cute women in the audience, and every so often would wink lasciviously, regardless of whatever he was playing, never once losing the beat. Michael said, “God, he’s a Nazi! He’s not human! How can he do it?” and Gordon Trubey, who came over to talk with Bill, said, unaware of Michael’s statement, “God, he’s inhuman! I don’t see how he does it!” I danced a bit, and had two gin and tonics, and rough-housed with Michael, who was tipsy and kept laying his hands on me to tickle me or plague me. I really could not pay as much attention to the spirit of the affair as I had wished. I can either appreciate a show intellectually, or physically, but not both at once.
Gordon came out of the flailing mass of bodies on the floor to our table, wild-eyed and lacking his glasses. Bill asked him where his glasses were. “Somewhere on the dance floor,” was the reply. “But I’m going back to exact my revenge!” and he disappeared back into the melee.
X played one long set with no breaks, about an hour and a half of solid playing, and left the stage at about 1:20, early for most shows. We were quite satisfied with the evening, and walked home, ears ringing.
* * * *
Feb. 7 2014
Last night R.W. came to town and took me out to see Lydia Lunch close out the centenary celebration of William Burrough’s birth, since he had a free ticket. We had a very pleasant time talking at the bar. It was like a date, getting to know someone better by talking and asking questions. I would never have gone if he hadn’t offered me a ticket, because Lydia Lunch is nothing to me (as is Burroughs, for that matter), but it was nice to be offered the option, and to take it. In our talk I learned that his politics align with mine; he believes that 9/11 was planned by our own government; and he has an enormous amount of respect for my journal and wishes there were more of it. “Your journal wasn’t just your life,” he told me; “it was mine as well, because I knew all those people and hung out at all those places at the same time. We were always just two steps away from each other that whole time.”
Lydia got up on stage at last after our pleasant interlude and began to show off. She began by holding up a copy of “Naked Lunch” and pretending that it was about her. She then dissed Burroughs and called him a dead white male who couldn’t do anything in response to what she was about to do, which was to read his book as a “cut-in,” not a cut-up, in which she would segue back and forth between sections that were his and parts that were hers. “And I bet you can’t tell the difference,” she jeered. She read well, slowly and articulately at the lowest register of her voice, with grimaces, grins and leers at the right moments. But I was disgusted by her one-upmanship. If she didn’t like Burroughs, why did she manoeuver to be a part of the IU symposium? If she was supposed to read from his works, why did she seize the chance to bang the drum for her own writing? She seemed to be driven by envy, bile and a deep underlying anger. She’s an anger-junkie. Is that what being a “punk” is about? Because when I think of Patti Smith, the first woman in punk, I think of someone who is kindly, compassionate, benevolent, and eternally willing to support the creative efforts of others. Fuck Lydia Lunch, she’s nothing but a brazen hussy.
[More extracts from the journal will be posted frequently.]