Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Song of the Week: X - Nausea

[originally posted 4/6/09]
I'm reposting this as I still have Ray Manzarek on the mind. We've already posted his work as a performer, and here we touch on his work as a producer. 

The year was 1977. The town, Los Angeles. The Eagles have replaced the Beach Boys as the pimps of California culture. The Carpenters represent the "get in the back of the Van and get mellow" sound of LA. Gary Wright is performing the truly retched Dream Weaver (worse song ever?) so a bunch of vapid, spandex wearing roller skaters can get their wheels moving down Venice Beach.

Someday in that year. Somewhere in that town. A man acerbically calling himself John Doe walked to a poetry reading in Santa Monica where he met a recent Florida transplant named Christine Cervenka. Neither of our protagonists had a taste for the pop culture music of the day and they quickly started sharing their passion for something different. Later that year they would marry and form a band with rockabilly enthusiast Billy Zoom and drummer DJ Bonebreak. In keeping with his established anti-hero theme, John Doe would name the band X and Christine rechristened herself Exene. The malcontents quickly created a buzz in the small club circuit and caught the watchful eye of The Doors organist, Ray Manzarek, who would get the band a record contract and produce their first album, Los Angeles.

Recorded in January of 1980, and released a few months later, Los Angeles would not only prove to be a huge break from the music norms laid down by the top-selling acts of the day, but it was also quite different than the other California Hardcore bands like The Germs or The Circle Jerks who were also at the vanguard of a new and very important scene. Where bands like The Germs would tout their lack of musical ability as a badge of honor in a virtuoso/Steely Dan crazy world, the members of X actually had musical talent and weren't afraid to show it. And, similarly, X was very different from their British punk comrades as well. Where British punk bands like GBH (Great Britain's Hell) relied on shock value to get their message across, X found their shock value in not being outlandish. It was all in the approach to the music. It was a message of back to basics. 

Los Angeles painted a beautifully grimy view of the world and tinseltown was the canvass. It was a world where violent rape was swept under the rug (Johnny Hit And Run Pauline), where the gritty dark-side of the city of angels turned a wide-eyed girl into a homophobic, racist who flees in fear back to her small town (Los Angeles) and where the material culture of Los Angeles is exposed as soul sucking and self abusive (Sex and Dying In High Society). In their world Los Angeles wasn't the glamour town seen on The Love Boat. It was a town that would make your soul sick. Sick, so sick, that you prop your forehead upon the sink and say "oh Jesus Christ my head is going to crack like a bank."  Where tonight you'll fall asleep in clothes so late like a candy bar wrapped up for lunch. That's all you get to taste. Like poverty and spit. Poverty and spit. Your bloody red eyes will turn to Nausea. A dark song with a relentlessly catchy barre chord riff that moves along with purpose and confidence. A Hammond B3 organ (very, not punk) played by Manzarek pounds away at the listener. You close your eyes and realize you're talking out of harmony now. You can't remember what you said. Cut it out! You feel retarded now. You take the scissors to your head. It's Nausea.


  1. Listening to this song, and especially that well crafted refrain, I had the sense that I had heard it many times in the '80s without ever knowing a thing about it. My presumption that I didn't know X at all was tested.

    That aside, Nausea is an interesting song because, to my ear, it seems to morph around different musical temperaments. The opening chords are metal a la Sabbath. With the softening sounds of the organ I am reminded of that heavy proto-mod sound of the Prisoners, always thick with power chords and organ. The vocals give the song a Joy Division quality. The refrain? Nirvana. Lastly, the playful guitar and xylophone repose, a brilliant bit of incongruent production/songwriting, takes me to that little bit of keyboard in the Chordettes' song Mr. Sandman. That's some disparate terrain they're navigating.

  2. That little "playful guitar" part always reminds me of a similar construct in (I'm Not You're) Stepping Stone. Most notably the Monkees' version.

    Xylophone? Hmmm, I guess it is. I had it in my mind as a piano but I think you are correct.

    Black Sabbath. I bristle at that comparison but must admit you are correct. I'm not a huge Heavy Metal fan (like, not at all) but this does employ that early Tony Iommi relentless barre chord attack that serves as a full melody. Maybe I need to put some Sabbath on. I also must admit, I like Osbourne's vocals. It's just that there songs got so long and the lyrics are a bit dimwitted.

  3. Great write-up, Morgan. I got squat to contribute to the discussion. But it was a great read and that video kicked ass. Purple Onion days! Dwards

  4. Thanks Dwards (if that is your real name). If you like this kick ass song, check out this gem of a song that you surely already know.

  5. Morgan! Dwards as in doo-r-doe, dwardo, edwardo, ed ross, aka "fuzz head ed"! thanks for the feedback, amigo.

  6. that was cool! and another great write-up. man, almost a stiffy! you gotta future with penthouse if this blog stuff doesn't pan out. but i think it might! how about some Lianhearted? that would be special! Dwards

  7. Dude, you meant to post this elsewhere didn't you?

    Lionhearted? You want Lionhearted? You, sir get Lionhearted. Beware of weezy the harmonica player though. His flem is faster than AJ Foyt.

  8. that was awesome!! seriously well done. love weezy's commentary at the end. maybe it was the vinager fumes? and who's on drums? is that whats-his-name, the coast guard guy? any more tracks? ed

  9. Another great SOTW pick, another great write up. Nice work Morgan. I loved Jack's analysis as well--though I never would have made all those connections/references, they all totally make sense. I believe drummer DJ Bonebrake was proficient on the vibes (I think he might be shown playing them in the "Unheard Music), so the "Mr. Sandman" part probably was either that instrument or a xylophone.

    There is a pretty lengthy (and somewhat convoluted) interview with Billy Zoom here ( wherein he opines that "Los Angeles" was the only X album that sounds good. He gives some pretty detailed descriptions of what went wrong, in his opinion, with the recording of other X albums. Interesting stuff if you're a fan (though some readers may be put off a bit by the interviewer's "style").

  10. GeeBee,I got started on that interview but clearly need to skip about 20 pages ahead to the part where they talk about X. Jesse Jackson killed Stax records?