Monday, March 09, 2009

Dead Kennedys

One of the records I came across in the batch I picked up from my parents last month was the 1980 debut by San Francisco's Dead Kennedys, Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables. I got this on vinyl in the late 80s because it wasn't available on cassette or CD at the time. This was one of the first records I ever owned, along with two Sex Pistols bootlegs and a copy of Sid Vicious's atrocious solo album. Fresh Fruit was also one of my first lessons in just how user-unfriendly vinyl is. I only listened to it a handful of times, mainly because the turntable was hooked up to the family stereo in the living room.

The album opens with "Kill the Poor," which was also the Dead Kennedys first single, is a pretty amazing piece of satire, calling for the government to use the neutron bomb to kill the poor.

The sun beams down on a brand new day
No more welfare tax to pay
Unsightly slums gone up in flashing light
Jobless millions whisked away
At last we have more room to play
All systems go to kill the poor tonight

Here's a video of them playing it in San Francisco in the early 80s. One of my personal favorites is the bitter, nihilistic "Looking Forward to Death," with the wonderful chorus of "I don't need this fucking world!" I also love Nomeansno's acapella cover. There are a bunch of other classics on the album - "California Uber Alles," "Holiday In Cambodia," "Let's Lynch the Landlord," "Chemical Warfare," and of course their cover of "Viva Las Vegas." There's also a lot of filler, but the hits make the album worth it. It's not my favorite of DK's output. I've always loved their odds and sods compilation Give Me Convenience of Give Me Death, Plastic Surgery Disasters. I could never get into Frankenchrist, and Bedtime For Democracy, their last album, was an unsuccessful attempt at hardcore that is pretty horrendous, with a few exceptions.

They were a pretty geeky looking bunch, or at least not as crusty and spikey as a lot of the British bands of the era. Their sound is also a lot weirder than the straight-ahead hardcore that was becoming popular. The Dead Kennedys were in the last wave of punk bands that tried to do different things with the genre, adding in a little surf influence. They were also very political, which is largely due to front man Jello Biafra. When I was 14 Jello was one of my heroes, and I thought he was the smartest guy on earth. He had a huge influence on how I saw the world, which is a little scary because now he seems sort of like a crazy ranter. He used to do a zine called Fuck Facts which was basically collages of clippings of kooky news stories. I used to think it was brilliant, but now it seems more like the crazy meanderings of a paranoid schizophrenic. I had several of his spoken word albums back in the day, but I heard him a few weeks ago on the Sound of Young America and I couldn't do it. I mean, god bless him for keeping on keeping on, but I think as I've grown I've grown apart from Jello's political views.

I got Fresh Fruit on CD when it came out in the early 90s, but ended up selling it back to Amoeba when I got rid of a bunch of my punk and grunge CDs. I've downloaded "Looking Forward to Death" since then, and it still helps me through many a rough morning.

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