White Water Films Despite playing such a convincing -- and beloved -- punk…
- Posted on Mar 22nd 2011 5:15PM by Tina Benitez-Eves
Alberto E. Rodriguez, Getty Images
Covered in what looks like a southern-style French maid's outfit with three-quarter-length sleeves and a black-and-white pin reading "Power to the People" planted on her upper right breast, Cervenka is dressed for the occasion. After all, she's been doing this for 35 years, ever since connecting with X partner -- and first husband -- singer John Doe at a poetry reading in the late 70s. Tonight, she's playing her 10th SXSW show. "Or it could be 12. I don't know," the punk legend tells Spinner. "It's all a blur."
She's there to support her latest solo effort, 'Excitement of Nowhere.' With bluegrass and, according to some reviews, country sounds, 'Excitement' may be the alter ego of the loud singer, who founded one of the most influential punk bands in history, but Cervenka doesn't see any difference in what she's doing now as opposed to her past work.
Infused with rockabilly and bluegrass, X's music was always more than plain punk. She and Doe would even play Hank Williams songs when they were starting up X in Los Angeles in 1979.
"There's no difference between rockabilly, folk, bluegrass, rhythm and blues and punk," she says. "It's all single, three-chord songs about current events. It's all very topical of the time period."
A smoker, Exene lights up, taking puffs in between each answer. "People say that this is a country record," she says. "It's not. I always think it's a pop record. It has all the American music elements combined together like they used to do in the old times."
Like a widowed rock mistress in black, Cervenka -- who is also an artist, author, actress -- is direct and tells it like it is. "I figured out what I wanted to do, what I was supposed to do and the things in life that I wanted to accomplish," she says.
She exudes soul, something she believes is missing from rock today. "Do you think everyone that plays music was born to play music?" she asks. "Do you think that everyone who wants to be an actor was born to be an actor? It's not that hard to play guitar passively or write a song, passively. If you're young and good looking then you have two or three elements."
Cervenka has a busy year ahead. In the middle of promoting 'Excitement,' she has a children's book coming out with author and former Scarce member Joyce Raskin and just released a movie she filmed in 1995, 'Bad Day,' a silent western starring Doe, Dave Alvin and Kevin Costner.
She prefers control, which is why she prefers to create the films rather than act. Cevernka has starred in three films, including 'Salvation!,' where she first met second husband, actor Viggo Mortensen, in 1987. "I don't like acting, because you don't have any control," she says. "You say a line, and nowadays they can edit the words that come out of your mouth. I'm more grounded than that. I'm too grounded to be an actor."
Another project is putting Auntie Christ back together. Formed in the late '90s, the band consisted of X drummer TJ and Matt Freeman from Rancid. The band only released one album, which Cervenka want to rerelease with some new songs and some shows. Speaking into our recorder, Cervenka, who assumes Freeman is too busy for such a project, has a question for the bassist: "Can I put Auntie Christ back together again?"
Two years ago, the 55-year-old singer was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Since then, it's been an on and off battle of getting the right diagnosis, doctors giving her the run-around, finding proper treatment and dealing with the financial burden. Bouts of exhaustion have hit here and there, but Cervenka is determined to live like she's always lived, which she explains taking two more drags of her cigarette.
"I'm better than I should be doing," she says. "It's a weird disease. I've been doing 16 years of neurology. One doctor in California diagnosed me, then did a bunch of tests and now is not sure. Regardless, I don't have the money for medication, and I don't have insurance, so I can't act like I'm sick. I have to pretend that I'm not. I just ignore it. I do. It comes and goes. You're fine, and then all of a sudden it hits."
With that, Cervenka takes the stage to perform her 10th -- or was it 12th? -- show of SXSW, clearly not letting anything hold her back.