Musician Crash Course: Alkaline Trio

(And.. Once again, I wait an unexcusably long amount of time before writing another post. In my defense, discovering that FunnyOrDie is a thing isn’t helping my work ethic.)

If you were to look through every iPod ever sold, you would notice a couple similar patterns. First, everyone has at least two artists on there that they’re kind of ashamed of, but still enjoy listening too (Mine are Simple Plan and Fall Out Boy). There’s no shame in this. Every human being has the urge to rebel against something that society has deemed normal by allowing a little bit of badness in our lives.

Fight the power!

Another rule is that everyone would have at least around a dozen songs that just serve to help us cope with sadness. It’s not like anybody can listen to that relentlessly cheery crap on the radio every time they listen to music. Nobody’s that cheerful. Especially if they have internet access. Whether it be domestic problems, breakups, or just good old fashioned depression, these tearmongers prey on our human emotions in order to callously profit off our misery.

Adele: Seen here going for the jugular of her helpless, tear-stained victims.

Many diverse artists may fill this void for different people. Adele (Duh), Nine Inch Nails, Radiohead, Tears For Fears, Dashboard Confessional, My Chemical Romance, and, um, Black Veil Brides (Understand that I use the term “artist” loosely). Personally, My Chemical Romance is my go-to anti-depression method, but I’ve already written about them. So,  for this long-awaited edition of Musician Biography, I’ve selected another quasi-emo (For lack of a better adjective) band that I’ve been listening to since 7th grade (When I first got serious about collecting music). Ladies and gentlemen, give it up  for…

ALKALINE TRIO

Hometown: McHenry, Illinois

Active From: 1996-Present

Genres: Punk Rock, Alternative Rock, Pop-Punk, Emo

Legacy: Yet more disaffected teenagers who think that their favourite band are a group of mopey prophets because they sing about having their hearts torn out and dabble in Satanism.  When will the kids ever learn?

Apparently, never.

One faithful day in December of 1996 (Consequently, also the month of my birth) in the Chicago suburb of McHenry, Illinois, a couple of twenty-something bike messengers, Columbia College dropout Matt Skiba and Glenn Porter, as well as visual arts student Rob Doran, got together to form one of the best punk groups of the Nineties: Alkaline Trio. Skiba took over guitar and lead vocals while Doran and Porter took over drums and bass, respectively.

After some forays into the Illinois underground scene, the Trio released a demo album and their first EP, entitled Sundials. Shortly after the release of the 1997 EP, Doran left the band to focus on visual arts. He was replaced by Dan Andriano, formerly of the Operation Ivy-inspired ska-punk band, Slapstick. A second EP followed shortly, 1998’s For Your Lungs Only, which garnered interest in the punk scene, and led to their signing with the independant California-based Asian Man Records label. The attention obtained from FYLO prompted the release of their first studio album, later that year: Goddamnit.

Goddamnit, and the subsequent EP (1999’s I Lied My Face Off) and studio album (2000’s Maybe I’ll Catch Fire) all achieved critical praise from underground media, showcasing Alkaline Trio’s inventive brand of punk that incorporated emotional, introspective lyrics to go with the band’s aggressive pop-punk style. It also proved to punks that love songs didn’t have to be terrible. I guess punks never listened to Elton John.

In 2000, Porter left the band and was replaced by Mike Felumlee, formerly of the Smoking Pipes. However, he left the band during the supporting tour for their 2001 album, From Here to Infirmary, released on their new record label, Vagrant RecordsWith a decidedly more mainstream sound than its predecessors, it received more mixed reviews from critics, but was also the band’s most commercially successful album to date. The album’s two singles, “Private Eye” and “Stupid Kid”, reached 51 and 53, respectively, on the UK Singles chart while the album itself reached #199 on the Billboard Hot 200 and #9 in Top Independent Albums. Prior to releasing a well received split EP with Hot Water Music, the band hired former Suicide Machines drummer and Face to Face guitarist Derek Grant to play drums. With the addition of Grant, the current lineup for the band was solidified, and the new-found stability really showed  on their fourth album, 2003’s Good Mourning. “Bigger, deeper and rawer”, according to Skiba, the album was praised by critics and reached #20 on the Billboard 200 chart. The two singles off of the album, “We’ve Had Enough” and “All on Black” both charted in the UK, with the former also becoming the first single by Alkaline Trio to chart, reaching number 38 on the Modern Rock chart. The mainstream success surprises me, considering the dark lyrical content of much of their music, occasional satanic overtones and the gruesome imagery depicted in songs such as “This Could Be Love.”

