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John Doe, out from under the big black sun 

X's John Doe flies solo Feb. 18

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"I've already had my fun," says John Doe, packing up for Austin, Texas from his longtime California home. Doe is up for a Grammy Award for the audiobook of Under the Big Black Sun: A Personal History of L.A. Punk, a rearview-mirror romance for a scene that birthed X, the band Doe co-founded with Exene Cervenka, guitarist Billy Zoom and drummer DJ Bonebrake, establishing the West Coast's punk canon before its hardcore reverie. "Once something is published, when the record is finished, I feel like you've already had your fun. The rest is up to the people whether they're like it or don't.

  "I'm just really glad none of the presidents put out a book because they're the ones who always win awards," he says. (He was up against works from Elvis Costello, Patti Smith, Amy Schumer and Carol Burnett.) "Carol Burnett, for God's sakes. Shit."

  For Under the Big Black Sun, Doe enlisted X's Cervenka, The Go-Go's Jane Wiedlin and Charlotte Caffey, Minutemen's Mike Watt and other artists, scene regulars and writers to share revealing stories from Los Angeles' embryonic punk scene, a wild bohemia removed from the concrete hell of late-'70s New York. "I tested out Los Angeles and really liked it, more for the literary and film noir elements of it," Doe says. "It so happened there were a lot of people who felt the same way, who were misfits in their own way."

  Following X's 40th anniversary tour in 2016 (with plans to extend it in 2017), Doe and Cervenka will open for Blondie and Garbage on a summer tour. Doe performs solo in New Orleans Feb. 18.

  "It's very intimate — no band, no nothing," he says. "You have to prepare yourself to be more open, more vulnerable, and then just do it ... The songs are really stripped down, and I can do a lot more requests. The band doesn't have to learn 50 songs, if I can remember most of them. When I have a request someone calls out, I'll give it a shot. If I blow it halfway through, the audience seems to like that even better. Odd to me, but OK."

  The book arrived in 2016 along with Doe's The Westerner, a collection of dusty, desert sand-blasted folk, blues and rock 'n' roll the singer-songwriter recorded at Tucson, Arizona's WaveLab with Howe Gelb and inspired by Doe's friend Michael Blake, author of Dances with Wolves, who died in 2015. "As he was fading out, I started writing all these songs, and I realized he embodied these ideas of someone from the West," Doe says. "And it became bigger than just him ... That minimalism, openness, almost-emptiness of the desert translates in the kind of record to come out of Wavelab in Tucson and the stuff that Howe does. I knew the songs would be well served doing them down there."

  Doe says X — which pulled as much from Sun Records, rockabilly and the West Coast's wide-open spaces as it did punk rock's westward march — had hoped to return to "the simplicity of rock 'n' roll, and not being a virtuoso."

  "I think you play what you believe in or what you can get away with," he says. "If I tried to do an R&B record, it might not be as convincing ... I've been doing solo-style John Doe songs for, I don't know, a long time. I put [11] records out. It's been a slow process. It doesn't really fall in the country category very easily — maybe alt-country or Americana. It's a little bit weird. I don't have very many songs that are just three chords. I wish I could write songs like Hank Williams or Willie Nelson, but it's not in my DNA ... Maybe I didn't spend enough time behind a mule."

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