Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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DEAD KENNEDYS

Punk act formed San Francisco '78: US equivalent of Sex Pistols undoubtedly infl. by their late '77 tour; like them adopted pseudonyms. Lineup: Jello Biafra, vocals; East Bay Ray (aka Ray Valium), guitar; Klaus Fluoride, bass; Ted, drums. Objective was to shock rock mainstream and satirize West Coast lifestyle, as in first single 'California Uber Alles'. Signed by Miles Copeland; milked outrage from titles like 'Too Drunk To Fuck' (top 40 UK '81 despite airplay ban), 'Kill The Poor' (no. 49 '80). In USA their name alone was enough to ensure commercial failure. Formed label Alternative Tentacles to promote similarly ostracized groups (compilation LP Let Them Eat Jellybeans); themselves appeared on compilations on various labels; first own LP Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables '80 on Copeland's IRS label; then Plastic Surgery Disasters '82 on own label. Occasionally intelligent lyrics amid musical mayhem: 'Nazi Punks Fuck Off' and 'Holiday In Cambodia' attacked both ends of political spectrum; their refusal to compromise and anachronistic punk thrash made them forerunners of US 'hardcore' music movement of mid-'80s. Ted replaced by Bruce Slexinger, then by J. H. Pelligro. Biafra ran for mayor of San Francisco '79 on a platform requiring businessmen to wear clown suits, came fourth out of ten in poll; also made solo EP Witch Trial '81 with UK keyboardist Morgan Fisher on New Rose label. LP Frankenchrist '85 led to lawsuit over obscenity of poster; Bedtime For Democracy '86 was followed by split. Fluoride made Cha Cha Cha With Mr Fluoride '86 incl. cover of 'Ghost Rider'; Kennedys compilation Give Me Convenience Or Give Me Death '87 saw approving press describe Biafra as a political performance artist.