Music / Dead Kennedys

http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/dkny.jpg
Biafra, Ray, Flouride, and Peligro.

"Is my cock big enough?
Is my brain small enough
For you to make me a star?
Give me a toot and I'll sell you my soul.
Pull my strings and I'll go far!"
"Pull My Strings"

The Dead Kennedys were an important Hardcore Punk band from San Francisco, who became famous for aggressive songs and socially conscious, satirical lyrics.

The band were formed in 1978 with guitarist East Bay Ray (also known as "Ray Valium"), vocalist Jello Biafra, bassist Klaus Flouride, and drummer 6025. 6025 switched to second guitar but left soon after, and Ted was recruited as drummer instead. note 

Their first single, "California Uber Alles," was released in June 1979 on their Alternative Tentacles label. It was the song that established their hallmarks: Ray's psycho surf punk riffs, Biafra's biting, sarcastic lyrics (parodying California governor Jerry Brown as a hippie fascist), and a rejection of the Strictly Formula loud fast short structure of hardcore punk. During their tour in support, they were invited to perform at the Bay Area Music Awards on 25 March 1980. In typical subversive fashion, the band started "California Uber Alles" but stopped quickly and instead played the scathing "Pull My Strings," an attack on the music industry's practices.

The same year, Jello Biafra ran for Mayor of San Francisco on a campaign that mixed serious proposals (banning cars within city limits in response to severe pollution problems, allowing neighbourhoods to elect police officers, legalizing squatting in vacant buildings) with outlandish ones (forcing businessmen to wear clown suits, erecting statues of Dan White so the parks department could sell eggs and tomatoes for people to throw at them, hiring unemployed workers as panhandlers in wealthy neighbourhoods), and using the commercial slogan: "There's always room for Jello." He finished third with 3,79% of the votes. As he shared the ballot with a Drag Queen candidate named Sister Boom Boom, the San Franciscan authorities responded by passing a law requiring all mayoral candidates in San Francisco to use their real names.

Dead Kennedys' first album, Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, was released in 1980, containing the famous songs "Kill the Poor" and "Holiday in Cambodia," plus a cover of Elvis Presley's "Viva Las Vegas." The album was a moderate chart success in the UK, boosted by the band's performances there. In May 1981 they issued the single "Too Drunk to Fuck," which reached #31 on the UK charts, giving radio programmers some headaches in the process.

Soon afterwards, Ted left the band and was replaced by D.H. Peligro, who was showcased on the In God We Trust, Inc. EP from the same year, which was an all out hardcore / thrash punk release, containing the songs "Nazi Punks Fuck Off!", which attacked Nazi punks, "Religious Vomit" and "Moral Majority", which lambasted the right wing US government at the time. Their next album, 1982's Plastic Surgery Disasters showed an evolution in the band's sound to include Surf Rock, Psychedelic Rock (it was advertised as "putting the pain back in psychedelic music"), and spaghetti western influences. Famous songs from the period include: "Bleed for Me," "Halloween," and "Moon Over Marin," their almost but not quite ballad about the ravages of pollution.

This evolution continued on 1985's Frankenchrist, which showcased more extended pieces, horns, and synthesizers. High points included the industrial "At My Job," the multi part "Stars and Stripes of Corruption," the organized sports parody "Jock-O-Rama," and the timely "M.T.V. - Get Off the Air." The band got in trouble for including H. R. Giger's "Penis Landscape" as a poster with the LP, and were charged with distributing harmful matter to minors. The case ended in a hung jury and was dismissed, but it was a Pyrrhic Victory, as the cost of the trial drove the band and Alternative Tentacles to near bankruptcy despite donations and support from their fanbase and other PMRC persecuted musicians like Frank Zappa. Exhausted, the band broke up in 1986 after releasing their last album Bedtime for Democracy, a 48 minute final tour de force employing many musical styles and their expected thought provoking lyrics, which included several songs expressing disillusionment with the state of the punk scene ("Anarchy for Sale," "Chickenshit Conformist"). One compilation of early singles and lost tracks: Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death, was released in 1987, and the band members went their own way afterward.