Step One: Slit my throat/Step Two: Play in my blood/Step Three: Cover me in dirty sheets and run laughing out of the house/Step Four: Stop at lake Michigan and rinse your crimson hands.

You took me hostage and made your demands./ I couldn’t meet ’em so you cut off my fingers one by one. 

One by one…” 

Yikes. Tipper Gore would have had a field day with that one.

Anyways, any punk street cred gained by the band with Good Mourning was lost instantaneously with the release of their 2005 album, Crimson. I don’t want to say that the album is their most radio-friendly record, (That would be From Here to Infirmary) but I find that the tone of the lyrical content was toned down from suicidal instability to serious depression.  The three singles, “Time to Waste”, “Mercy Me” and “Burn” all did well commercially, and displayed a more experimental style, which isn’t all that surprising, considering that the album’s producer, the late, great Jerry Finn, also produced experimental albums for Blink-182 (2003’s Blink-182) and AFI (2003’s Sing the Sorrow and 2006’s Decemberunderground), but I digress.

While the album was critically praised my major publications, including AllMusic, Rolling Stone and Kerrang!, I, personally, felt that the album got boring around the second half. the singles are all great, and the couple of songs that follow them on the track listing, “Dethbed” and “Settle for Satin” are just as good, but after that, the album succumbs to the typical problem with straight-up alt-rock albums, which is that it it seems to try so hard to be great, that it ends up being completely pedestrian. Then again, I thought that Dark Horse by Nickleback was a great hard rock album until a couple years ago, so don’t let me stop you from listening to Crimson.

Their next release was 2007’s Remains, an aptly titled collection of B-Sides and rarities that was well-received by critics. Following this, the band left Vagrant and signed with major label subsidiary Epic Records. Their first album in the big leagues was 2008’s Agony & Irony. This is probably my favourite album by the band. it has the Trio toning down the alternative rock sound of Crimson and becoming more of a straight emo/pop-punk band. It isn’t quite as intense as their early work, and the lyrics are relatively free of references to Satan or throat slitting, replacing the gore with self-loathing (“Love Love, Kiss Kiss”) and straight-up rock ballads (“Help Me”, my favourite Alkaline Trio song).

In May of 2009, the Trio quit Epic Records and announced, during a tour with Saves the Day, that they would be releasing their next album, This Addiction, on their own label, Heart & Skull. The album was released on February 23rd as a joint venture between Heart & Skull and Epitaph Records (Along with Bad Religion, Millencollin, Propagandhi, Pennywise and Social Distortion, Alkaline Trio is one of the last serviceable Epitaph bands left).

Seen here: Epitaph’s current flagship band.

This Addiction reached number 11 on the Billboard 200 and number 1 on the Rock, Independent, and Alternative charts. The album’s lyrics  focused heavily on the member’s personal lives, addressing themes such as Matt Skiba’s divorce and more general themes, such as love, addiction (Duh), death, suicide and war. Musically, it was a return to their roots, with much more of a punk-y sound than Crimson or Agony & Irony. My favourites on this album include the title track and single, “This Addiction”, and “The American Scream”, an ode to a veteran who came back from Afghanistan only to blow his brains out on his mothers’ grave. It was an unusual turn for the normally apolitical band.

In 2011, AT released another fucking album, this time a well-received compilation of fan favourites redone on acoustic guitar entitled DamnesiaThis album means nothing to me except just another way to waste my valuable time, when I could be getting some much-deprived sleep, but hey, it’s all for the love of writing, right?

Because that logic works out for everybody…

WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

Aside from Alkaline Trio, the band members have contributed to many other bands and side projects. Dan Andriano is a member of The Falcon, a punk supergroup which includes members of Lawrence Arms. he also has a solo project, entitled Dan Andriano in the Emergency Room, and has released one album under this moniker.

