John Doe has packed enough adventure into his 63 years to fill several lives. Not only is he a founding member of X, arguably the last great American punk band left standing, but he’s also pulled together a solid solo career and done his fair share of acting.
Last year, he added published author to his résumé with the release of his book “Under the Big Black Sun: A Personal History of L.A. Punk.” Written with former publisher and record label A&R man Tom DeSavia, the 24 chapters that make up this book are actually a compilation of oral histories of people who were part of the scene during its heyday. That accomplishment left Doe juggling a tour with X, readings of the book and promoting “The Westerner,” his latest solo album and first since 2011’s “Keeper.”
Having been “encouraged, had my arm twisted, harangued and hounded” by DeSavia and Doe’s companion, Krissy, he finally decided to take a crack at writing a book, albeit one with an unusual twist.
“I didn’t want to write a book because it sounded like it was way too much work and discipline. Then I had a spark of inspiration and thought that I could get other people to do it,” Doe explained in a phone interview. “We got the book deal on that chapter ‘Go West,’ where I’m talking about leaving Baltimore and going to the West Coast and why I wanted to go. That was my topic. Everybody’s chapter had a topic. So we got the deal on the basis of that chapter and then all of a sudden it was real.”
Never miss a local story.
Doe’s contributions amounted to eight chapters, which touch on his leaving Baltimore to find a new life in Los Angeles (“Go West, Go West, Go West”), the role of automobiles and the freedom they provide (“Sunglasses & Cool Cars”) and the definition of punk (“Unvarnished, Detailed, West Coast”).
Writing from the perspective of a fan, DeSavia addressed the debauchery that pulled him in (“Acid, Meet Catholicism”) and the clash of pop art and fashion that gave the scene its distinctive aesthetic (“Take My Picture...”).
Other contributors included Doe’s former paramour and creative partner in X, Exene Cervenka (“A Seamless Race”), noted music journalist Chris Morris (“You Better Shut Up and Listen”) and a pair of Go-Go’s, Jane Wiedlin (“The Canterbury Tales”) and Charlotte Caffey (“The Almighty Song”).
Dave Alvin of The Blasters (and later X) talks about the effect of roots music throughout “No Slow Songs Tonight: 1979-1982,” while Teresa Covarubbias of The Brat (with DeSavia) and Robert Lopez (aka El Vez) address the Latino influence in L.A. punk rock in “Starry Nights in East LA” and “Punk-Rock Teenage Heaven,” respectively.
Doe was happy with the end result.
“It’s pretty gratifying that everyone found their own voice,” he said. “I encouraged and kind of did a little editing: ‘What kind of a car did you drive? What kind of guitar did you play? And what did that place look like?’ It’s gratifying that people wanted to participate, tell their story and have a little spotlight shone on it.”
As if touring with X wasn’t enough, the Illinois native somehow found time to release “The Westerner,” a collection of songs produced by Dave Way and Howe Gelb (Giant Sand). Dedicated to Doe’s friend, the late Michael Blake, who penned the novel “Dances With Wolves,” this 10-song collection sports a Shepard Fairey album cover awash in red and golden desert hues and has an airy ambiance to it that Gelb fans will recognize. It has Blake’s specter hanging all over it.
There was even room for “Go Baby Go,” a Deborah Harry duet that could double as a vintage X outtake. Doe is pleased with the results, particularly because he indulged his inner fanboy when Harry agreed to appear on the album.
“I booked the studio, and what’s more fun than hanging out with Debbie Harry for an afternoon? She’s the coolest,” Doe said.
And while the future of any new X recordings continues to be an open-ended situation (“I don’t know. I wish I could tell you. I never want to say never. We’re in a really good place. I think (guitarist) Billy (Zoom) feels like he really does like this and we all really like each other, which is why we’re still together.”), Doe’s has been doing his own shows in between X’s 40th anniversary tour, and he might release recordings from some of his live dates.
“(X drummer) DJ (Bonebrake) is a modern miracle. And he’s been on tour with me for ‘The Westerner,’ HIM, Jesse Dayton, Cindy Wasserman, who I’ve sung with quite a bit,” Doe said. “It’s been a good thing. I do know that we’re going to put out some live stuff. We did a couple of tours with Pearl Jam and they have this awesome recording studio, so they just recorded our sets too. So we’re just going to pick and choose.”
The Flesheaters featuring John Doe and DJ Bonebrake of X
When: 9 p.m., Jan. 20 (Doors open at 8 p.m.)
Where: Harlow’s, 2708 J Street, Sacramento.
Cost: $30 advance, $35 show day