John Doe Is A Keeper

By , Contributor

As a founding member of X, the most important band to emerge from the LA punk scene, John Doe became a prickly icon, penning brainy ruminations on life, love, sex, and the death of art with a serrated pen, alternatively delivering them in a confounding mix of punk fury and slick rockabilly.

But as a solo artist, Doe exhibits none of that anxious ferocity, and instead is a man at peace with his art and his choices. He is an accomplished solo performer, writing low key predominately acoustic tunes full of wit and wisdom.

This time out, on his forthcoming disc Keeper, due out on August 30, the iconic artist decided that he wanted to ground his record in a pivotal time, trying to recapture an artistic watershed from 1969-1971 when, to quote Doe, "hippie music had turned more aggressive and the flower was beginning to die." It’s a record that is as confessional as it is optimistic, a new road for the often dour Doe.

Why? Because in the past few years he has utterly transformed his life, having gotten divorced and relocated to Bakersfield, California with a new lady. You can hear some of the emotional topography on his new disc which the musician produced with the help of long-time collaborator Dave Way, who you might remember from his work with Fiona Apple and Macy Gray.

The disc also features vocals by Patty Griffin, Jill Sobule, and Cindy Wasserman, and some of his more renowned musician pals like Smokey Hormel (Johnny Cash, Tom Waits), Don Was, and Giant Sand’s Howe Gelb helped him out on the disc. In addition to his musical accomplishments Doe is the poetry editor of Bluerailroad (he comes by the job righteously, he has a degree in poetry from Antioch), where you can read some of his work.

Does it bother you that the first thing people think of when they think of you is that you were a founder of X? I mean you’ve done so much more stuff.

It’ll always be the first thing, and I’m proud of that. I have no problem with that, and I feel bad for people who feel so threatened by their past that they feel as though they have to deny that. I play X songs at every show that I do, but I wouldn't make it a focus. I am constantly partially amazed and constantly gratefully for the fact that X is still remembered and that we’re still going to be in the history books, and no one can take that away. As long as that doesn't become the focus of my musical reality. Doing all the research for our Elektra anthology, I had listened to a couple hundred hours of tapes, looking for live stuff, and realized that some of the live tapes that I listened to, which were great, we were drunk on our ass. But it was still really great, and at that point you can have some objectivity and see, well, no wonder people were going crazy for this.

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X just finished up a short tour. What is it like working with Exene now? Is the way you work the same, or is the dynamic changed a lot over the years?

It’s always going up and down. Not positive and negative, but as to who is kind of the leader and who’s not. But even ten years ago we could be better friends than when we were married.

Do your three daughters think it was a big deal that you were in X?

Yeah, but they thought it was equally cool that I was macking on Sandra Bullock, a few years ago. That went a long way with their friends. It was in a movie called Forces of Nature, and I was her soon-to-be ex-husband. She was out romping around with Ben Affleck, but I got to really, really make out with her in this airport. She's a good kisser.

Is there a similar dynamic that you bring to the acting that you access when you make a record? Besides the kissing, I mean.

Gee, I don't know. There's a lot more work in doing the research and study to get the character figured out. And then to stay focused as you're shooting and stuff like that. That's a lot harder. And there's also a lot more waiting around.

Who'd play you in your life story?

Don't know. I don't think I have a life story that ís that worth telling, to be honest with you. I mean I've done some stuff and I appreciate where I've gotten and what I've done, but I mean it's not like I'm Jerry Lee Lewis. I take a lot of pride in being a bit of a journeyman and a survivor, and maybe not having that crazy genius talent that makes people bastards. Maybe I don't have the super highs and the super lows, but I've written a few pretty good songs. That's good. And I'm not being falsely humble, because I know that there ís some stuff that I did as with X that was fucking amazing.

What character have you played that's been most you?

Probably the really dopey father character in Roswell. You know, a pretty regular guy. And you didn't have to work up a bunch of stuff. You could just kind of go in and just be open and be real and just go.

Do you think you're a complicated guy?

Yeah. I say that not liking the fact that that's true, but yeah. But the most fun character that I ever played was the one on Law & Order, where I played the rock star. It was the easiest character study, and the most fun, because all I had to was like be an asshole. How could it be more self-absorbed? How could it be more of an asshole? It was like, "Go, baby, go." I played a singer for a heavy metal band that set the nightclub on fire. It was kind of like Great White [tragedy].

What keeps you grounded?

Normal stuff grounds me but what keeps me alive is doing what I do. Creating stuff, making things. Making a record and singing. I'm still singing fine, you know? Maybe better than before. And because I love it, and I'm not staying up until 4:00 a.m.every morning, yelling and smoking and shit like that.

What's the greatest misconception about you?

That I think a lot of myself. No, the biggest misconception is that I'm some sort of icon. That ís the biggest misconception. Or that it actually makes a difference. Or the biggest misconception in my acting career is that I'm just a musician.

Something you've always wanted to do but haven't got around to yet?

Going to the Amazon or being in a John Waters movie? Then my life would be complete, and then I could check off that box. Maybe the fact that I've peed on film will get me that much closer.

You peed on film?

Yeah, when I was doing that HBO series Carnaval, and so I can check that off of my list. I did it three times.

Was that a little embarrassing?

No.

Do you have a motto?

To be in the moment. To trust your intuition, and the best thing and the hardest thing is to be in touch with your intuition and to keep that available.

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Jaan Uhelszki was one of the founding editors at Detroit’s legendary Creem magazine. Since that time, her work has appeared in USA Today, Uncut, Rolling Stone, Spin, NME, Relix, and Guitar World. She is the only journalist to have ever performed in full makeup with Kiss. Luckily she only had to put…

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