Reason #286: Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables
That the Dead Kennedys are listed as “Pop/Rock” in the Allmusic archives is telling. What was once considered “punk”, or “hardcore”, or “thrash” is no longer. Time has softened it’s edges as harder, faster bands have come and changed the game, so much so that upon listening to this debut album by the Dead Kennedys, once the very definition of “hardcore”, now seems more like a darn good heavy, Dick Dale and Ronald Reagan (and, interestingly, California Governor Gerry Brown)* inspired rock album. Back in da day it also carried with it a whiff of danger and was considered quite subversive. And, in my opinion, it still does, and it still is.
During my mid teens I was angry about a number of things, too involved and personal to get into here, and the music of The Dead Kennedys was the perfect prescription for my angst. There were other bands too, of course, but the only ones that I have kept with me into adulthood, really, are The DK’s, a Vancouver Canada based band called SNFU, The Sex Pistols, The Damned, The Clash and The Ramones. The Dead Kennedys stood out, still stand out actually, not only because their music sounded so spectacularly different from their British counterparts, but because of singer/songwriter/lyricist Jello Biafra. He has survived to this day because he is smart, socially and politically relevant, witty and not above poking fun at himself and his image from time to time (youtube “Jello Biafra Portlandia” to see a good example of what I’m talking about). Henry Rollins and even John Lydon are similar examples of what it takes to succeed after punk rock.
Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables was the first album by the DK’s and contains some of their best known songs: Holiday In Cambodia, California Uber Alles and Kill The Poor. If these titles offend you you’ve missed the point completely. Biafra used lyrics as a way to get his point across in literal and sarcastic ways, and he left it up to the listener to ascertain which was which, and sometimes people just didn’t get it. The rest of the songs run the gambit from passable to great, chief among them the cover of Viva Las Vegas, the hilarious Let’s Lynch The Landlord and Stealing Peoples Mail. It’s not my favorite DK album (that would be the follow up), but it’s still worth your time if you’ve even the most passing interest in what constituted “punk” in the early 1980’s.
*For those of you not from the States, or from California for that matter, Gerry Brown was Governor of California from ’75-‘83, and was elected AGAIN in 2011, which makes this song relevant again after 30 years!
OK, so I did it for ya. Here’s that Portlandia skit: