Punk rock records sell millions these days, and a new crop of bands is springing up around town, but don't try to tell Exene Cervenkova that the good old days are back again.
"There was more of a communal context for it then," says Cervenkova, citing the '70s-'80s era when her band X galvanized a vital Los Angeles music community. "I just feel that the unifying factor seems to be missing."
In "Life Could Be a Dream," the debut album by her new group, Auntie Christ, Cervenkova laments the culture's loss of purpose and independence. (See review on F10.) "You'll follow models, you'll follow ghosts, you'll swallow anything they shove down your throats," she sings in "The Nothing Generation," an indictment of complacency and consumerism.
"There seems to be an overall giving in that I have never seen on such a large scale," she says. "To me, the Vietnam War pales in comparison to the war the corporations are waging on the environment and on the human soul. That's the biggest war, and I just don't understand why people aren't fighting. . . .
"Now everyone's consuming the same products all over the world. They're doing the same things, they believe in the same things. . . . The goal of the corporation seems to be unrelenting homogenization of the world. No more diners, no more little hardware stores or drug stores or five-and-dimes. It's just terrifying. Why people don't fight that is beyond me."
After 20 years, Cervenkova, 41, remains a focal point of whatever scene there is. In addition to launching her new band (which features X's drummer D.J. Bonebrake and Rancid's bassist Matt Freeman), she'll make an appearance with the San Francisco band Stone Fox on a cross-cultural bill with country legend Tammy Wynette on June 30 at the House of Blues.
She also conducts a career as a spoken-word artist, and issues vintage punk performances on her Year One record label. You've Got Bad Taste, the Silver Lake store she operates, is a combination outre retail outlet, punk museum and community center.
She might seem somewhat resigned, but it's clear that she's incapable of giving in.
"I'm doing the same thing I always did," she says, "and I'll always be doing it, unfortunately, because that's my role in life. I feel like I have a responsibility to point fingers at the culture and try to help people raise their consciousness. . . .
"Also to set an example that there still is this thing called an artist, which is a person who has an original way of interpreting life that helps other people and is in some way beautiful and consoling and in some ways brutally truthful and contributes something for people in the future--that's culture. Technology has replaced culture. We have no culture. It's really scary. But people haven't noticed it's gone yet."
* Exene Cervenkova appears with Stone Fox, opening for Tammy Wynette on June 30 at the House of Blues, 8430 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, 9 p.m. $25. (213) 650-1451.
Penny Wisdom: Cervenkova is a hearty supporter of the '90s punk-rock revival, rejecting the criticism that the new generation is merely rehashing old sounds.
"OK, they didn't create something totally new, but at least they hung on to something that was truthful and honest and is gonna make an impact," she says. "And it's true outcast music. I think it's valid for them."
That rings true for Jim Lindberg, the singer for Pennywise, one of Southern California's leading independent punk bands.
"For someone growing up in the suburban wasteland, there's not a lot to shake things up," says Lindberg, who will lead the Hermosa Beach outfit on the Warped Tour in July. "Punk rock always seemed like the ultimate rebellion and the ultimate way of giving the finger to the establishment.
"Even when trends come and go, it's kind of like blues or country music. . . . I think the longevity of punk music is going to be a lot longer than people think. . . . It's based in emotion, and I don't think anger and emotion is gonna go away."
Pennywise got an unwanted dose of both last year when founding bassist Jason Thirsk committed suicide while on a hiatus from the group to deal with a drinking problem. The band was prepared to call it quits, but instead regrouped and came up with the strong new album "Full Circle."
"It was just kind of an unconscious decision to go on," Lindberg says. "Jason started something here with us that was a punk-rock music with a positive, uplifting, inspirational message, and we couldn't let it end this way, with the ultimate negative message."
* Pennywise appears on the Warped Tour, July 3 at the Olympic Velodrome, Cal State Dominguez Hills, Carson, 1 p.m. $20.50. (310) 516-3300.