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Transmission
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Artist Thu Jun 18 2009

MS Won't Stop Exene Cervenka

Guest post by Jeremy Henderson

x_@_masque_publicity_2009_-_photo_%c2%a9_1979_by_fra(2).jpgThis is what she told me 10 days before she found out: "Career wise, if you were to ask me what I'm most proud of, it's that my career has lasted so long, for sure. It's like, OK, I was on American Bandstand, that was nice. But that I'm still playing music -- that's nicer."

Then the news broke, halfway through the tour: X's Exene Cervenka diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.

The L.A. Times had it, Rolling Stone, Perez Hilton... it was the hypertext hit of the day.

In response, one well-intentioned entertainment blogger plugged the band's upcoming show in Knoxville ("likely... their final Tennessee appearance ever") with all the chin-up optimism of an obituary.

But the reason her diagnosis with MS was newsworthy, the reason we even know who she is at all, is because 53-year-old Exene Cervenka -- punkabilly's primordial poetess, the Lipsticked Snarl of "Losss Angelesss!" -- has always, always, always said "yes" to life.

When, in 1977, this dude, a friend of her sister's, rolled up in a yellow Pinto and asked if she wanted to split the gas to California, 20-year-old Exene said yes. She'd been in Tallahassee, Florida for four months. She hated it. You couldn't make it in the rural south looking like a freak. Not that kind of freak, not back then. She made it to L.A. with $120 in a paper sack.

When this tall bass player named John Doe, whom she met her first night on the job at a government-funded poetry center, asked her if she wanted to be in a band, she said yes.

When he asked her if she wanted to live with him, she said yes.
"So it was just like, saying yes to everything," she said. "If it was a change, I said yes. If it was a new person, I said yes. If it was to go some place, I said yes. Pretty much anything anybody said to me, I said yes."

And though she's not one for romanticizing the make-believe of early L.A. punk ("I think nostalgia is pathetic"), that seize-the-day enthusiasm of the good ol' days will surely steady the beat of her modern, post-diagnosis affirmations -- yes to fighting, yes to her career, yes to life, just like she did in the 70s, just like in the 80s, just like 10 days before her diagnosis.

"I (live in the moment) as much possible," she said, while walking down the street for a pre-diagnosis cup of coffee in her new home of Jefferson City, Mo. "I definitely do not live in the past and I definitely do not live in the future. I don't think that anybody (in the band) cared or thought about the future back then very much because the moment we were in was so profound."

Can she approach multiple sclerosis like she did punk rock (a debilitating nerve disease in its own right, some might argue) -- whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger?

Judging by the press release -- "many people remain strong and continue to live their lives as productively as they had before an MS diagnosis and I plan to be one of those people" -- Exene says yes.

So sure, catch X while you still can at one of their three shows this weekend at The Double Door... because you could die tomorrow.

But there's no way it's going to stop her. It might not even slow her down. Yes, it sounded like I woke her up when I called. Yes, it was practically lunch time. Yes, fatigue is one of the symptoms.

But she's still on the tour that started in May, and her debut on Chicago's own Bloodshot Records is still slated for August... Truth is, the headline could just as easily have read: Multiple Sclerosis diagnosed with Exene Cervenka.

About the Author

Alabama-native Jeremy Henderson covers religion and rock 'n' roll for a newspaper in Texas. He is writing a book about streaking at Auburn University in 1974. Bonnie Greene, Chicago's finest news and traffic radio personality, is his third cousin. Write to him at jeremy.henderson[at]yahoo.com.

Editor's note: Stay tuned for photos from tonight's show!

 
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