Derek Grant is an accomplished touring drummer, having filled in for The Gaslight Anthem, the Vandals and Good Charlotte, for some reason. He, along with Skiba, did a concert with Greg Corner and Johnny Radtke of Kill Hannah entitled Them Crooked Vulvas. Who says these guys are bummers?

 

Matt Skiba,the most prolific of the three, has played one-shot concerts with Kevin Seconds, Chuck Ragan, and, er, Them Crooked Vulvas. In 2004, he formed a short-lived Indie band with Josiah Steinbrick of F-Minus entitled Heavens, which ended in 2007 and has also done a couple albums with Atom Willard (Formerly of The Offspring and Angels & Airwaves). His most recent project is his solo work. He released an album entitled Demos in 2010 and, in 2012, a sophomore effort named Babylon with his band, Matt Skiba & the Sekrets, which includes Hunter Burgan of AFI and Jarrod Alexander of My Chemical Romance.

However, Alkaline Trio is far from over. Last April, they released their eighth studio album, My Shame is True and its’ accompanying EP, Broken Wings. While the musicianship is tight as ever, the lyrical content is considerably lighter then anything since Crimson. Also, the songs suffer from the same problem which has plagued alkaline Trio throughout their career: They’re not all that interesting. Even the one with Tim McIlrath of Rise Against, which broke my heart.

However, the album is steadily growing on me. And it does include two great songs in “She Lied to the FBI” and the stalker-riffic “I Wanna Be a Warhol”.

Plus one million points for including Milla Jovovich in the music video for the latter.

Musician Biography: 30 Seconds to Mars

There are a few things that are certain in this long, painful life that we lead. Specifically, death, the failure of the Chicago Cubs, shitheads on YouTube (Comment sections or otherwise) and celebrities who enter musical careers only because they once played a musician in a movie.

Ahem.

But it also seems that there’s at least a few exceptions to the aforementioned afflictions. Some people seem to cheat death against all odds including, but not excluding, Christopher Lee (Awesomely) and Fred Phelps (Unfortunately). People get out of paying their taxes all the time. Of course, by people, I mean the good people at heartless companies like General Electric. If you look past the commentators, YouTube has some good stuff on it (SourceFed, Vsauce etc.). The Cubs had that one championship more than one hundred years ago.

This seems as good a time as any to declare Fred Phelps to be an asshole again.

The exception for the last category (That is the actors turned celebrities) is the subject of today’s “Musician Biography”. Ladies and Gentlemen, give it up for:

30 SECONDS TO MARS

Hometown: Los Angeles, California

Active From: 1998-Present

Genres: Alternative Rock, Neo-Prog, Space Rock, Experimental Rock, Hard Rock, SynthRock, Post-Hardcore (Early)

Legacy: The flourishing of Jared Leto’s musical career and the continuing public indifference to his film career. Also, making teenage girls buy into the misguided belief that the success of this band means prog’s cool again.

Teenage girls are into musicians for the quality of their music, right?

As you may or may not no, Jared Leto is an actor from Louisiana who has appeared in several moderately well-known movies, including Requiem for a Dream (In which he plays a heroin addict and dealer), Fight Club (In which he gets the shit beaten out of him by Edward Norton), American Psycho ( In which he is ax-murdered by Christian Bale) and Alexander (In which he plays Colin Farrell’s gay lover). He started 30 Seconds to Mars as a small family project with his brother, Shannon Leto. In 2001, the brothers recruited Matt Wachter to play bass and keyboards, and Solon Bixler on guitar. Bixler eventually left and was replaced by Croatian-American guitarist Tomo Milicevic.

Because the Leto family is, y’know, rich, they were able to get in the studio and start recording an album in 2001. In July, the band released their first single, “Capricorn (A Brand New Name)”. On August 27, 2002, they released their first, self-titled album, in which Jared played guitar, vocals, bass guitar and synthesizer. The album (Influenced in part by the science fiction novel, Dune) was received warmly by critics, who praised the lyrics, themes and musicianship. Personally, I though the album to be pretty fucking boring. On the plus side, Leto is a great songwriter and musician, but on the other hand, perhaps aside from “Capricorn”, the album is pretty nondescript and doesn’t grip me at all, but eh, what do I know?

