Published December 1995, The Music Paper


John Doe

The cycle always repeats

Despite a wildly-diverse discography of influential, often groundbreaking music that reaches back nearly 20-years, and increasingly-bigger and better roles in films such as: Border Radio, Salvador, Great Balls Of Fire, Road House and Roadside Prophets; punk founding father, actor, solo musician and long time X bassist/vocalist John Doe's audience is still something of a "fans-only" cult. As a result, he has yet to be rewarded with anything remotely resembling a "hit."

Doe, however, may've finally struck that ever-elusive patch of pay dirt with the release of his solo album Kissing So Hard; and a prominent part in Ula Grosbard's (The Subject Was Roses, True Confession) newest film, Georgia, which stars Jennifer Jason Leigh, Mare Winningham and Ted Levine.

"For a movie that's not about 'happy endings' and full of triumphant, uplifting concert footage, the word-of-mouth on Georgia, so far, seems to be pretty good," said Doe from his New York hotel recently. "The movie, in three words, is about sisters, music ... and heroin."

"Bobby Mellon," enthuses Doe, "the character that I play in the movie, is a bar band leader who has, uhm ... co-opted or set aside his creative and artistic dreams in order to pay the rent by playing in a cover band that includes Jennifer's character, Sadie. It takes a musician," adds Doe, "I think, to play a musician. To capture that casualness a musician develops over the years. That, 'I don't give a shit,' attitude that just seems to always come across."

"I really enjoy acting. Out of the 16-or-so hours you're awake and on the set, 15 of 'em are complete bullshit," he laughs. "You're lucky if there's one productive, really good hour. So, making movies and making music is actually a surprisingly similar process."

In addition to the preliminary slew of industry raves and positive press for the movie, Doe is also riding high on the critical success of his second solo album, Kissing So Hard, released in August on Forward/Rhino Records.

"I'm very proud of the record," said Doe, "and of the chances we (Blasters guitarist Smokey Hormel; ex-Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians bassist Brad Houser; Beck, Walt Mink drummer Jerry Waronker; and sometime Cracker drummer Charlie Quintana) took together on it. There's sort of an edginess ... an earthiness to it."

"The new album seems to be styled more along the lines of an X record, even though there are a few slower, more personal songs on it and there's more of a reflective mood to it," ponders Doe.

"I really caught a lot of shit from assorted X 'fans' for the first solo record (1990's Meet John Doe)," he continues, "and I think Exene (Cervenka; X's co-lead vocalist) did, as well, for her first few solo projects."

"But, I didn't make a conscious decision to go in an X-like direction on the new album," Doe adds. "It wasn't like I was out to recreate the X experience for anyone. You're really caught up in a losing game if you try to recreate or emulate something - in this case, the music of X - you did in the past because there's a sense of, almost, myth that's since built itself up around it."

"Besides," he adds sagely, "it generally turns out that the myth is always much greater than the actual reality."

When questioned on his reaction to so many people citing him as one of the founding fathers of punk rock and an alternative music figurehead; Doe simply chuckles and says, "I just 'shine it.' I have to. Because if I didn't, I'd run the risk of my back hurting," he laughs. "All that 'legendary' crap is ... uhm, crap, ya' know? If people got something out of what we (X) did, then great ... but, we're all trying to look forward, not back."

A brief conversation ensues about punk rock, the early days of the California music scene and the recent second coming of punk music via bands such as Rancid, Green Day and Offspring.

"What's even more startling, to me, than the second coming of punk," responds Doe, "is the second coming of Pearl Jam. Or even the third coming! Stone Temple Pilots sounded ... uhm, similar, but they still had a little bit of a shift on it (the sound). But, now there's Silverchair," he says with real wonder in his voice. "I had to hear that song three times on the fuckin' radio before I knew it wasn't Pearl Jam!"

"I think that whole ... uhm, thing," he adds, "is mostly due to record companies and corporations getting really good at exploiting stuff. Thank God," he exclaims, "that there are still people out there doin' it (making music) who really mean it. Who really live their songs."

"I hope that bands who're just starting out," continues Doe, "If they do get a hit, or if they do do well; will take the time to discover their own voice as they progress."

"That's what was so cool about Seattle in the early days," he reflects. "No one gave a shit about those bands, at least not at first, so it really gave 'em a chance to develop a sound of their own."

"But, I guess that'll always happen somewhere," concludes Doe. "It happened up in Minneapolis with the Replacements and with Hüsker Düe, in Athens, Liverpool, Chicago ... the cycle is always repeating itself somewhere."

-- AL MUZER