In the late 1990's, the band members got caught up in a complicated royalty dispute, and led to a 1998 fraud trial which stripped Jello Biafra of his rights to the back catalogue and gave them to the other members instead (he lost two further appeals and was forced to pay damages). This burned the bridges between Biafra and Ray, Flouride and Peligro thoroughly, worsened by the others inviting Biafra to reunite the Dead Kennedys, which he refused on moral principles. Dead Kennedys albums were reissued on Manifesto Records and tour dates were announced after the court victory, with Brandon Cruz replacing Jello Biafra. (Cruz, a Former Child Star, turned out to be the first in a series of Replacement Scrappys — the new DK's have had five lead singers so far.) This incarnation has been severely criticized for betraying Dead Kennedys' anti corporate ideals and touring without their most important member. Lately, the group's official site has reported that both Flouride and Peligro are leaving due to health issues, leaving Ray the sole original member.

Jello Biafra went on to become a spoken word performer and political activist, sometimes also collaborating with other bands like (Sepultura and Lard.)

Band Members:

  • Jello Biafra - Vocals, lyrics
  • East Bay Ray - Guitar
  • Klaus Flouride - Bass
  • 6025 - Drums, percussion, guitar (left 1979)
  • Ted - Drums, percussion (1979-1981)
  • D.H. Peligro - Drums, percussion (1981-1986)

Discography:

  • 1980 - Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables
  • 1981 - In God We Trust, Inc. EP
  • 1982 - Plastic Surgery Disasters
  • 1985 - Frankenchrist
  • 1986 - Bedtime for Democracy
  • 1987 - Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death

Dead Kennedys are the Trope Namers for the following tropes:


"Fresh Tropes for Rotting Indexes:"

