Under The Big Black Sun: A Personal History of L.A. Punk by John Doe with Tom DeSavia and Friends (Da Capo Press)


I always imagined John Doe had a book somewhere in him waiting to be written. His band, X, were among the more literary-minded groups of the Los Angeles punk scene, and he met his future (now former) wife, and X co-leader, Exene Cervenka at a poetry workshop. Now that his book, Under The Big Black Sun, has finally arrived, I’m perplexed by it. The book’s purpose was, in the words of co-author Tom DeSavia, “for the true story of LA punk rock to be told” (note: it’s L.A. not LA – at least they got it right on the front cover), but it didn’t give me much new perspective outside of a better understanding of the influence Mexican culture had on punk, and the consistent reverence for unrecorded electro-punk innovators The Screamers. If you read We Got The Neutron Bomb, Get In The Van, American Hardcore, or any other books where Los Angeles’ punk scene is a player then you’ve pretty much heard it all before, and heard it told more coherently. Instead of a John Doe or X biography, Under the Big Black Sun collects passages written by L.A. punk musicians, writers, and scenesters, with only about 20% of its slim 250 pages written by Doe. I get the intended point: There’s no “one story” of Los Angeles’ punk. It was a multi-dimensional scene where characters as different as Jane Wiedlin (Go-Gos), Jack Grisham (T.S.O.L.) and Mike Watt (Minutemen) could all play important roles. However, with so many other prominent voices, Doe gets reduced to a bit player in his own book, which reads like a collection of sample chapters from a dozen different autobiographies. The good news is that, based on the chapters here, most of those autobiographies would be tremendous (sign me up for Jane Weidlin, Jack Grisham and Chris D. of the Flesh Eaters – Watt’s would be good too, though his rambling jazzbo style would probably make my head hurt over hundreds of pages). Taken chapter by chapter, Under The Big Black Sun is wildly entertaining, but doesn’t really add up to a satisfying whole. Oh, and X’s drummer of almost 40 years, DJ Bonebrake, is called DJ Bonebreak in a photo caption – a mistake somebody should have caught.
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