Saturday, March 19, 2005


The Unheard Music

X was one of the great rock groups of the 1980s but probably doesn't mean anything to music fans under 30 today. The band emerged in the L.A. punk scene of the late '70s that also produced faster, louder and scarier bands such as Fear and the Germs, but X was different.

X added poetry, rockabilly riffs and vocal harmonies; where other bands were driven by suburban frustration and run-ins with police, X was inspired by religious guilt and real-life tragedy. They exist today, occasionally, playing the old songs, but if you want to know them — or know why you should — you owe it to yourself to see The Unheard Music.

Most X fans consider the band's first four albums to be its only "true" records. This funny, loving DVD documentary captures that period, 1980-1984, when John Doe, Exene Cervenka, Billy Zoom and D.J. Bonebrake were young, beautiful and on their way to the top.

The film succeeds as more than just a Valentine to the band because it also takes time to reveal how off-track, irrational and self-destructive the music industry was then — almost as sad as it is now. Interviews with one top executive show how tough it is to make independent, passionate music in a world of shareholders and accountants.

This film is only half of the story. A haunting time capsule of early '80s L.A., it ends before the band takes a major misstep toward pop stardom; before band co-leaders John and Exene's star-crossed marriage ends in divorce; before the band breaks up and its members go off to unsatisfying solo careers, only to reunite and return to a much smaller, much older audience than, for example, the reunited Pixies attract today.

X were artists, lovers and barroom philosophers, old souls treated like kids by a world that was too slow to understand the wild gift that X was leaving.