  • Alcohol-Induced Idiocy: "Too Drunk to Fuck."
  • Anti Police Song: "Police Truck," about a group of cops joyfully indulging themselves in Police Brutality. Anti-Police themes also show up in "Stars and Stripes of Corruption" and "Nazi Punks Fuck Off."
  • Assimilation Academy: Mentioned in "Your Emotions," "Stealing Peoples' Mail," "Hyperactive Child," "Advice from Christmas Past," "Jock-O-Rama," "Insight," and "Life Sentence"... Biafra doesn't really have a good opinion of schools.
  • The Band Minus the Face: The group's controversial attempts to continue without Jello Biafra.
  • Biting-the-Hand Humor: "Pull My Strings" (mixed with Awesome Moments). Also "Holiday in Cambodia"'s skewering of pretentious, insensitive liberals.
  • Black Comedy: Jello's stage name, which juxtaposes the name of a cheap, mass produced dessert with the infamous Biafran Civil War, one of the more publicised cases of mass starvation in Africa.
  • Bookends: Plastic Surgery Disasters opens and closes with a noise freakout featuring a voice over talking about how you should be medicated into a Stepford Smiler so you can be productive at your job. It's entitled "Advice from Christmas Past" on some releases.
  • Break the Haughty: "Holiday in Cambodia" basically boils down to: "Annoying pretentious liberal who thinks he knows it all? Send him to the Khmer Rouge, that should solve it!"
  • Cluster F-Bomb: A few of their songs, such as "Nazi Punks Fuck Off" and "Too Drunk to Fuck." Probably the majority of their songs have very little to no profanity, though, especially from Plastic Surgery Disasters onward, and many other uses of the F-word in their discography count as examples of a Precision F-Strike.
  • Concept Album: Frankenchrist was one, at least according to the web site for Biafra's 2013 album White People and the Damage Done.
  • Country Matters: Dropped in "Moral Majority" towards one of several Moral Guardians targeted by the song.
  • The Cover Changes the Meaning:
    • "Viva Las Vegas." They even changed the lyrics to heighten the effect.
    • Also true for "I Fought the Law," which they rewrote to denounce Dan White getting off for killing Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone.
  • Cover Version: In addition to the examples mentioned above, they also covered David Allan Coe's "Take This Job and Shove It" and the theme song to Rawhide.
  • Cult: "Jock-O-Rama" compares high school football to one.
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: A man doing this in "Buzzbomb" meets an unfortunate end:
    Plow through rest area San-O-Lets
    Splat! goes the lonely salesman
    Wanking in the men's room
    • (In the remake, he's "still wanking in the men's room.")
  • Dead Baby Comedy : "Funland at the Beach," and, more obviously, "I Kill Children."
    I kill children. I like to see them die.
    I kill children. I make their mommies cry.
  • Digital Piracy Is Evil: Subverted with the cassette version of In God We Trust, Inc., which had a B-Side bearing the label, "Home taping is killing record industry profits! We left this side blank so you can help."
    • As a measure of how the reunited, Jello-less DK betrayed their original ideals, at one of their shows in 2010 they played a rewritten version of "M.T.V. - Get Off the Air" named "MP3 Get Off the Web." Fans were pissed.
    • On the flip side, Alternative Tentacles claims Jello's personal feelings are mixed. (More specifically, he supports piracy of music released on major labels but does not support piracy of indie labels' material, unless his feelings have changed in the past few years).
  • Dissonant Serenity: The intro and outro to Plastic Surgery Disasters are a wonderful example of this trope, as the sickeningly cheerful voice over contrasts heavily with the dystopian content of her speech and the noise freakout the band is playing underneath her.
  • Driven to Suicide: The protagonist of "Straight A's," who is pressured by his parents to excel academically and is only sought by classmates if they want to learn what will be on the test, while laughing at his misery otherwise.
  • Drives Like Crazy: "Buzzbomb."
  • Drugs and Alcohol Are Bad: From "Kinky Sex Makes the World Go 'Round:"
    Now don't worry about demonstrations; just pump up your drug supply. So many people have hooked themselves on heroin and amphetamines since we took over; it's just like Vietnam. We had everybody so busy with LSD they never got too strong. Kept the war functioning just fine. It's easy; we've got our college kids so interested in beer, they don't even care if we start manufacturing germ bombs again. Put a nuclear stockpile in their back yard, they wouldn't even know what it looked like.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: Early songs like "Forward to Death" and "Dead End" (neither written by Biafra) espouse a black nihilism and despair that's at odds with angry but decidedly pro-active stance of the vast majority of their songs.
