What's John Doe reading?

Musician-actor John Doe’s new book, co-written with music executive Tom DeSavia, is “Under the Big Black Sun: A Personal History of L.A. Punk.”
Musician-actor John Doe’s new book, co-written with music executive Tom DeSavia, is “Under the Big Black Sun: A Personal History of L.A. Punk.”
Published May 19, 2016


John Doe

Doe, along with Exene Cervenka, Billy Zoom and DJ Bonebrake, came to fame in the 1970s with the creation of the Los Angeles-based punk band X. Through the decades, Doe has been a force as part of X, which continues to tour, and on his own. He has recorded eight solo records, and as an actor he has appeared in more than 50 films and TV productions, including Great Balls of Fire, Boogie Nights and Road House. We caught up with Doe by phone from Los Angeles, where he was hard at work promoting both his new "desert-influenced'' album, The Westerner, as well as a new book, Under the Big Black Sun: A Personal History of L.A. Punk. Co-written with music executive Tom DeSavia, the book also includes the voices of Cervenka, Jane Wiedlin of the Go-Go's, Henry Rollins of Black Flag and Dave Alvin of the Blasters, among others. Doe, 63, described the value of the memoir-history project this way: "It gives a better version of the story from the L.A. bands, and it gives a pretty wide view of it too.''

What's on your nightstand?

The last couple of books I've read are on horse training. I'm an avid horseman. I don't do anything but ride with them on trails. I don't do any competition or dressage. One is called Horses Don't Lie by Chris Irwin and the other is Zen Mind, Zen Horse by Allan Hamilton. It's all part of this somewhat new, maybe the last 30 years, way of working with horses where you are a partner. You look further inside rather than telling them what to do. The last fiction that I read is The Free by Willy Vlautin. I'm also reading Jack London: An American Life by Earle Labor. I'm not too far into that.

How long have you been a horseman?

I started getting into horses through my good friend Michael Blake. He wrote Dances With Wolves. He got me into horses. I guess it was 25 or 30 years ago. Actually, that's why I'm reading (about) Jack London, too. He always was interested in Jack London.

In the book, you write about your influential teacher at Antioch College, Grace Cavalieri, and how she pointed out certain writings to you. What particular pieces do you recall from your time with her?

Poetry gets a bad rap sometimes. I was interested in it because it was the closest thing to song lyrics. Grace was smart because people often think they have to go back to the beginning of something and then move to what is current when learning, but doing it that way can be stifling. What she did was tell me, "Don't read anything that was written earlier than 1945 so you can be inspired by current poets that were alive and had a similar kind of vernacular, a similar way of talking in life." So when you do this, you don't have the hurdles, perhaps, of Shakespeare or Tennyson. That was the smartest thing she did. I read people that were current, whether it was Sylvia Plath or Galway Kinnell or Ezra Pound or E.E. Cummings, both people who made sense or didn't make sense. I think William Carlos Williams was one of my favorite poets ever.

I loved learning you met Exene when you went to the Venice Poetry Workshop for the first time.

Exene went because it was downstairs from her, but I went because I had been involved in a poetry scene, a group of people who called themselves poets in Baltimore, and I thought, "Well, this is a way I can connect with like-minded people."

So at that time were you a reader who always had something in your pocket?

Well, I always had people I was interested in, and I had what they wrote. I was a big fan of Charles Bukowski and writers that I knew from Washington, D.C. There was a guy named Tim Douglas. There were also some great poets in L.A. like Kate Braverman, Bill Mohr, James Krusoe and Jack Grapes.

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Here's a question from my son. Do you believe modern pop punk bands such as Blink-182 and Green Day have forfeited their right to be called punk because they have top 40 success?

I don't know. I really don't know. I think it was Miles Davis who said it, but it is true, good music is good music and bad music is bad music. Green Day, I kind of like. Billie Joe Armstrong is a skillful songwriter. Actually, he wrote the foreword to the book. I wouldn't say the same for Blink-182. Even though they sound very much the same, they are two different groups. I don't think punk rock was meant to just be played for 50 friends. I think punk rock can be successful. It depends whether it's real or heartfelt or just calculated and corporate.

Contact Piper Castillo at Follow @Florida_PBJC.