Dead Kennedys is a particularly vile and vicious name. Today, there is a long list of dead Kennedys but in the late '70s, before bad behavior and countless scandals, sullied the famous family's name, the Kennedys were much revered. Then, there were only three dead Kennedys, all seen as heroes - eldest son Joseph, killed during World War II, the assassinated president, John, and his kid brother, senator Robert or Bobby (who was running for president when he was shot). So naming a Punk band after an adored American family, with a mortality rate five times the national average, was not only disrespectful, it was downright blasphemous. Which is exactly why they went there.
Jello Biafra was hanging out in Boulder but not finding it to his liking he lit out for San Francisco where he formed the Dead Kennedys. But SF was hardly a Punk refuge. No matter. Vocalist/primary instigator Biafra, guitarist East Bay Ray, bassist Klaus Flouride and drummer J.H. Pelligro gave the left coast its most credible Punk band.
It was a quixotic adventure. Biafra was about as self-contradictory as they come. He hated politicians but ran for mayor of SF. He lost. And that likely fueled his left-wing - with a bullet through it- vengeance.
The Kennedys were revolutionary group with an abundance of causes but hardly any audience. They released over a half a dozen albums in their initial run but it was "Frankenchrist" that did them in - not for musical or artistic reasons. Well, maybe so. First, the album's cover showed Shriners (with their funny hats and all) driving around in the little cars that have graced parades all around the country. Seems the Shriners had a problem with their image being used on a nasty, Punk album cover. But that snafu was nothing. The album included a H.R. Giger poster called "Landscape XX" or male sex organs on parade engaged in... well, what do you think? But when you look at the poster it hardly looks sexual. More like assembly-line madness. Just the point.
In the end (sort of speak), the law busted Biafra for profanity - he was later acquitted. The stress and strain took its toll. There was one more album before they pulled the plug. Biafra continued as an outspoken, if hardly noticed, relevant radical.
It's Punk. Everything is done at hyper speed. There are people, only now, just understanding what Biafra was saying. The group tosses satire and rage into the same pot along with Surf guitar riffs and Punk noise. To top it off, they execute hard-edged renditions of campy songs. Commercially, it was a non-starter. So?
'86 release "Bedtime For Democracy" (a take on then president Reagan's best acting job - outside of politics) is a killer album. There's a brilliant take on Johnny Paycheck's Country classic "Take This Job And Shove It ." But why stop there when there's plenty of mid-80s flotsam to rail against? Check out "Rambozo The Clown" ( jeez, can't a Stallone action figure get a break from the left?), "Fleshdance" (after the hit movie "Flashdance") and "Anarchy For Sale," a cut to the chase version of the Sex Pistols' raver.
"Frankenchrist" ('85), the album the caused such a stir, has a couple of sure-fire Punk anthems in the jerky, good-natured, "Soup Is Good Food" (a smart take on the Campbell's slogan) and the cheeky "MTV Get Off The Air," where they ponder the future of Rock n' Roll. The title tips their hand.
Be sure you pick up "Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables" ('80). This set features the charming "Kill The Poor" and a knock out version of Elvis Presley's warped classic "Viva Las Vegas."
Biafra, on his own hook, is a ranting machine. Unless you've drifted to the far left and never shave (or bathe) any part of your body and only eat vegetables grown without fertilizer and live in the hills of Idaho, not too far from the Nazis, will any of Biafra's wisdom make sense. Good luck.