Genius in our Midst: X

DJ Bonebrake, Billy Zoom, Exene Cervenka, John Doe (l-r)
photo by Kristy Benjamin

2020 is a tough year. Tough, tough, tough, tough, tough. In the middle of a year that rivals the insanity of 1918, 1941, and 1968, something unexpectedly wonderful happened. In April of this year, while people were dying in New York at the rate of 1,000 a day, four people in California – John Doe, Exene Cervenka, Billy Zoom, and DJ Bonebrake – released their first album together since 1985.

Listening to Alphabetland is like hearing a new Ramones album or getting a phone call from a dear old friend you haven’t heard from in ages. It is a lot to expect of any group of people, to live up to the accomplishments of their youth, that part of life when you have all the time in the world. But X do it.

As Exene puts it on the albums closing track, All the Time in the World:

We are dust
it is true
and unto dust we shall return
me and you
but it was fun while it lasted
All the time in the world turns out not to be that much

Everything about Alphabetland reaffirms the genius of the band’s four members. It is fun, and fast, and smart, and it artfully walks the tightrope between anguished and joyful. Even the way the album got it’s name is great:

Originally the song was called ‘Mercury,’ but Billy kept referring to it as ‘Alphabetland,’ like it was some 1950s board game he remembered, even though the lyrics never use the word ‘Alphabetland’ – only ‘alphabet wrecked’ and ‘alphabet mine.’ A relationship gets wrecked and words are meaningless. We finally relented, because it’s like, okay, Billy’s going to call it Alphabetland regardless of what the title is.

John Doe

Do yourself a favor and take a break from whatever you are doing and spend the next two minutes and fifty eight seconds of this tough, tough, tough, tough, tough year listening to some genius in our midst.

Tearing up the sidewalks
pouring wet cement
Erasing your initials
alphabet wrecked
I watched you pour white gasoline
to cover up your scent
Burned your name to cinders
alphabet wrecked
blue you wear like martyr blue
atom bomb bruises, cold war flu
A blind streak of light
tearing through the pines
electric non-fiction
alphabet mine
Molten river riding high
like a fever in the shine
No more words for you
alphabet mine
blue you wear like martyr blue
atom bomb bruises, cold war flu
Tearing up the sidewalk
pouring wet cement
erasing your initials
alphabet wrecked
Molten river riding high
fever in the shine
No more words for you
alphabet mine, alphabet mine, alphabet mine

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