Photo By JEFF FUSCO
In honor of the original line-up of X performing at the Trocadero tonight, we’re re-running this 2012 interview with post-punk-roots-rock legend John Doe wherein we extracted deep knowledge about ancient West Coast punk history. Discussed: His alias, Decatur, Baltimore, Los Angeles, The Doors, Raymond Chandler, Charles Bukowski, John Waters, Ramones, Talking Heads, how he met Exene, why Billy Zoom quit, how they got Ray Manzarek to produce them, how they lost their mojo, why they were desperate and how we got used to it, and how the one guy in PT Anderson’s Boogie Nights that’s not doing/dealing/stealing for drugs or making sleazy fuck films with girls who may or may not be underage turned out to be the villain. His name? John Doe. – JONATHAN VALANIA
PHAWKER: You were born John Nomenson Duchac, am I pronouncing that right?
JOHN DOE: You mispronounced just like everyone else does.
PHAWKER: Please school me.
JOHN DOE: No reason to. I could have said that my real name was Adolf Hitler but I didn’t think it would go over so well, or that my name was Samuel Clemens. It doesn’t matter. It’s much more fun to be John Doe than anyone else.
PHAWKER: You were born in Decatur, what was the final straw, like ‘That’s it, I’m outta here, I’m going to Los Angeles…’
JOHN DOE: That is a long-and-odd-that-you-should-ask story because I have been writing about it. My parents decided when we were going to leave Decatur when was 6 months old. I had no choice in the matter. We lived in Kingsport Tennessee which was right by the border of Tennessee and Kentucky for about 4 years then moved to Wisconsin then moved a couple places then ended up in Baltimore when I was in 3rd grade. So what is that…nine years old? Something like that. I lived in Baltimore until I was out of college. Uh, I moved to LA because I was sick of the East Coast. There are a lot of ghosts on the East Coast and there is a lot of sleet and shitty weather. Baltimore, as you know, only has one truly famous person which is John Waters. I had been to CBGB’s, I’d been to Max’s Kansas City. I’d seen the Talking Heads and The Heartbreakers and realized that that music scene was already pretty locked up by 1976. I went to LA with a friend and it was glorious. I was a huge fan of the writers that came out of LA — of Nathaniel West and Charles Bukouski and people like that. There is a freedom on the West Coast that is not available to people who grow up on the East Coast.
PHAWKER: It was sort of like, ‘Let’s go out to LA and invent punk, it hasn’t hit there yet’?
JOHN DOE: It was just getting started, you know, everywhere. It was in the air, that’s why it took hold so fast in England. The Ramones went there in what, ’74, then POW! everything happened. There were people who were also musical outcasts living in LA at the time. We got here right as it was starting.
PHAWKER: What was the first time you met Exene? What were the circumstances?
JOHN DOE: Well, I ran a poetry reading series in Baltimore. There was a fairly popular and vital poetry world in Baltimore and D.C. at that time, when poetry became a performance medium rather than just on the written page. People were writing funny stuff and there was a gay and lesbian element that was included in that. I figured the best way to meet people in LA was to be in the poetry world. Exene had just gotten a job through a government program to work at a small press called Beyond Baroque. Beyond Baroque had a writing workshop, like a poetry workshop, I think it was Tuesday nights and we met there.
PHAWKER: Was it love at first sight?
PHAWKER: Oh, you know, she cut A very eccentric figure back then, and she does now. I don’t know if it was love at first sight, definitely wasn’t for her. I mean, it took me a good eight or nine months of hanging around and being annoying for her to really…I don’t know we were friends first. Then we were romantically involved. I realized that we had some kind of soul mate connection and we will have that as long as we live.