Even in lovin’, it’s who you know

Brianna Riplinger

Although John Doe once fronted one of America’s most important, intelligent punk bands, you might know him better from his film career. His comical role as the father of child bride Winona Ryder in the Jerry Lee Lewis bio-pic “Great Balls of Fire” was outstanding. In addition to that film, he has appeared in more than 20 others since 1985, including “Boogie Nights” and “The Good Girl,” and continues to act as well as record and tour both as a solo act and with a band.

Refreshingly approachable and quite funny, Doe describes himself as “sort of famous.” “To some people I’m really something, and to others Ö I’m just John Doe,” he quipped while munching on breakfast in a Sacramento hotel room last weekend. Avid fans and students of rock history still see him as the songwriting god of poetic and politically-minded Los Angeles rockabilly-punk band X. Casual VH1 viewers, however, might not recognize the scope of his music and influence.

Doe still tours with his former band every now and then. “I wouldn’t do it if it sucked, if it was a pale representation,” he said. “I don’t think it is. We have fun and people get a chance to see us.” Look for X to come to Minneapolis in the near future – Doe said it’s a possibility. “This year we’ll probably do 30 or 40 shows, and we’re going to try and do the Midwest and the East Coast,” he said.

Since X, Doe has transformed his musical style to a more subdued, country-infused sound. But the musician’s lyrics still stand out, showcasing his vivid and particularly literary style. Discussing the love of words he employs in both careers, Doe said he sees things viscerally. “In acting, the words are not all that important. The biggest charge is the actual being there, involved in a scene Ö feeling how it works and then letting it go,” he said. “I think singing is much more physical. I enjoy singing the best. Singing and recording.”

With his latest solo release, “Dim Stars, Bright Sky,” Doe’s earlier punk snarl is noticeably absent. “It’s not that I don’t like punk anymore, it’s just that I don’t write it anymore,” he said. “I listen to more songwriters, like the people who sang on the record.” The guest talent on the album, produced with Joe Henry, includes Jakob Dylan, Aimee Mann, Juliana Hatfield and Rhett Miller. To Doe, “Dim Stars, Bright Sky” sounds like a “’60s record.” His goal was to feature piano over guitar and keep the drums low in its production.

On the beautiful, soulful “This Far,” Doe harmonizes with Aimee Mann. The artist gets excited just thinking about his first encounter with Mann. “How she bends a note, up from a half step, down, up to the note. The first time she did that in the studio, I got weak in the knees,” Doe gushed. “I was like, ‘Ooooooooh!’ I felt like a school girl; it’s a great feeling.”

As for the current state of punk rock, Doe says there are still worthy bands out there. “I think Green Day is a great band. Billy Joe has an incredible knack for writing, like, Clash songs, but actually delivering more in the pop world. He’s a marvelous performer,” says Doe. “Punk is a subculture now, and that’s a great place for it now. I don’t listen to it that much, but it’s good.”

Doe’s current, un-punk tour make-up includes piano, upright bass and acoustic guitar. “We play X songs, we play other solo record songs Ö kind of a listening thing,” Doe said with a laugh. “Not a lot of slamming, not a lot of stage diving, but that’s ok.”

John Doe performs with Virgil Shaw and Zubat and Dawson at 10 p.m. tonight at the 400 Bar (612) 332-2903, 21 +, $10.

Brianna Riplinger welcomes comments at [email protected]