Apparently, not too much, as the album zoomed to the top of Billboard’s Heatseekers Chart and hit 107 on the Billboard 200. “Capricorn” ended up peaking at No. 31 on the American Rock Charts while a post-relese single, “Edge of the Earth” hit No. 5 on the UK.

After touring for the album concluded, the band recorded and released another single, “Attack”, which critics and fans (And me!) adored, mainly because it showcased Leto’s amazing vocal talent. It isn’t often that an actor starts a musical career and actually has a passable voice, much less a good one.

Right, Bruce?

The following album, A Beautiful Lie, which was recorded over four years on Leto’s various film sets, was released in August of 2005 and was praised by critics (And me!) except for AllMusic, which surprises me, and Rolling Stone, because well, duh.

When you have to present terrorists in an attractive fashion on your albums to get some attention, then your musical opinion can be taken with a grain of salt, I think.

The album, which abandoned the prog metal of their first album for emotionally charged alternative rock, reached No. 22 on the Modern Rock Charts (And No. 1 in Canada!) and was eventually certified platinum, while a post-album single, “From Yesterday”, hit No. 1 on the Modern Rock Tracks (Though, to tell you the truth, I kind of hated it).

Having achieved mainstream success, the band embarked on the “Welcome to the Universe” tour, which lasted two years and solidified their rock star statuses. During the worldwide tour, they championed environmentalism (Of course they did) , shot the first ever American rock music video in the People’s Republic of China and had Matt Wachter leave the group to spend more time with his family and, eventually join Angels & Airwaves. He was replaced by Tim Kelleher, who is still with the band, but only as a touring member.

But wait a minute. What’s missing from the picture here? Hmmm…. Oh, that’s right, the obligatory dispute with an asshole record label? How could I be so foolish?

In August 2008, Virgin Records sued the band for a whopping $30 million lawsuit, claiming that the band failed to deliver the five albums that they were obligated to deliver. However, under California law, nobody can be bound to a contract for over seven years. Virgin, realizing that they hadn’t done their research in their quest to wring every last drop of money out of their bands, dropped the lawsuit and the band re-signed with them, for some inexplicable reason.

Although Jared Leto did make a documentary about the lawsuit, so maybe it was all for the purpose of an elaborate “fuck you.”

Fun fact: at the preview of the above-mentioned documentary, someone may have tried to kill Jared Leto. Could the labels have made their way from bullying and intimidation to murder? If so, then I have some potential targets that I think everyone can agree on.

Yes you, bitch.

On December 8, 2009, 30 Seconds to Mars released their third studio album, This is War. This would prove to be their most successful album yet, hitting No. 18 on the Billboard 200 charts, number 4 on the Rock charts and number 2 on the Alternative charts. In addition to this, three of the singles, “Kings and Queens”, “This Is War” and “Closer to the Edge”  got in the Top 10 pf the Billboard Alternative Charts, with the first two tracks hitting 1st place.

The album received  positive reviews as well. It is my personal favourite album on the 30STM catalogue, if only for the fact that “This is War” is on this album. Anyways, the resulting supporting tour won the Guinness World Record for “Longest Concert Tour by a Rock Band”, playing a total of 309 concert shows in just over two years.

WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

Um, pretty much the same place as always. Their latest album, Love Lust, Faith and Dreams, showcases the bands full musical talent/pretentiousness, with elements of symphonic rock edging out a large amount of the hard rock edge. Still, it was both critically and commercially successful, hitting number 6 on the Billboard 200. Personally, I’d rate it as better than the self-titled album by far, but not as good as A Beautiful Lie. It’s just too damn pretentious for me to take completely seriously. Also, it has one of the ugliest album covers known to man.

As a rule, album covers should note make you think of Connect Four.

Musician Biography: Dead Kennedys (Part 2)

(This is a continuation of this post.)

In the first part of this inaugural edition of Musician Biography, I have been reviewing the Dead Kennedys career, from their humble beginning in the Bay Area punk scene to their rise to underground stardom and finally, the lawsuit which effectively ended their run of excellence.

