[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.