In 1996, Exene Cervenka and DJ Bonebrake of lengendary LA punk band X joined with Rancid bass demigod Matt Freeman to form Auntie Christ, a fusion of X’s rockabilly roots and Rancid’s 90’s punk. They released only one album, 1997’s Life Could Be a Dream, but Auntie Christ’s example is less about the longevity of their career and more about updating music and message.
At Life Could Be a Dream’s release, Sharps & Flats’ Joe Heim introduced the album thus:
From the start, Bonebrake and Freeman set a pace that is blistering and unforgiving. And while Cervenka’s guitar playing won’t remind anyone of legendary X guitarist Billy Zoom, she more than holds her own throughout as the band tears its way through their two-and-a-half-minute novellas, “I Don’t,” “The Future is a War” and “Not You.” On “I Don’t,” Exene repeatedly wails what is as good a punk mantra as any: “I don’t think anyone’s coming to save us.”
Heim also praised Auntie Christ’s return to “the straight-ahead, speed-punk landscape that X staked out so brilliantly on their first two albums, Los Angeles (1980) and Wild Gift (1981).” Heim and I part ways here. Those first two albums were formative American punk albums, but they don’t keep up Life Could Be a Dream’s sprint. To equate them ignores the genre’s progression and what Life Could Be a Dream symbolized.
For example, the only chance Auntie Christ fans have to catch their breath is the grinder “The Nothing Generation,” where Cervenka lays out her frustration with the excesses of a vapid Generation-X. But even that track, when Cervenka’s frustration climaxes, accelerates into dizzying fall where she brands Gen-Xers “sheep.” (Who knows what she’d say about smart-phone zombies.)
It was 1997 and Cervenka saw 90’s America as stuck in a “Bad Trip.”
But don’t think of it as a PSA. Life Could Be a Dream brings a classic punk message—frustration and disdain for the mainstream—which is funny considering the 90’s saw punk enter the mainstream, holding a level of popularity never before seen. Freeman’s other band Rancid even named their 1995 album …And Out Come the Wolves because record labels were aggressively courting them.
Life Could Be a Dream has a similar sentiment. And Cervenka, Bonebrake, and Freeman shake their listeners by bringing X’s rockabilly flourishes—like the hammering from power chords and rockabilly riffs of “Rat in the Tunnel of Love”—to the ‘90s punk sound.
And with that wild gift, listeners have a model for further genre fusion, as well as a reminder that those early bands like X had something good going, even if they weren’t on the radio or MTV any longer.
In a time before widespread Internet access, that linkage could prove critical for young punks. I hadn’t heard of X in 2000, the year I first heard Auntie Christ. But then I did, and they’ve been in my collection since.