The story of the Dead Kennedys does not end with their breakup though. I wish it had, but it wasn’t to be.

After the split, the Kennedys went their own separate ways.   Drummer D.H. Peligro joined the Red Hot Chili Peppers in 1988. He helped write some songs for their Mother’s Milk album before his drug and alcohol issues led to his firing. Bassist Klaus Fluoride focused on his solo career, releasing three albums on Alternative Tentacles. East Bay Ray participated in several obscure musical projects, while Jello Biafra formed an industrial band called Lard.

Yeah, I can believe that.

Biafra also did an excellent collaboration album with Canadian punk legends D.O.A. entitled Last Scream of the Missing Neighbours. In 1991, he released an album with another Canadian punk band, NoMeansNo, called The Sky Is Falling and I Want My Mommy. He also released several spoken word albums.

However, this fairly amicable breakup did not last. In the late 90’s, the band members discovered that they were not receiving their allotted share of royalties from Alternative Tentacles. Despite the fact that everyone agreed that it was an accounting mistake, Ray, Fluoride and Peligro decided to blame Jello for not  informing them of this. Biafra claims that their lawyers had told him only to correspond through lawyers and not directly with the band, as the conflict over payment had apparently arisen before the accounting mistake was discovered. This little spat eventually led to a lawsuit, where he was found liable for the royalties and was ordered to pay damages of nearly $200 000, inculding $20 ooo in punitive damages to Ray, Peligro and Fluoride.

All this was bad enough, but then it just got plain uglyDuring the trial, claimed that the band wanted to license the song “Holiday in Cambodia” for use in a Levi’s Dockers commercial. The other band members deny this, though Biafra was able to give specifics about said advertisement, including the advertising agency. Interesting…

I also mentioned in the previous entry that East Bay Ray had pushed for the band to sign with a major label. Is it really so much of a stretch to imagine that he might be unopposed to using a hit song in a corporate advertisement. Talk about forgetting your roots.

Seen here: Punk Rock!!!

The jury, however, did not give one flying fuck, seeing as how Levi’s wasn’t the enemy.

Well, in this case, at least.

And, completing their devolution into traitorous scumbags, Ray, Fluoride and Peligro also got their grimy hands on the DK’s entire discography (With the sole exception of the “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” single), which they swiped from Alternative Tentacles, and gave to the independent Manifesto label, who reissued the albums without giving a dime to Biafra.

In one of the most retarded ways to bury the hatchet after swindling somebody out of hundreds of thousands of dollars, Ray, Fluoride and Peligro invited Biafra to reform the band with them. Biafra, who has long expressed his disdain for nostalgia, essentially told them to go fuck themselves. Incorrectly assuming that it’s still the Dead Kennedys without Jello Biafra, the band was reformed with a new lead singer, Brandon Cruz. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Mr. Cruz played Bill Bixby’s son in The Courtship of Eddie’s Father.

Seen here: Someone who can really kick ass in the hardcore scene.

Now, to be completely fair, I can’t rag on Brandon Cruz too much. He wasn’t one of the people who betrayed Jello. Also, it’s not like he had no punk credentials. He was the singer of the Nardcore punk band Dr. Know. However, that’s not truly effective consolation for someone who just got his ass replaced by a goddamn ex-child actor.

The DK Kennedys (As they called themselves before reverting back to Dead Kennedys.) proceeded to destroy everything that the old DK stood for, appearing at corporate-sponsored music events, distributing advertising posters falsely portraying Biafra as still being in the band, and not recording any new music whatsoever. NOT. A. SINGLE. GODDAMN. SONG. The only vague whiff of new music from the retooled lineup was when they altered the lyrics to “MTV Get Off the Air” to make the shitty, terrible “MP3 Get Off the Air.” I guess that’s what happens when you kick out the only person in your band who could actually write a half-decent song.

 WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

The Faux Kennedys (As I decree that they be called) are still touring and have no plans to release new material. They dumped Brandon Cruz in 2003 and replaced him with 25 year old Jeff Penalty, who was almost half the age of his new bandmates. He described this as “the realization of a dream [he] never even dared to have.” However, he parted ways with the group in 2008 in what has been described as a non-amicable split. This presumably occurred after he discovered that his former heroes were now huge dickbags. They replaced him with some dude named “Skip”, whom even their website’s members page does not give one shit about.

