Exene Cervenka Opens Up About New X Tour and Billy Zoom’s Cancer Battle

[Editor’s note: You can support Billy Zoom’s GoFundMe drive at https://www.gofundme.com/yx66a4]

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As one of the biggest bands to come out of the Los Angeles punk scene in the ’70s and ’80s, X has been through it all – a handful of albums, tours, changes in their lineup and a brief hiatus before regrouping in the late 1990s. They have consistently played shows and toured since returning to the scene, and although they have not released any new music as a collective since 1984’s Ain’t Love Grand!, they continue to receive great critical praise over their live performances.

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The band’s most recent set of shows, however, was introduced with some unfortunate news.

On July 9th, X announced that guitarist Billy Zoom had been diagnosed with bladder cancer, and aside from the first four shows at The Observatory in Santa Ana, CA, he would not be accompanying the band during their three-month stint of shows, as he would be seeking immediate and intensive treatment for the disease.

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“I just love Billy so much,” says lead singer Exene Cervenka. “I’ve known him for 40 years. I just worship him. He’s the funniest, smartest person in the world – it’s really sad.”

This isn’t the first time members of the band have dealt with health issues – in 2010, Zoom announced that he had been successfully treated for prostate cancer, and in 2009, Cervenka released a statement that she had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, which she later found out was misdiagnosed.

“Life is not easy,” Cervenka continues, “but you know, Billy always quotes Betty Davis when she says, ‘Getting old isn’t for sissies.’ We’re getting older, but we’re moving along.”

At the time of publication, Zoom had just started chemotherapy at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles and was doing “as well as can be expected for someone in his situation,” according to Cervenka. “I really think he’ll be fine – he’s got a good prognosis, so we’re hoping for the best.”

With Zoom unable to travel with the band, X enlisted the help of Texas-based guitarist Jesse Dayton (Waylon Jennings, Supersuckers) to temporarily fill in alongside the rest of the original X line up – Cervenka, vocalist/bassist John Doe, and and drummer D.J. Bonebreak.

While Cervenka says the absence of Zoom is undeniably noticeable, Dayton’s charisma has helped to make the transition a little easier. “After just one rehearsal, he stepped right up and knew all the songs. He’s very talented, very artistic and very professional – and he’s fun to be around. He’s the perfect person to have here filling in,” Cervenka continues. “He’s playing the songs like they’re X songs, while putting his own personality into them. He just goes out there and tears it up while making sure the audience is having a great time.”

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There’s no doubt that X has felt the love of their audience, and after almost 40 years of being in the industry, they’ve built a fan base that continually supports the band through it all.

Less than 24 hours after Zoom’s illness was made public, fans and friends donated well over the goal of $50,000 to a GoFundMe account set up by X’s tour manager, Mike Rouse, to help Zoom and his family support themselves as he went through treatment. “In the music community, we all take turns helping each other out and have since the beginning,” Rouse wrote on the GoFundMe page. “Punk rock and benefits always went hand in hand: you name the cause, and the bands and fans will be there.”

X’s Facebook page has been flooded with comments like, “Kick cancer’s ass, Billy!” – all sending wishes for a speedy recovery.

“I think he’s overwhelmed by the love people have given him and his family, and the amount of money that was donated,” Cervenka says. “It brings tears to my eyes. I had no idea what to expect, but the audiences have been so overwhelmingly supportive through it all.”

And that support, she said, is what keeps the band going, especially through the hard times.

“It’s tough because there’s a part of me that feels like I shouldn’t be having a good time out here – almost like a weird survivor’s guilt,” she explains, “but we know that the fans want us to have a good time and they want to have a good time. They are celebrating that we’re here, and even if Billy isn’t; they know he is here in spirit and they are supporting him by coming out.”

In less than two weeks, close to 2,000 people raised over $80,000, and the support continues to trickle in, as donations are made on the GoFundMe page almost hourly.

The support has been so phenomenal that the band is working on setting up a “Billy Zoom Cancer Grant” through the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund, a non-profit organization based out of LA that aims to give financial assistance to musicians who are struggling to make ends meet while facing illnesses, disability or other ailments.

“All of the money that isn’t used will be donated,” says Cervenka, “so if there is a guitar player or drummer or someone out there with cancer, this money can go to help that person who may not have the name recognition or support. You can keep the fund going in his name, and I think that’s the best way to honor him is by knowing that he is helping other people because he’s a very good person.”

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The future is inevitably uncertain, but for X, the support they continue to receive throughout the years has allowed them to consistently do what they love most – tour and perform.

“Bands are always waiting for what’s next. I think it’s the same for everyone in the creative industry whether you’re an artist or writer or whatever, you just kind of have to hope that the phone will ring for that next gallery opening or gig,” Cervenka says. “Luckily for us, the phones keep ringing.”

At this point, the band’s main focus is to do whatever they can to ensure Zoom is healthy and cancer free, but Cervenka said that so long as the fans keep coming, you can expect to catch X performing for many more years to come – and, in confidence, she says, with Billy alongside them.

“We want to keep playing and we hope that once Billy gets better and feels up to it that we can get back on the road. I hope we just keep getting to play because I really love it and value it more every day for these very reasons,” Cervenka says. “It’s been a great run for X, and I never want it to end.”

For a list of upcoming shows, or more information on how to send support to Billy Zoom’s GoFundMe campaign, visit xtheband.com.


Fri/11-27 San Diego, CA – Casbah
Sat/11-28 San Diego, CA – Casbah
Thu/12-03 Los Angeles, CA – The Roxy
Fri/12-04 Los Angeles, CA – The Roxy
Sat/12-05 Los Angeles, CA – The Roxy
Sun/12-06 Los Angeles, CA – The Roxy
Fri/12-11 San Juan Capistrano, CA – The Coach House
Tue/12-15 San Francisco, CA – The Independent
Wed/12-16 San Francisco, CA – The Independent
Fri/12-18 Seattle, WA – Showbox
Sat/12-19 Portland, OR – The Star Theatre
Sun/12-20 Portland, OR – The Star Theatre
Thu/12-31 Agoura Hills, CA – The Canyon Club

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