Fire on the Mountain on GuysLitWire
By Sam J. Miller
August 13th, 2014
Alternate history is like candy-coated medicine. We love it, because it's fun and wacky and imaginative and
By Sam J. Miller
August 13th, 2014
This is not a book about the Dead Kennedys career. It is more a tale of how they got together, recorded and released one of the iconic punk rock albums. The story of such a now fractured band requires a lot more discussion
Fresh fruit was different to so many other records at the time as there was no major record label providing financial supports. This was a band that were taking the shock aspect of punk and putting a positive message forward. The book charts the formation of the band as their early singles were released. The first two being “California über alles” and “Holiday in Cambodia”, both having raging guitar hooks, intelligent lyrics and breakneck rhythm. The story behind the controversy of the artwork and Biafra’s onstage antics is given great detail. How the album came about and the involvement of cherry red and subsequent setting up of alternative tentacles is included. All necessary components to the make up of the dks
Most of us now that the band did not finish on a good note or certainly the trajectory since their finish has not been a mutually happy event for the members. However it is good to see that not getting too much exposure here as that can be the sequel. For now we can read about one of the greatest albums of all time by one of the most innovative bands ever. We can get an idea of America at the time, the punk scene and the socio economic environment.
It is quite obvious, reading between the lines, that vocalist Jelllo Biafra, has a completely different outlook then guitarist east bay ray on pretty much all matters Dead Kennedys relating. It is hard to see what tale is fiction and what one isn’t but the fact is the record came out with those songs and we have been able to listen to them for years. The dead Kennedys had such a huge influence on music and this is summed up by the many quotes at the end from people like actor Elijah wood or slash from guns and roses or dave grohl from foo fighter/nirvana. The effect this album has had is phenomenal and is most worthy of the written word too
Another thing the book offers is a reminder of how great the artwork of Winston Smith is. It is reproduced here as are many of the fliers and posters of the day. Considering the author was involved in the art of punk book that came out over a year ago it is no surprise now has teamed up with once again with russ bestley to ensure that the words are accompanied with the relevant graphics and it’s all packaged very well
If you have ever listened to a punk roots and enjoyed it ten you should have a read of this
Alex Ogg is the editor of the academic journal Punk and Post-Punk and definitely has his work cut out mediating the last of the great punk rock feuds since Malcolm McLaren went to visit the Great Situationist in The Sky.
For over two decades, Jello Biafra – the lead singer of Dead Kennedys – has been at daggers drawn with his former bandmates East Bay Ray and Klaus Fluoride, and their spat shows no sign of abating.
It seems that they are unable to agree on anything. Even their memories diverge on just about every key issue. It is to Ogg’s credit that he has been able to construct such a fascinating and even-handed biography of the early days of the band, though it seems his patience has been sorely tried. The last line in the book reads, alluding to the remainder of the story: “Some other poor bastard can tackle that”.
The spirit of the age: Dead Kennedys live
The book benefits from the collaboration of Winston Smith, who was responsible for most of the Dead Kennedys' artwork and which is spread liberally throughout the book, along with Ruby Ray’s captivating photos of the early San Francisco punk scene.
Alex Ogg’s book is likely to appeal not just to misty-eyed old punks but also to young musicians who will find many words of inspiration within, such as this description of the nascent SF scene: “The pressure was not on every band to sound the same and please the audience”. A better blueprint for musical creativity is hard to find.
Early underground music compilation album released on Jello Biafra's Alternative Tentacles label
There are some unexpected collaborations revealed, such as how old beats Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg financed the SF punk fanzine Search and Destroy, and a great anecdote about the Dead Kennedys supporting Sun Ra, who reputedly enjoyed them. However their respective audiences were less enamoured of each other.
1839 Geary Street Flyer – click for a larger image
Alex Ogg has really gone the extra mile in his research and the result is a labour of love. We get insights from teenage punks who hitch-hiked after the band during their first UK tour and reminiscences from support acts.
There’s the occasional celebrity namedrop too, such as Bob Mould of Husker Du introducing Biafra to Lydon (aka. Johnny Rotten from the Sex Pistols), before making a quick exit “because I’d never get a word in edgeways!”
This book encapsulates perfectly the time when punk was a movement and not an scholastic subject. Moreover, it reminded me of how relatively late on the scene the Dead Kennedys were, especially in the context of other bands emerging the UK at the same time.
Their first UK single, California Über Alles, came out after the debuts of Gang Of Four and The Human League. Biafra claims to have listened to Joy Division’s Closer (released June 1980) while designing the artwork for the band’s debut albumFresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables.
California Über Alles satirised state governor Jerry Brown
The last section of the book consists of quotes from a pantheon of latter-day musicians attesting to the lasting influence of the wit and provocation of the Dead Kennedys. I can certainly concur with the latter, having narrowly escaped a serious battering in the 1980s for wearing a homemade I Kill Children badge, a song title from the first album.
Advertisement from the pages of Winston Smith's Fallout magazine
Dead Kennedys is a riveting read, concise without being academic. It captures the era and the spirit of the times perfectly. Alex Ogg maintains a stoic patience until the appendix, where he shows a slight bias in favour of Ray and Klaus’ claims for writing credits on the album. I’m sure Jello’s lawyers will be in touch shortly after publication.
Burning Britain is like a very large ‘zine. It’s very rambling, with lots of interjections and asides, and quite a bit of editorializing on the part of the author. Glasper is prone to describe singles or songs as “crackling with an almost tangible passion and urgency,” as he does in the case of the Underdogs’ “East of Dachau” single.
Connected to Glasper’s tendency to be either hyperbolic or minimalist — describing bands in basic one or two sentence summaries of the bands’ sounds — the fatal flaw in Burning Britain is an absolute need for the reader to be familiar with the acts in question. If you don’t know much past their singles, you’ll be lost, hoplessly adrift in a sea of anecdotes.
