John Doe

by Mike Corrigan

If there hadn't been a JOHN DOE, it would have been necessary for punk rock to invent him. The name itself, and the anonymity it suggests, is the perfect encapsulation of the punk ethos as it was initially conceived. In punk, names didn't matter, the artist -- or "star" -- behind the music didn't matter. What mattered was the sound, the direct, honest communication of message (if there was one) and the energy and passion that drove it. Throughout his long career -- starting with his band, X and continuing through his transition into a solo performer -- Doe has managed to remain a rebel, committed to vital, thought-provoking music existing firmly outside the mainstream. He'll be at Ichabod's on Friday.

In the winter of 1977, Doe first ran into Exene Cervenka at a poetry workshop in Venice Beach, Calif. He soon invited her to join the band he was putting together with guitarist Billy Zoom and drummer D.J. Bonebreak. Thus, the classic X lineup was born. In 1980, X released Los Angeles, became a huge underground and critical success and emerged as the leader of L.A.'s embryonic punk scene.

"When I showed up [in 1976], there was this huge city with no focus to its music scene and about 200 misfits who wanted to be in bands," relates Doe. "I mean, the Whisky and most of the other clubs were dance clubs. That's why punk took hold. Because before it, there was no scene."

The members of X were more or less free to write their own ticket.

"Yeah," he laughs, "a really wrong, anti-establishment ticket, which was what some people really wanted at that point. Then the L.A. Times and some local free papers started supporting the scene and it just got bigger. People started saying, 'Oh my god, there's something going on. I should go down and find a band that I like.' And they did."

But X was never strictly a punk band. Early on, the quartet began to maneuver its way past punk's obvious stylistic limitations by incorporating elements of blues, country and rockabilly into its frenzied instrumental rush. And lyrically, X was more overtly poetic than many of its peers. These components combined with Doe and Cervenka's frequently disarming tag team vocal harmonies, Zoom's command of '50s rock guitar stylings and Bonebreak's thunderous drumming to create a highly idiosyncratic and original spin on the punk sub-genre.

"Whatever wasn't part of the corporate rock world and was going fast and loud, was punk rock," says Doe. "As far as X goes, it is what it is, and history can sort it out. We got a lot of shit from hardcore types because we weren't hardcore enough, because we were concerned with poetry and beauty as well as anger and getting in your face."

Los Angeles was full of ruminations on life in the seedy L.A. underground mixed with a generous dose of social consciousness. Wild Gift (1981) and Under the Big Black Sun (1982) followed, each more ambitious in scope than the one that preceded it.

The next 10 years would prove to be a period of transition for the band, characterized by albums of varying quality, side projects and separations both professional and personal. After the release of their last studio effort (Hey Zues!) in 1993, X finally called it quits.

During this time, Doe also pursued acting (he's since appeared in more than 20 films including Roadhouse and Boogie Nights) and maintained a solo performing career, releasing Meet John Doe in 1990, Kissingsohard in 1995 and For the Rest of Us in 1998.

His latest, Freedom Is, has just been released on small indie label, SpinArt. His current touring band includes bassist Drew Ross and original X drummer Bonebreak.

"The new material has a lot of range," says Doe. "There are some that are full-on rock songs and some that are more acoustic. That's the kind of show we're doing right now -- sort of two-thirds rock show and one-third acoustic show."

And longtime fans needn't sweat it, Doe recognizes the fact that many at his shows these days come to hear "White Girl," "Los Angeles" and other classic X compositions. It's understood.

"I used to not do X songs -- period. But now, I realize that it means a lot to people and I'm enough of an entertainer to kind of go with the flow a little. I will always be connected to X, and I appreciate the fact that X gave me a career -- and that it was a great band."

The John Doe Thing will play with Moral Crux, Seawolf and Matt Nathanson at Ichabod's North on Friday, Sept. 1 at 9 pm. Tickets: $8. Call: 328-5720.

All You Can Eat

With more than 46 bands, three stages and four days, PIG OUT IN THE PARK is expected to draw in more than 200,000 music lovers this weekend. In addition to the music, people can try a variety of their favorite foods at the 40 different food booths and wander around listening to their favorite tunes today through Labor Day.

"I do this event so I can hear the music," says Bill Burke, who has been in charge of Pig Out in the Park since its beginning 20 years ago. "It's great because at one stage you have really hip-hop music, at the Clock Tower you'll have jazz and at the City Hall stage you have country and goofy stuff for kids. It's really neat to see."

