When Dead Kennedys went into the studio in 1981 to record In God We Trust, Inc., their “tribute” EP to the faster, thrashier “hardcore” musical style associated with the Washington, DC punk scene (think Minor Threat) the first sessions were laid down on defective tape stock, so they had to go back to the studio to record it again a few months later.
In 2003, videotapes of the band working out the arrangements and recording the songs during that initial session (taped for a documentary on punk rock) were released as The Lost Tapes on DVD. A raw mix was fed directly into the line inputs of the camera, so the audio is immediate and powerful. Using techniques that did not exist in 1981, five of the eight songs recorded during the first In God We Trust, Inc. session were eventually restored.
For In God We Trust, Inc., the group updated their anti-Jerry Brown screed, “California Über Alles” as a cocktail jazz redux inserting-newly inaugurated President Ronald Reagan’s name in for the young governor who had succeeded him. (Brown was re-elected California’s governor in 2010.) Jello Biafra and the rest of the band, of course, don’t see eye to eye today, but the band captured during that ill-fated studio session was absolutely raw and on fire. Drummer D.H. Peligro had just joined the group at this time and he brought a lot to the DK’s sound.
I bought In God We Trust, Inc. on a music cassette. The b-side was blank and the label bore the words “Home taping is killing record industry profits! We left this side blank so you can help.” LISTEN TO THIS LOUD!
The third and final installment of “The Art of Punk,” MOCA-TV‘s great web series that looks at the increasingly historically important graphic design of the punk era. This time around, Jello Biafra and Winston Smith talk about the “look” of Dead Kennedys’ posters, handbills and record covers and explain how the logo came about.
There’s a wonderful moment here when Biafra—generously giving credit where it’s historically due—explains his “aha!” moment, when he realized that collaborating creatively with Smith would allow him to present foldouts, posters and booklets ala Crass, but funny.
I thought that was really interesting. Another fun fact: The cover for In God We Trust, Inc. came before the EP did.
2007. Les Savy Fav releases Let’s Stay Friends. Not only does Les Savy Fav treat you to sweaty, powerful performances with plenty of partial nudity and plenty of beard, they also treat you to some of the finest songs ever written.
Music History in GIFs is exactly what the title says. The 8-bit animations are by Brooklyn-based guitarist Joshua Carrafa who’s in the band Old Monk.
Below each GIF is a caption written by Carrafa.
1986. Jello Biafra and Alternative Tentacles are dragged in to court and charged with “distributing harmful matter to minors” over the visual and lyrical content of the Dead Kennedys album Frankenchrist. After the police raid Biafra’s house and lawyers probe through the album, they remember there is some law or something that says you can’t censor that kind of stuff.
1979. Frank Zappa releases Sheik Yerbouti. He masters the combination of humor and music, and it becomes his most successful album. His song titles are dead serious though, like “I Have Been In You,” “Broken Hearts Are for Assholes,” and “Jewish Princess.”
The whole PMRC music censorship flap of the 80s and 90s is a rare—BUT NO LESS DEFINITIVE—example of Democrats being just as bad, if not far worse, than Republicans can be.
The PMRC (“Parent Music Resource Group”) was headed by Al Gore’s then wife, Tipper Gore and Susan Baker, wife of Bush I’s then Treasury Secretary, James Baker, two bored Washington socialite busy-bodies who wanted to “make a difference” and get on tee-vee and stuff. Although the PRMC was nominally non-partisan, I blame the Democrats for supporting it more than I blame the Republicans (they didn’t call those Parental Advisory warnings “Tipper Stickers” for nuthin’).
The whole thing made it impossible for me to vote for Bill Clinton, with Gore as his running mate (both elections) and I didn’t vote for Gore in 2000, either. Clearly at one point in his public career, Al Gore backed censorship and thought crime as a winning political stance—he supported his wife’s efforts all the way—and frankly I didn’t need to know that much more about him. Gore might have rehabilitated himself somewhat with his environmental advocacy in recent years, but I still suspect that underneath he’s a total dickhead, nevertheless…
In 1990, The Oprah Winfrey Show hosted former Dead Kennedy Jello Biafra, Tipper Gore, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, future Fox News pundit, Juan Williams, Ice-T and Nelson George to discuss the PMRC issue.
For those of you too young to have lived through this, here a succinct bit of background from Biafra’s Wikipedia entry that will fill you in:
In April 1986, police officers raided his house in response to complaints by the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC). In June 1986, L.A. deputy city attorney Michael Guarino, working under City Attorney James Hahn, brought Biafra to trial in Los Angeles for distributing “harmful material to minors” in the Dead Kennedys album Frankenchrist. In actuality, the dispute was about neither the music nor the lyrics from the album, but rather the print of the H. R. Giger poster Landscape XX (Penis Landscape) [NSFW link] included with the album. Biafra believes the trial was politically motivated; it was often reported that the PMRC took Biafra to court as a cost-effective way of sending a message out to other musicians with content considered offensive in their music.
