The Ingenue: Exene Cervenka
She’s a poster girl for punk, poetry and personal strength, and when Exene Cervenka calls from Cleveland, Ohio, where last night she played a rowdy gig with her band, iconic American punk rockers X, she’s exactly as you’d expect - grounded, bold, candid, wise and often very funny.
“God, we’ve been drinking like fishes on this tour!” she tells me, when I ask how last night went.
“You’d think I was too old for it, but apparently not.”
It’s been an emotional tour for the band, which formed in Los Angeles in 1977 when lead vocalist Exene joined forces with her then boyfriend Jon Doe (bass/vocals), drummer DJ Bonebrake and guitarist Billy Zoom. A huge setback for the band, Zoom was recently diagnosed with bladder cancer and is currently undergoing treatment (guitarist Jesse Dayton is standing in for the remaining shows) but Exene is positive he will overcome the illness and return to full strength.
Her own life has been an emotional tour of its own. Born in Illinois in 1956, Exene was a carefree country kid until, when she was 15, her mother died and she moved to Florida where she raised her younger sisters. In 1980, her older sister, Mirielle, a jewellery designer, was in Los Angeles walking to see X play at Whisky a Go Go when she was struck and killed by a drunk driver. In 1999, Exene was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, only to have her diagnosis rebuked and reinstated a handful of times. Though she’s no stranger to hard knocks, she’s also not one for self pity, preferring to focus on the love she has in her life, her art, her music and her family — she’s exceptionally close to her son with former husband Viggo Mortensen, Henry Blake Mortensen.