- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 24, 2005

Now in the vicinity of 50 years old — he won’t say precisely where in the vicinity — Los Angeles punk rocker and alternative country pioneer John Doe isn’t attempting to redefine his career. Indeed, it would be hard for Mr. Doe to eclipse the legacy he established as a songwriter and performer in X, the seminal Los Angeles punk band he founded in 1977 with his former wife Exene Cervenka and later burnished in the influential country rock offshoot of X, the Knitters.

Accordingly, Mr. Doe’s new CD, “Forever Hasn’t Happened Yet” (Yep Roc), his fifth solo work in a thus far largely overlooked solo career, is a ragged collage of 11 alt country, psychedelic rock and blues tracks saturated with punk attitude. Like his work for X and the Knitters, it offers tales of sex, drugs, death, loss, longing and alienation.

“I write about things that are in crisis because that’s what is inspiring,” said Mr. Doe in a telephone interview while on tour in support of the album. (He performs in Arlington at Iota on Monday). “Lately, I’ve had moments, very intense moments, of confusion.” He says that out of this confusion he has attempted to make a record with the clarity and simplicity characteristic of figures like the late blues master Muddy Waters and Bob Dylan.

“Dylan might like ‘Forever Hasn’t Happened Yet’ because there’s an honesty to it,” says Mr. Doe. “When you are at the stage of your career I am,” he continues with a self-deprecating laugh, “it sometimes helps to name drop and associate yourself with greater talents than yourself.”

If Mr. Doe needed any borrowed luster — he doesn’t — he gets plenty on “Forever Hasn’t Happened Yet,” with its stellar guest performances by Neko Case, Kristin Hersh, Cindy Lee Berryhill and Veronica Jane (Mr. Doe’s 16-year-old daughter).

Miss Case, an emerging alt country star, provides an instantly gratifying smoky vocal counterpoint reminiscent of Miss Cervenka on the groovy “Highway 5.”

“I’m still definitely connected with Exene,” says Mr. Doe who divorced Miss Cervenka in 1985 but continues to perform with her and the reunited X about 20 times a year. “We had some pretty hard times, but that is all behind us. We were lucky enough or smart enough not to poison our friendship and our music.”

While Miss Cervenka’s influence penetrates Mr. Doe’s solo work, it is Mr. Doe’s collaboration with guitarists Grant-Lee Phillips and L.A. roots-rocker Dave Alvin (who replaced Billy Zoom briefly in X and joined Mr. Doe in the Knitters) that ignites the record. Both Mr. Alvin and Mr. Phillips play understated blues guitar and adroitly deliver well-crafted sonic landscapes for the record’s essential tracks, “The Losing Kind,” “Heartless” and the Led Zeppelinesque “Ready.”

On “The Losing Kind,” Mr. Doe’s poetic lyrics and sepulchral vocals channel Jim Morrison, a childhood hero of his. As Mr. Doe croons, “The end is near,” one can’t miss the overt Doors reference (a notion Mr. Doe doesn’t dispute). The song’s shimmering synthesizer riffs evoke Doors’ keyboardist Ray Manzarek, who produced X’s best three albums in the early 1980s: “Los Angeles,” “Under the Big Black Sun” and “More Fun in the New World.”

The churning, hypnotic “Ready” was inspired by the death last October of singer-songwriter Elliott Smith, Mr. Doe says. “I talked to Elliott two or three times in the six months before he killed himself,” he recalls. “He may be happier now, I don’t know. He’s in less pain. But I miss him being here.”

While continuing his music career, Mr. Doe has pursued a parallel vocation as an actor, landing parts in over 25 films since 1986. In addition to guest appearances this year on the hit television series “Law & Order” and “CSI: Miami,” he has parts in several independent films due out later in 2005.

This May, X celebrates the 25th anniversary of its debut album, “Los Angeles,” with its first-ever DVD, “X: Live in Los Angeles” (Shout! Factory). And the first new Knitters record in over 20 years will soon be available.

“I’m really lucky that I am able to play music for a living,” Mr. Doe says, “and I’m old enough to know how lucky I am.”

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