A few weeks ago a friend recommended I watch a particular movie, X - The Unheard Music, a musical documentary of sorts about the legendary punk band X. This past weekend I took a trip downtown to Kim's to rent it; I would've loved to make it a double bill with The Decline of Western Civilization, but they didn't have that one, only the part II movie about the LA metal scene (yuk).
I popped the tape in the VCR, thinking it would be good but not knowing quite what to expect. X were one of those bands that, like other U.S. indie artists of that era (The Minutemen, Husker Du), I'd investigated enough to buy one or two records and put a couple songs by each into my personal hit singles pantheon. But I never had one of those love-at-first-listen moments with any of those records, though I first heard all those bands back before I grew to love noisier sounds. (Another friend recently summarized this change with the epiphany, "Jen likes distortion!")
The movie started and I was half-paying attention to that, half to my computer (bad habit, I know). That didn't last long, though. From the first scene, X onstage... John Doe and Exene Cervenka's trademark vocal exchanges, harmonies... a musical wallop coming out of the tiny speakers on my TV. And I stands to reason that a band that's so good at telling stories in their music would do the same in the interview segments sprinkled throughout, whether it's John recounting his acquisition of the metal "X" from the old Ex-Lax building in Brooklyn or Exene pointing out the broken glass still sitting on the air conditioner at the Whiskey A Go Go and how it got there years earlier, the night her sister died.
The film moves from early days in the LA punk scene -- quick-cut montages of band flyers, posters, photos of clubs and bands long gone -- onto the present day of the film, circa 1982, where X are promoting their first major-label album across the country. And the later moments are just as fun and compelling, esp. the performance of "White Girl" in the recording studio, with Ray Manzarek jumping out of his chair as if to say "Yes!", mirroring my own thought-bubble.
As is too often the case with wonderful movies and music that are a bit off the beaten path, this particular flick is out of print, so unfortunately I can't get my own copy. Here's to hoping that this will get reissued, maybe by Rhino, who have recently released new CDs of the X musical catalog.
Postscript: On the way back to return the video, I passed by location of the far West Village Kim's. It was empty and shuttered, with a notice on the window announcing its closing. Mixed feelings for me, at that. I was the first employee of that store and helped open it way back when. Had the opportunity to learn a lot about movies and music working there, crazy as it sometimes was. (My two favorite stories to tell at parties are from my time there -- unfortunately they are not the kind of thing that I can print on a public web site!)
They shut it down
They closed it down
They shut it down
They pulled it down