Exene Cervenka
By: Lynn Peril | Categories: HiLo Heroes

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EXENE CERVENKA (born 1956) has been a role model for legions of poetry-writing punk rock girls who emulated her wild-haired thrift-store Kiki de Montparnasse style and secretly dreamed of true love while getting felt up in the mosh pit. Onstage with X, she was revelation, a powerhouse combination of tough, sweet, sexy, and smart. Exene proved you didn’t have to carry your tits on a plate to front a band (apologies to St. Agatha). She and John Doe seemed older, more serious than their cohort in the Los Angeles punk scene, or at least they sang about heavier stuff, or maybe it was just because there were two of them and they were in love — and then they weren’t. I wasn’t going through a breakup the first time I heard “White Girl,” but Exene’s weary repetition of key words (“she’s blonde,” “nineteen”) in Doe’s lyric contemplating infidelity so neatly encapsulated the emotions of a relationship in disarray that I burst into tears. But Exene was nobody’s victim. She understood that while relationships come and go, art remains a constant. “The greatest thing about punk for me originally was that it was all about creating a new art and culture, replacing something shitty with something great,” she said.

PUNK, POST-PUNK & ALTERNATIVE on HILOBROW: Joey Ramone | Dez Cadena | Jello Biafra | HR | Mike Watt | Vivienne Westwood | Iggy Pop | D. Boon | John Lydon | Henry Rollins | Palmolive | Plastic Bertrand | Kira Roessler | Lisa Carver | Frank Black | Ari Up | Gary Panter | Paul Simonon | Darby Crash | Penelope Houston | Exene Cervenka | Sid Vicious | Andrew Eldritch | Kate Pierson | Paul Westerberg | Lux Interior | Ian Dury | Stiv Bators | Tom Verlaine | Colin Newman | Johnny Thunders | Poison Ivy | Green Gartside | Lydia Lunch | Mark E. Smith | David Byrne | Debbie Harry | Captain Sensible | Mark Mothersbaugh | Kim Gordon | ALSO: The Original Generation X (1954–63) and the birth of DIY | The Original Stooge | Origin of the Pogo | Shocking Blocking: Rock’n’Roll High School | Punk fanzines from the 1970s | Post-Punk and New Wave on HiLobrow

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On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: “Joe” Carstairs, Gilbert Hernandez, Muriel Spark, Langston Hughes, Yevgeny Zamyatin.

READ MORE about members of the Original Generation X (1954–63).

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Lynn Peril is the author of Swimming in the Steno Pool: A Retro Guide to Making It in the Office. She lives in Oakland, California.