There are so many stories without context. There are scads of “so there we was…” tales which I am absolutely sure were hilarious when being told, but seem hopelessly overlong in print. If nothing, it does humanize these musicians, and presents them as average punters, rather than rock stars with delusions of grandeur.
I’m also trying to figure out why certain acts were left out. I understand the anarcho punks being saved for another book, but where the hell is Cock Sparrer? I get that they formed early, but their reformation and heyday was easily in the timeframe of this book. Angelic Upstarts were present during the first wave, and the Adicts formed pre-’77, so I don’t see as to why they were excluded. Shame, that.
Burning Britain is available now from PM Press, and can be purchased from their store.
A long overdue book focusing on the early years of one of punk rock’s most notorious and greatest loved bands, The Dead Kennedys.
In his prequel, author Alex Ogg reminds us that The Dead Kennedys have never been written about at length (see John Robb’s tribute here). The Ramones, Clash and Pistols have over 100 titles between them, and yet DK are arguably one of the bands that typifies punk at its best. They stuck two fingers up to the music industry and then lunged in to attack it. And who doesn’t recognise that logo?
If you don’t know the Dead Kennedys then:
For those already inducted, read on…
“Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables, The Early Years” does what it says on the tin. It starts by placing the key players and the band that would become Dead Kennedys in the context of the development of punk at a local San Francisco level and globally. It then charts their rapid progress in spite of, or possibly because of, a “cultural hand grenade of a name” from garage practices and their early performances, DIY released first 7 inch and onto their debut LP – all of which happened from their own reckoning by “pure dumb luck” – perhaps playing down the hard work and ingenuity which was partly responsible. As Louis Pasteur said “Fortune favours the prepared mind”.
Chapter titles are taken from DK songs, which is always a winner in my view, causing a wry grin. The pages are littered with band collages, Winston Smith’s art, gig flyers and Ruby Ray’s photos capturing the band in their infancy – which keeps the reader’s attention and makes this all the more difficult to put down. Photos of different covers and record middles from across the globe demonstrate how far their message spread across a world eager for acerbic high octane punk rock. There are also excerpts from the “Hard Rock” comic about DK punctuating the story of pivotal events in the band’s early stages – in itself a humorous contradiction. I’ll be returning to this volume for a cursory browse at the pictures every now and then.
Alex Ogg manages to overcome the difficult job of providing a narrative that includes conflicting versions of events from former band mates who are at loggerheads, allowing the details and trivia to froth around so the reader can decide their own version of “the truth” from whatever bubbles to the surface. He brings the story alive using interviews not only with band members, but with other contemporary witnesses including gig-goers. The writing manages to go some way to capturing the excitement, buzz, artistic freedom, true rebellion of punk rock in the early days when it really was a shock to the establishment rather than a music genre co-opted into corporate rock. I came away from reading this book marveling once again at the musicianship, lyrical satire and sarcasm, theatrics, imaginative pranks and art that made Dead Kennedys stand out all those years ago – and still stand out now. Which led to me having a DK-athon over the last week!
Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables, The Early Years is packed full of interesting facts and gossip: I found out what that line about Serpents Eggs in California Uber Alles was really about rather than having a general gist it was “something bad”; the pizza delivery job Jello had back in Boulder being the inspiration for songs like Terminal Preppie and Holiday in Cambodia, and the true identity of Norm, the producer credited for Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables. Want to know about production processes and techniques they employed to capture and embellish upon their live sound to create great records (and the obligatory conflict in the studio within the band and between the band and engineer)? That’s in here as well. Want to know who really wrote a particular song? You’ll have to make your own mind up as each stakes their claim.
A chapter based largely on a stowaway-cum-roadie’s reminiscences provides an insight into the first UK tour Dead Kennedys undertook, bringing such cultural imports as stage diving and an amusing anecdote where the band misread the crowd’s sense of humour, thinking they had themselves misread the irony in the band’s lyrics.
The end notes detailing sources and full quotes provide a deeper level of trivia that some nerds…errmm, I mean “fact fans”, will absolutely love. In the days before the internet this volume would have been a punk pub quiz host’s bible! I have to admit I skipped much of the “Yakety Yak” chapter, comprised as it is of quotes about DK from some predictable punk/HC luminaries, a few journalists and the less predictable Pete Townshend (Who?), Elijah Wood and Massive Attack. Probably even something in there to impress Bruce “Punks can’t play their instruments” Dickinson.
Russ “Dr. Punk” Bestley, responsible for the image laden design of this book, submits a 3-page profile/homage to Winston Smith, whose artwork helped amplify the sound and lyrics of DK to create notoriety on a scale the Pistols could only have dreamt of. Dada, situationism, Jamie Reid and Gee Vaucher all get a mention, of course.
The tale closes,as the title would suggest, after Fresh Fruit was released and drummer Ted left in December 1980. Alex Ogg has left unpicking the rest of the DK story for “some other poor bastard” but I think he has proven he is the man for the job (go on, you know you want to, Alex!). Whereas some band/artist biographies get bogged down in so much technical detail that you forget the generality of what you have read and lose track of what went on (I am thinking in particular of People Funny Boy by David Katz) our author has mastered the art of distillation which is just what you need to plot a path through a contentious story such as that of the Dead Kennedys. Finishing the book, I was left reflecting that the Moral Majority and PMRC couldn’t destroy the band but they have done a pretty good job on each other since via the court system. That’s another story in itself.~ Get your copy from turnaround-uk.com, activedistribution.org and pmpress.org - See more at: http://louderthanwar.com/fresh-fruit-for-rotting-vegetables-the-early-years-by-alex-ogg-book-review/#sthash.25ip858k.dpuf