X – The Unheard Music (MVD Visual)

In retrospect, X probably should’ve been huge. The Los Angeles foursome had all the makings of a success – four flawless albums, a unique sound, an easily identifiable look, and a high-profile celebrity patron in producer, and ex-Door, Ray Manzarek. How such a great band missed the stardom they clearly deserved was a mystery to me, until watching this 1986 documentary. The Unheard Music tells the story of the band up until that point, with interviews, live footage, studio footage, and collage-style music videos for some of their best songs. However, it does so much more than your typical rock-doc. It also (perhaps inadvertently) serves as a time capsule of the wave of Reagan-led conservatism that ruled mainstream American culture in the early-1980s. It was this attitude and close-mindedness that, in essence, killed X’s commercial prospects. The film has an interview with a music executive who says he couldn’t hear the commercial potential of X, while then espousing the virtues of a now forgotten band called Point Blank, who he believes could be “the next Journey”. That speaks volumes. The music industry was turning to safe time-proven formulas for money-making rather than simply being a middle man for bringing good art to the public, and an artistically uncompromising band like X couldn’t compete in that kind of environment. The film also gave me a new appreciation for the four distinctive personalities and styles within X, especially underrated drummer DJ Bonebrake, who reveals that Captain Beefheart inspired his drumming (a connection I never made, but can totally understand now that it’s been pointed out) and demonstrates how he used to build complex drum beats around the repetitive rhythm of a percolating coffee machine! The film’s 25th anniversary Silver Edition DVD/BluRay includes a wealth of new extras, like a pair of recent interviews with John Doe and Exene, a 1983 interview with the production team behind the film, and a live outtake of “Some Other Time” which didn’t make it into the original film. Essential viewing.