For a guy who adopted a stage name that implies death and anonymity, John Doe possesses a lively creative spirit.
Since 1976, when Doe decided New York’s punk scene was too saturated, he’s operated out of California, where he made several classic SoCal punk albums with X, a successful roots-rock side gig with the Knitters and also knocked out 10 albums of his own. Not to mention dozens of film and TV credits.
Last year Doe, 63, also released “The Westerner,” for my money his best solo album, and one filled with a rough-hewn reflection on life and death as one gets closer to the latter. The imagery fits the mood, with shoes dropping, trains departing and characters looking for just a sliver of sun. Doe comes to town this week with the album and book in tow for a show that will cover his four decade career.
Q: You’ve put a pretty evocative title on this album. There’s possibility and discovery implied, as well as possibly finding an outermost boundary. Were those themes going through your mind?
A: The title just came to me. A lot of it was inspired by my good friend Michael Blake, who wrote “Dances With Wolves.” He went through a pretty long battle with Alzheimer’s. And he passed away right on the very day we started the second round of recording in Tucson. He taught me a lot. To me, he embodied the whole idea of being from the west. It’s all about the possibilities and the endless horizon and living a full life.
Q: It also could apply to you, as an Illinois guy who found his career out in Los Angeles.
A: Sure, that could be in there. And to a degree, every song is autobiographical in a way. They’re all about how you relate to the subject in story and song and stuff like that. So we went with it, in the music and also the cover. I was really fortunate that Shepard Fairey was a big fan of X. He and (photographer) Aaron Hueyallowed me to use that image. It was part of a campaign they did for Native Americans. That was also one of Michael Blake’s big passions, so it all came around, really. “The Westerner” and this image of a kid, you don’t know if he’s a hippie or a Native American. Turns out he was a Native American. So I got to tip my cap to that as well.
Q: So you used the H-word. Music culture has sort of made “hippie” a bad word. But I felt like Los Angeles punk wasn’t kicking against the hippies as much as it was the huge ’70s arena rock. Any thoughts or clarification you can offer?
A: Well, at one point the hippies were the rebels, and they were the ones pushing things. But then that whole thing became soft, nondescript. So we wanted to stir things up. But I didn’t have any problems with the hippies. Man, the Germs accused us of being hippies. We had slow songs. We had songs that weren’t all fast. I guess if any culture becomes complacent, it becomes a target.
Q: There’s an autumnal quality throughout the record, both the moody sound and also the lyrics. It’s not about the end of something as much as it is the shuffle toward the end. Is it safe to say that’s due to Michael running out of time?
A: I wrote the songs over a period of three years, and he was going through all of that. Like the process of losing language, which is interesting because he was a storyteller. He was always up in his head, using words and telling stories. When he lost that, it was interesting to me, because he started relating to people intuitively and emotionally. He couldn’t just fall back on telling stories. And I value that now. Writing or relating to people on an intuitive level. From the chest rather than from the brain. The brain usually gets you in trouble. (Laughs.) You know what I’m saying? It’s unreliable.
Continue via… Source: John Doe strings voices of L.A. punk together – Houston Chronicle