Music author Reebee Garofalo argued that Biafra and Alternative Tentacles may have been targeted because the label was a “small, self-managed and self-supported company that could ill afford a protracted legal battle.” Facing the possible sentence of a year in jail and a $2000 fine, Biafra, Dirk Dirksen, and Suzanne Stefanac founded the No More Censorship Defense Fund, a benefit made up of several punk rock bands, to help pay for his legal fees, which neither he nor his record label could afford. The jury deadlocked 5 to 7 in favor of acquittal, prompting a mistrial; despite a motion to re-try the case, the judge ordered all charges dropped. The Dead Kennedys disbanded during the trial, in December 1986, due to the mounting legal costs; in the wake of their disbandment, Biafra made a career of his spoken word performances. His early spoken word albums focused heavily on the trial (especially in High Priest of Harmful Matter), which made him renowned for his anti-censorship stance.
No one has posted Biafra’s amazing 45-minute long “Tales from the Trial” rant on YouTube, but I’m sure it’s pretty easy to track down.
Below, highlights of Jello Biafra absolutely eviscerating Tipper Gore’s pro-censorship arguments. This is an amazing piece of history, it really is:
Joey Ramone and Eric Boucher (aka Jello Biafra) in Denver, Colo. 1977
Here’s a clip of the always witty, acerbic and insightful Jello Biafra on Canadian TV show The Hour.
I’ve known Jello since he was an 18-year-old hippie in Boulder, Colorado. He was one of the smartest kids I’d ever met with an incredible knowledge of rock and roll and a radical, edgy sensibility. At a time when most longhairs where luxuriating in the Rocky Mountain High vibe, Jello was busy inhaling vinyl and sniffing grooves. We first met in a used record store. I think he was buying some Roxy Music and T. Rex.
He was one of a handful of Boulder teenagers who supported my punk band in 1976. He’d help carry my group’s equipment at gigs so he’d get into clubs that had a 21-years and older door policy. I’m not sure but that might have gotten him into his first Ramones’ show when I opened for them in 1977 in Denver.
I’ve literally watched Jello grow from a brilliant kid into a brilliant adult. I love the fucker. He has stayed true to his core beliefs while many aging punks have sold out and played it safe.
Jello Biafra’s vast knowledge of rock and roll came into play last month at this New Orleans gig where he and members of Dash Rip Rock, Supagroup, Egg Yolk Jubilee and Cowboy Mouth dusted off some classic New Orleans r&b and garage rock tunes in what looks like an absolutely smoking party. Jello’s fire and brimstone attack is perfect for these slabs of funkified soul and Crescent City blues. Dr. Jello, The Night Tripper.
Jello, you oughta do this more often. It’s good for your soul and it’s okay to take some time off from from trying to bring down empires. Sometimes the most revolutionary act is the one that feels good. Your buddy, Marc.
(Germs from left to right: Pat Smear, Lorna Doom, Darby Crash and Don Bolles)
Back in 2000, I vaguely remember the documentary Rage: 20 Years of Punk Rock, West Coast Style coming out, but never caught up with it—my gut told me it wasn’t gonna be no Decline! (plus, doesn’t the math seem off? 2000 - 20 only equals, like, what…1980?) Anyhoo, thanks to YouTube, I can now present to you a few of its highlights.
From one of our most astute (and hilarious) political observers (and a personal hero). I can’t believe I missed this when it was posted, but I hardly think it matters as it’s still entirely relevant today:
Other countries prefer a healthy workforce and are willing to pay for it. Here we stick our workforce with fat, greedy insurance companies who serve no purpose but to act as a tollbooth or a gatekeeper and charge exorbitant fees before a person can even see a doctor. The result, of course, is the most expensive healthcare system with the least benefit for the buck of any in the industrialized world. You say the big insurance companies “should have a place at the table.” Aren’t these companies the problem?
Other counties want their workforce to be as well-educated as possible to better care for themselves and compete in the global economy. So they are willing to pay to make sure this happens, instead of kicking them in the face with back-breaking student loans and cutting school funding to the bone.
Other countries want their children to grow up well-nourished and loved instead of dysfunctional. They are happy to pay welfare for single parents to stay home with their little ones, and for 12-18 months maternity leave with 80-90% pay for either parent to make sure no child is left behind.
Traveling overseas it is not hard to notice that many European countries, and not just Scandinavia, have a higher standard of living than we do, and the gap is widening. The reason is they are willing to pay for it.