harry dean, cop cars and dodgers dates: the punk rock odyssey of john doe

John Doe.

John Doe got to know Harry Dean Stanton the old fashioned way – in the back of a police car.

No, the veteran Los Angeles punk rocker, actor and author didn’t connect with the late Kentucky born film celebrity through any untoward activity. Both were actually gaining experience for roles as policemen in Wayne Wang’s 1987 movie “Slam Dance,” which will be screened Saturday at the Farish Theatre as part of the Harry Dean Stanton Fest. Doe will also perform a solo concert covering music from throughout his 40 year career, including songs cut with the vanguard Los Angeles band X, tonight at the Green Lantern.

“We worked six, maybe, eight weeks on ‘Slam Dance,’” Doe recalled. “We did a lot of ride-alongs with homicide cops to figure out what they were all about. That was both intriguing and frightening because their world view has to be kind of skewed since they’re dealing with criminals a lot of the time and dealing with the aftermath of things gone very wrong.

“But then I asked Harry Dean to play music with me at this club in L.A. called McCabe’s Guitar Shop, and he said, ‘Well, sure.’ I knew he had played music from when he did ‘Paris, Texas’ and films like that, but little did I realize I was opening the door for him to reek havoc on the musical world for the next 20 years. He did a residency at The Mint and then at another place up on Sunset Boulevard. I feel pretty good about that.”

Cruising with cops has been just one of the unlikely but situations Doe has been led to by a remarkably far reaching career. Another came in August when all of X – Doe, vocalist Exene Cervenka, guitarist Billy Zoom and drummer DJ Bonebrake – were honored by the Los Angeles Dodgers prior to a baseball game at Dodger Stadium.

“That’s another mystifying turn of events. ‘Really? You want a punk rocker to sing the national anthem? Okay.’ Sure, I’ve spread out a little more from just being a punk rock musician, but, still, it’s weird. You don’t think about that stuff and then when it happens, you feel a certain odd sense of validation.”

“So for X Day at Dodger Stadium, we played gender reversal. Exene threw out the first pitch and I sang the national anthem. Usually it would be like, ‘Oh, let’s have the girl sing and the boy throw the ball,’ but we switched that around. She did great. She got it over the plate and Rich Hill, the pitcher that night, caught it. He pitched a no hitter until the game went into the 10th inning. We figured it was the magic Exene laid on the team.”

“Spreading out,” as Doe termed it, has included a long running solo career he has maintained outside of X, one that has taken him to various avenues of rock and roots-oriented music. His newest record, 2016’s “Westerner,” teamed him with producer Howe Gelb for a series of songs inspired by Doe’s friendship with the late author Michael Blake, best known for writing “Dances with Wolves.”

“I’ve been friends with Howe Gelb and a fan of his production and music for a long time. He’s really the main architect of what you might call the Tucson Sound, which would include Neko Case or Calexico and Howe’s band, Giant Sand. There’s a lot of space, a lot of reverb that really fit the songs.

“A lot of the songs were about my friend Michael. We were friends for 30 years, but he struggled with dementia for the last four of them. We talked a lot about art and what we want to do with the world and things like that. Before he was really sick I started writing these songs just because he was such an inspiration to me.”

Almost concurrent with “Westerner” was the publication of “Under the Big Black Sun,” a overview of the Los Angeles punk uprising that began in the late 1970s, the era that gave birth to X (the books shares its title with X’s third album, released in 1982). Doe, along with Tom DeSavia, was as much a curator of the book as an author since it also boasts chapters penned by other members of the L.A. punk community, including Henry Rollins, Mike Watt and Dave Alvin. The audiobook version of “Under the Big Black Sun” earned a Grammy nomination.

“I didn’t really want to be the authority,” Doe said of the book. “I couldn’t tell the story of what it was like for women in that era. I didn’t live at the Canterbury where Jane Wiedlin (of the Go Go’s) lived. I wasn’t part of a roots band, which Dave Alvin was. There are so many different stories that people have. They were the experts in those subjects, so that’s why we pulled them in.”

As for his solo concert tonight, Doe said fans should expect a little bit of everything: X tunes, “Westerner” music, “unexpected” cover selections and more.

“Plus, I know a hell of a lot of John Doe songs, so I can take requests. If I don’t know them, I’ll wing it. Sometimes, I crash and burn, and that’s fun, too.”

John Doe and Warren Byrom perform at 10 p.m. tonight (Sept. 29) at The Green Lantern, 497 W Third. Tickets are $15. Call 859-252-9539 or go to harrydeanstantonfest.org.

Doe will also participate in a Q&A session following a free screening of “Slam Dance” as part of the Harry Dean Stanton Fest at 3 p.m. Sept. 30 at the Farish Theater of the Lexington Public Library, 140 E Main.



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