Short Story in a Song — “I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts”

It’s hard to imagine a more influential LA punk band than X. With a sound that’s equal parts punk, roots rock and hard-driving rock and roll, X has been dodging easy classification since they burst onto the Hollywood scene 40 years ago. In that time they have released some of the most iconic songs this town has ever heard. One of my personal favorites is “I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts” from the 1983 album More Fun In The New World. Performed with acoustic guitars and a shuffling snare beat, the power in this song comes from the lyrics and the dual lead vocals by Exene Cervenka and John Doe.

“I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts” also makes for a great dystopian short story. The action starts with our narrator having a debate with him/herself on a crowded city sidewalk. The world, as they see it, has become divided on every issue, with debate too easily giving way to violence. Wars break out, people starve, and chaos rules the day. But there’s nothing our protagonist can do despite a position of privilege, so s/he tries to force those thoughts away instead. This continued inaction fuels an overwhelming sense of hopelessness and guilt that the narrator eventually turns inward to examine his/her own helplessness in the face of obscurity.

Read the full lyrics for X’s “I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts” right HERE.

More “Short Story in a Song” posts:

S.W. Lauden is the author of the Greg Salem punk rock P.I. series includes BAD CITIZEN CORPORATIONGRIZZLY SEASON and HANG TIME (Rare Bird Books). He is also the co-host of the Writer Types podcast. Steve lives in LA.



  1. 35 years later and there are still plenty of days when a song like this will move you to weep for America. 10/29/19 – days after a white nationalist killed 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue and another killed two black folks in a grocery store in Kentucky. The music and singing is timeless, and apparently so are John and Exene’s desperate voices.

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