I went to see X last night for the first time in probably 15 years. After Billy Zoom left the band, I lost interest, and my disinclination to attend reunion shows kept me from going to the couple of SF shows they’ve played over the last few years with the original line up.
Quite a number of my co-workers went also, but just the old punks. In fact, Dianarama put on a comp tape of old LA stuff over the PA earlier in the day to get in the mood for the show and ayounger co-worker said, "Who put on the fossil punk?" Ouch.
I met up with a few people before the show to drink a mini keg of German beer than an obsessive cheese customer* gave me for my birthday. Because it held a lot more beer than I had assumed, we had a good start on the evening by the time we got on SF’s ultimate party bus, the 22 Fillmore.** Walking down the aisle, drunk and stumbling, we got The Nod, from all the other geezer punks already on board. When we hit Geary St. it was like someone made an announcement, "All punks over 30 get off the bus immediately."
This was the first show I’ve been to in years where not only wasn’t one of the oldest people in attendance. I actually almost felt young. It was like the same crowd that I first saw X with, in 1984 in Petaluma, was transported into 2002. We all had aged, and Exene wasn’t falling down drunk, but the range remained.
That first time I saw X I had one of those this-is-what-it’s-all-about experiences. I had managed to get in the front row right in front of John Doe, so close that Exene could spill her beer on me. The two guys next to me, who I can now place as a bear couple, went crazy during "We’re Desperate". They screamed along with "Every other week we need a new address / landlord, landlord, landlord clean up the mess / My whole fucking life is a wreck / We’re desperate / get used to it." with every ounce of energy they had. It was one of those few times when people can feel totally represented by someone else’s writing, and even if it turns out to be just a temporary feeling or partially illusionary, for that moment there’s power and emotion much bigger than can be explained by the band members as individual musicians playing individual parts.
I know it’s kind of corny, but those are the moments, and they can happen at parties, protests/riots, on the 22 Fillmore, etc., that I try to remember when I’m feeling, well, desperate. It’s the idea of both connection to strangers and the very possibility of collective action. If people you’ve never met can sum up your feelings so well that you want to sing along, then maybe the people around you can be allies and friends and not competitors and enemies. This is actually an unacknowledged tenet of political punk rock, imho. All that longing for togetherness and community masked by spikes and aggro.
But back to the present, X was great. Thankfully they had no new album to plug so there was no pretense, like so many times, where the audience has to appreciate (read: put up with) the new stuff so that they eventually get to hear their favorites. In fact, most songs were from "Los Angeles" and "Wild Gift" and they played nothing after the 4th album.
Besides the tacit acknowledgement that we were all old punks, the audience was strange. Not in a bad way. Most of the people I recognized were customers, co-workers, and delivery drivers not active scenesters. And it was definitely punks not punx. One MRR-punk woman summed it up the best, "People I didn’t expect were getting into it. Some little woman in a full-on suit was rocking out way harder than me."
After the show the few current punx searched the floor for change and bracelets while most of the crowd milled by the coat check waiting to get out. We eventually made our cattle-like way down the stairs, out the door and back to the 22 . . .
*As you can see, I’m getting you all excited for the future post where I detail my crazy and cheese-crazed customers.
**The 22 Fillmore is perhaps SF’s most multicultural institution. The route runs from Bayview to the Marina and almost everyone rides it sooner or later. Hip hop kids from the Western Addition projects discuss tattoos with grizzled punk rockers. Church ladies discuss hats with people coming home from the previous night’s parties. Locals run into high school classmates and ask after family members. It’s almost a mobile melting pot of poor people. After all, who’s so special when we’re all riding the bus?