Burke is responsible for bringing in all the great bands. On Saturday, KZZU teams up with Burke to present the 16th Annual KZZU Birthday Bash -- a paid show. Besides the popular Deborah Gibson (formerly known as Debbie Gibson,) KZZU is bringing in Young MC, Brian McKnight, Soul Decision, Nelly, Debelah Morgan, D-Cru, No Authority, Next and Cleopatra.

Among the free concerts at this year's Pig Out in the Park are jazz musicians Alex Bedini and Robin Marks and Company. Blues listeners can hear their favorite music by the Occasional String Band and Too Slim & amp; The Taildraggers. Rock and R & amp;B favorites Mumbo Jumbo, Brainstorm, Little Voice, Misspent Youth, Upper Class Racket and Rhythm Method will also be at the show. Musical lovers can also hear the original music of Tiana Gregg, Velvet Highway and Tremolo. And we can't forget the ever-popular local bands Civilized Animal and Delbert. Closing the musical extravaganza on Monday at 5:30 is the popular Men in the Making.

Friday, Saturday and Sunday headlining acts feature music from the '60s. Beginning at 8 pm on Friday, Gunnar and Matthew Nelson, the twin sons of rock 'n' roll great Ricky Nelson (and grandsons of Ozzie and Harriet), will perform rock from their former band, Nelson, and tunes by their father, at the Clock Tower.

Continuing on Saturday, Elvis Live will get the audience "All Shook Up" at the Clock Tower at 8 pm. The popular Elvis Impersonator, Ron Elvis Wendlandt, will perform some of The King's greatest hits. Wendlandt has performed all over Las Vegas and can be seen wearing the black gold studded eagle suit in more than 23 scenes in the upcoming movie 3,000 Miles from Graceland, starring Kevin Costner and Christian Slater. Last but not least on the roster of popular '60s hit music is the Buckinghams. Best known for their No. 1 hit song "Kind of a Drag," the Buckinghams propelled themselves to the top of the charts in 1967. The group will play at the Clock Tower Sunday night at 8 pm.

On Saturday at 2 pm, Joel Brantley and the Country Hoedown offers "goofy stuff for the kids." Brantley, who is originally from Spokane, will bring to the stage live music by Hank Williams, Marty Robbins and other country greats. Brantley will be handing out free bandannas and inviting audience members to join him onstage for some impromptu line dancing.

Pig Out in the Park is Aug. 31-Sept. 4 at Riverfront Park. Admission for Pig Out is free. The KZZU concert begins at 2 pm at the Lilac Bowl. Tickets: $16.93. Call: 325-SEAT.

Brilliant Cacophony

Spokane's UPPER CLASS RACKET sounds remarkably unlike any other band in town. Its fusion of punk, hip-hop beats and rapid-fire lyrical delivery has earned it a unique niche on the local scene.

The band plays at Mootsy's on Sunday night after a gig over at Pig Out in the Park.

But as vocalist Erik Bergloff says, existing as such a unique beast in Spokane can be a challenge. Local audiences, though generally accepting, are nevertheless prone to head scratching and/or blank stares whenever confronted by sounds that don't immediately compute.

"It's been hard for us because we don't really fit the mold. I support this town 100 percent, but it frustrates me that bands don't give their own scene enough attention," he says. "If we all got together, we could build something really good. Spokane is not as redneck and narrow-minded as some people believe it to be."

Bergloff's recipe for scene health calls on local groups to support each other.

"I hope we can get that message across. These bands we're playing with at Mootsy's -- Mellefluent and Offset -- are sort of where we were two years ago. It's hard for them to get a fair shake. We're trying to improve things here and get some of these other bands some recognition."

The band's self-titled CD is a diverse collection, brimming with street beats, funk and even a little hardcore. File it under "rabble-rousing, socially conscious hip hop" or better yet, pick it up at local record stores or check out one of their infectious live shows (a second CD is set for release within a month or two).

For Bergloff, lyrics are more than just a way of punctuating the backbeats and filling in around the guitar lines.

"There are some songs on that disk that really mean a lot to me. I mean, I'm a writer. I'm a poet. It's so important to say something -- in any medium -- that has some sort of message, something positive. Even if you sound negative, it's usually just to get people to wake up."

-- Mike Corrigan

Upper Class Racket plays for free at Pig Out in the Park (at the Gondola Meadow stage) on Sunday, Sept. 3, at 7 pm, then moves over to Mootsy's for a show with Mellefluent and Offset at 10 pm. Cover: $3. Call: 838-1570.