  • The Empire: How the DKs view America. Hell, Biafra even outright calls it "an evil empire" in "Stars and Stripes of Corruption," and ends the song with: "I think I love it more than you / I care enough to fight!"
  • Ennio Morricone Pastiche: When they have horn parts they will often qualify as this ("M.T.V. - Get Off the Air" is a good example).
  • Epic Rocking: They have one song that qualifies ("Stars and Stripes of Corruption," 6:23) and five that almost do ("Riot," 5:57; "A Growing Boy Needs His Lunch," 5:50; "Cesspools in Eden," 5:55; "Chickenshit Conformist," 5:58; and "Pull My Strings," 5:45). By Hardcore Punk standards, this makes them practically a Progressive Rock band.
  • The Fundamentalist: Targets of several of their songs, most pointedly "Moral Majority." A lot of their other references are more fleeting; from "Stealing People's Mail:"
    We better not get caught
    We'll be dumped in institutions
    Where we'll be drugged and shocked
    'Til we come out born-again Christians
    • Ironically, 6025, who wrote the band's song "Religious Vomit", later became a religious fundamentalist himself.
  • Genre-Busting / Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly: In part because they played Hardcore Punk when it had still been largely an Unbuilt Trope. In some of their songs they display elements of Surf Rock, Rockabilly, Spaghetti Western soundtracks, Psychedelic Rock, and even (occasionally) Progressive Rock. A few later hardcore bands took some of these influences, but very few of them used all of them.
  • Getting Smilies Painted on Your Soul: From "Calfornia Uber Alles:"
    You will jog for the master race
    And always wear the happy face
  • God Is Dead: From "Moral Majority," directed at Moral Guardians:
    God must be dead if you're alive.
  • Godwin's Law:
    • The band invoked this trope with their first single, 1979's "California Uber Alles," which denounced the Golden State's then-Governor Jerry Brown and his hippie followers as "Zen fascists." The second half of the song fantasizes about Brown's regime killing "uncool" people with "organic poison gas." In an interview during Brown's successful 2010 campaign to be re-elected as Governor, Biafra said that: "I realized early on that maybe I'd misfired and exaggerated."
    • The song was later rewritten as "We've Got a Bigger Problem Now," with Ronald Reagan as the new target. Later, Jello (accompanied by the Melvins) did a third version criticizing yet another California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
      • Some other Dead Kennedys songs, such as "Stars and Stripes of Corruption" and "Let's Lynch the Landlord" also contain comparisons to Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust.
      • "Triumph of the Swill" mocks mindless "cock rock metal heroes" and their fans with a comparison to Leni Riefenstahl.
  • Green Aesop: "Moon Over Marin" and "Cesspools in Eden." They leave out the actual aesop, but their descriptions of the effects of destroying the environment make the message pretty clear.
  • Growing Up Sucks: With a twist in "Life Sentence:" Growing up sucks if you abandon your ideals and only care about your career.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: "California Uber Alles" portrays Jerry Brown as a hippie-fascist.
  • Honey Trap: One of the many techniques used by the Villain Protagonist in "I Am the Owl."
  • I Am the Noun: Two examples: The original song "I Am the Owl," and the Cover Version of "I Fought the Law" (which ends "I am the law, so I won!")
  • I'm a Humanitarian: "Dear Abby."
  • Intentionally Awkward Title: Jello says that they chose the band name to symbolise the death of the American Dream. They also have several song titles that qualify, most notably "Too Drunk to Fuck." The song became the first UK Top 40 song with the word "fuck" in its title, and when it was announced on the BBC, the announcer simply called it "a record by a group calling themselves the Dead Kennedys."
  • Interrupted Suicide: A sinister version (It Makes Sense in Context) of this trope can be found in the final verse of "Soup is Good Food."
  • In Love with Your Carnage: All but implied in "Kinky Sex Makes the World Go Round."
  • Jerk Jock: "Night of the Living Rednecks," an impromptu spoken word piece about Biafra's encounter with some teenaged assholes in a pickup truck who harassed him in Portland.
  • Kill the Poor: Besides the Trope Namer, it's also implied in "The Great Wall," "Shrink," and "Saturday Night Holocaust."
  • Last Note Nightmare:
    • "I can almost taste your dandruff as I reach out for your face and I STRIKE!", which abruptly closes the "someone creepy is following you on the street late at night" narrative "The Prey."
    • Not to mention the screeching, coughing fit near the end of "Chemical Warfare," which depicts rich people at a country club getting gassed to death.
    • Or the puking into the toilet bowl at the end of "Too Drunk to Fuck."
  • Life of the Party and Wild Teen Party: Hilariously parodied in "Too Drunk to Fuck."
  • List Song: Especially their hardcore punk rants.
  • Location Song: "California Uber Alles," a satirical punk song about the right wing policies of governor Jerry Brown. "Holiday In Cambodia," about the dictatorship there.
  • Loners Are Freaks: Subverted, played straight, and inverted in "Insight." The song portrays its loner protagonist as an insightful person who recognizes the pointlessness of his peers' social pursuits ("what he sees escapes our sight"), but also as a potentially disturbed kid who talks to himself and sets his papers on fire. Meanwhile, the more social kids who narrate the song seem bizarrely fixated on him ("Why doesn't he want tons of friends? WHY DOESN'T HE WANT TONS OF FRIENDS??") and beat him up when he laughs at them.
  • Loudness War: Unsurprisingly, the re-issues on Manifesto Records are generally louder than the originals on Alternative Tentacles. They're not the worst offenders out there, but there's definitely an audible difference. Another reason to Keep Circulating the Tapes.
  • Lyrical Cold Open:
    • "Jock-O-Rama" opens with Jello asking: "How 'bout them Hogs?" in a Southern drawl.
    • "Nazi Punks Fuck Off" opens with the line "Fuck Off, overproduced by Martin Hannett, take four." Overlaps with Studio Chatter somewhat, but it's a joke; Hannett never worked with the band.
    • "Short Songs" opens with the Lampshade Hanging "Rick Wakeman, eat your heart out!"
    • "Rawhide" also opens with Jello delivering some Studio Chatter in a Southern drawl.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: A favourite technique of theirs. To name one of many examples, the beautiful ballad "Moon Over Marin" is about how the Earth and oceans are poisoned and all life on the planet is dying off.
  • The Man Is Sticking It to the Man: "Anarchy for Sale" is about this phenomenon.
  • Mighty Whitey: "Hop with the Jet Set."
  • Miniscule Rocking: "A Child and His Lawnmower" (0:54) and the Lampshade Hanging "Short Songs" (0:20). The latter even gets a funny lampshade at the start:
    Rick Wakeman, eat your heart out!
  • Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: They had a wider variety of material than most Hardcore bands, with their shortest, fastest, noisiest tunes being in the hard 7 / low 8 range, most of their tunes being in the 6-7 range and the odd outlier falling below that.
  • Moral Guardians: Defeated by the band in a Pyrrhic Victory. Additionally, some of their songs are directed at them (most pointedly "Moral Majority").
  • Motor Mouth: Jello's breakneck delivery of the anti-consumerist rant "Drug Me."
  • Music Is Politics: Several of their songs are directly about this trope, most notably "Pull My Strings," which they performed at a music industry awards show. "Pull My Strings" addresses the payola scandal (at the same time as a Take That to The Knack's "My Sharona") as well as the Hotter and Sexier tendencies of the music industry and a number of other tropes related to record industry politics.
  • No Ending: The reprise of "Advice from Christmas Past" (see Bookends above) just cuts off without warning.
  • N-Word Privileges: Averted with "Holiday in Cambodia" for the purpose of mocking white liberals who think they're immune to racism:
    "Braggin' that you know how the niggers feel cold"
    "And the slums got so much soul"
    • Also in "We've Got a Bigger Problem Now" as a Take That to racist Reagan supporters:
    Ku Klux Klan will control you
    Still, you'll think it's natural
    Nigger knocking for the master race
    Still, you wear the happy face
    • (As an aside, it should perhaps be noted that drummer D.H. Peligro is African-American; though he didn't play on either the single or the album version of "Holiday in Cambodia," he did play on "We've Got a Bigger Problem Now." Additionally, this trope is generally played straight when either Jello or the Kennedys perform "Holiday in Cambodia" these days, as the lyrics are generally Bowdlerised).
  • Police Brutality: "Police Truck," as well as "Goons of Hazzard," and a passing mention in "Riot."
  • Post-Apocalyptic Gas Mask: The protagonist of "Moon Over Marin" apparently needs one to go outside.
  • Precision F-Strike: Most occurrences of the F-word in their discography count as this (i.e. "Terminal Preppie," "Trust Your Mechanic," "Hellnation," etc.), but they have a few that fall under Cluster F-Bomb.
  • Protest Song: Virtually their entire body of work.
  • Religion Rant Song: "Religious Vomit" is a Type 2 and "Moral Majority" is primarily a Type 3 (with a bit of Type 2 in the chorus).
  • Ripped from the Headlines: "A Child and His Lawnmower" is based on a news story where a man in Sacramento, California shot his lawnmower for not functioning.
  • Rock Me, Amadeus!: "Chemical Warfare" contains an excerpt of "Sobre las Olas" by Mexican composer Juventino Rosas in its bridge.
  • Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll: Mocked in "Pull My Strings."
    I ain't no artist; I'm a businessman
    No ideas of my own
    I won't offend or rock the boat
    Just sex and drugs and rock and roll.
  • Shout-Out:
    • To Dr. Seuss in "Holiday in Cambodia." ("You're a Star-Bellied Sneetch, you suck them like a leech, you want everyone to act like you.")
    • "Too Drunk to Fuck" has one to David Lynch, with the line "You bawl like the baby in Eraserhead!
    • "Jock-O-Rama" has two to Collegiate American Football, which also double as Genius Bonuses if the listener is familiar with it (apt, considering the topic of the song). The song opens with the line: "How 'bout them Hogs?", and the final chorus is introduced with a loud, "Hook 'em Horns!", sayings between fans of the Arkansas Razorbacks and the Texas Longhorns (historically known to be rival teams), respectively.
    • Because some retailers objected to the title of "Too Drunk to Fuck," the band supplied a sticker that said, "Caution: You are the victim of yet another stodgy retailer afraid to warp your mind by revealing the title of this record so peel slowly and see..."
    • "Advice from Christmas Past," the title the intro to Plastic Surgery Disasters was given on some releases of the album, refers to A Christmas Carol.
    • Early vinyl pressings of Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables had the phrase: "Well? Who are the Brain Police?" etched in the run out grooves, referring to a song from Frank Zappa's Freak Out.
    • "Rambozo the Clown" features The Stinger "Hey Rocky, watch me pull a massacre out of my pants" followed by the inevitable "Again?"
    • "Night of the Living Rednecks" to Night of the Living Dead.
    • They remade "Buzzbomb" with comical vocals intended to sound like an old woman as "Buzzbomb from Pasadena." This is likely intended as a nod to surf music group Jan and Dean's hit "Little Old Lady from Pasadena," another song about someone who Drives Like Crazy.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Most of the band's output sticks to cynically lambasting the problems of society, but they have some songs and lyrics that, despite the presentation, are more idealistic, landing them somewhere in the middle. "Stars and Stripes of Corruption," for instance, combines a long tirade against jingoism, xenophobia, disastrous foreign policy, and "the blind Me Generation" with verses like: "We can start by not lying so much / And treating other people like dirt / It's easy not to base our lives / On how much we can scam" and "Look around, we're all people / Who needs countries anyway?"
  • Slipping a Mickey and/or Tampering with Food and Drink: When You Have Outlived Your Usefulness, the Villain Protagonist of "I Am the Owl" will drug you with LSD and turn you loose on a freeway.
  • Spoken Word in Music: The intro and outro to Plastic Surgery Disasters, "M.T.V. - Get Off the Air," "A Commercial," "Kinky Sex Makes the World Go 'Round," and "Night of the Living Rednecks." Also, see Lyrical Cold Open above.
  • Stage Names: All band members.
  • Standard Snippet: The bridge of "Chemical Warfare" uses one from the waltz "Over the Waves" for the sake of Lyrical Dissonance. It's immediately followed by the Last Note Nightmare mentioned above.
  • Stepford Smiler: Some of their songs mock people who act like this, like "Terminal Preppie," "Well Paid Scientist," "Your Emotions," "Trust Your Mechanic," "The Man with the Dogs," "Life Sentence," and "Halloween."
  • Stepford Suburbia: "This Could Be Anywhere (This Could Be Everywhere)."
  • Stylistic Suck: The musicianship in "Short Songs" is deliberately atrocious. The band were actually rather technically proficient musicians.
  • Surprisingly Gentle Song: They have a few.
  • Take That: Boatloads. About nine out of every ten songs they wrote, if not more.
  • Take This Job and Shove It: They covered the Trope Namer.
  • Taking You with Me: "Gone with My Wind."
  • Three Chords and the Truth: Subverted. Their songs are more complex and satirical than most punk bands' are, though they have many of the same Protest Song themes.
  • Title Only Chorus: "California Uber Alles," "Too Drunk to Fuck" (the first time, anyway), "Chemical Warfare," "Nazi Punks Fuck Off," "Drug Me," "Viva Las Vegas," "Hellnation," "This Could Be Anywhere (This Could Be Everywhere)," "A Growing Boy Needs His Lunch," "M.T.V. - Get Off the Air," "Rambozo the Clown," "Triumph of the Swill," and so on. (Technically, two of the lines in "California Uber Alles" repeat the words of the title in a different order, but it still counts). "Kill the Poor" comes close but just misses out due to a "tonight" at the end of each line, as do "Terminal Preppie" (which starts out with "I'm a") and "Bleed for Me" (which has a "C'mon").
  • Torture Technician: The Villain Protagonist of "Bleed for Me."
  • Uncommon Time: Part of the chorus of "M.T.V. - Get Off the Air" is in 5/4. Because of the shouted nature of the chorus and the underlying percussion, the effect of this section is roughly the musical equivalent of a boot to the head.
  • You Are Number 6: From "At My Job:" "Your time card says your name's Joe / But we'll call you 6-3-0."
  • Your Cheating Heart: Referred to in "I Am the Owl."

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