Jello Biafra is still operating Alternative Tentacles, which has since moved to Emeryville, California. AT has distributed albums by Alice Donut, the Dicks, D.O.A., NoMeansNo, Subhumans, Pansy Division and Star Fucking Hipsters, as well as spoken word albums by Noam Chomsky, Mumia Abu-Jamal and Jello himself. Since being stabbed in the back, Jello has released a ton of spoken word albums, and occasionally does a show on YouTube entitled “What Would Jello Do?” He also released two albums with the Melvins, Never Breathe What You Can’t See in 2004, and Sieg Howdy! in 2005. He is also a Green Party politician, and was a potential presidential candidate in 200, though he lost to Ralph Nader.

In 2008, he formed a new band, Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine. They have since released two very solid albums, 2009’s The Audacity of Hype and 2013’s White People and the Damage Done. The latter of which I have just received in the mail, and cannot wait to listen t- wait, what the…

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!

Musician Biography: Dead Kennedys (Part 1)

First off, let me apologize for going all this time without a post. I had final exams last week and was not only distracted by studying, but also by the worst case of writer’s block you’ve ever seen. This is the kind of writer’s block that leads to movie producers to exclaim “Fuck it, let’s just get somebody to blow shit up.”

File:Michael.bay.png

Come on, don’t act like you didn’t know where this joke was going.

On an unrelated note, if Michael Bay fucks up the 2014 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, let’s all agree to burn him at the stake, okay?

Anyways, I’m back and with a new feature, which I’m gonna call “Musician Biography” until I think of a better name for it. (I’m open to suggestions.) In this feature, I take a look at a musician or band’s career and examine it in depth (Or, y’know, as in depth as I get.). Since I’m a big punk rock fan, it will usually be an artist or musician from that genre, but I will make attempts to diversify. I was going to kick it off with 30 Seconds To Mars just so I wouldn’t start with a punk band, but I gave in and decided to go with what may be the most influential American punk band not named the Ramones. Ladies and gentlemen, give it up for…

DEAD KENNEDYS

Hometown: San Francisco, California

Active From: 1978-1986, 2001-Present

Genres: Hardcore, Punk Rock

Legacy: Truly politically aware punk music, Jello Biafra’s godliness and a steady job for Brandon Cruz.

The Scene: San Francisco. The Time:1978. Twenty year old Raymond Pepperell, an ex-guitarist for a rockabilly band, attends a ska-punk show at Mabuhay Gardens. Apparently favourable of the music, he promptly advertised for bandmates in a classifieds newspaper. Answering the call to arms were twenty year old Eric Reed Boucher, a UC Santa Cruz student from Colorado, twenty-nine year old Geoffrey Lyall, an ex-bandmate of Billy Squier’s, and Bruce Slesinger, who nobody seems to know shit about.

Probably figuring that their real names were not what you would expect from a dangerous punk band, they decided to adopt some kick-ass stage names. Slesinger became, um, Ted and took over on drums. Lyall became Klaus Fluoride and picked up a bass. Pepperell took the name “East Bay Ray” and took guitar. Boucher was left with the mic and took the name “Occupant.” After realizing that it wasn’t 2012 in Wall Street yet, Boucher took the name Jello Biafra, referencing the clear relation between horrifying genocides and tasty gelatin desserts.

Oh, the humanity!

Along with the four mainstays, the band also recruited Carlos Cadona (6025) as a second guitarist.

The band itself took the name “Dead Kennedys” in order to “Bring attention to the end of the American Dream.” Considering that Ronald Reagan’s dual-terms as president were coming up, this seems almost prophetic now. Given the provocativeness of their name, they had to go under pseudonyms, including “The DK’s”, “The Sharks”, the “Creamsicles”, and the “Pink Twinkies.” Their first show was July 19, 1978 at Mabuhay Gardens.

In March of 1979, 6025 left the group, mainly because a) he wanted to play prog-rock for some inexplicable reason and b) he and Biafra hated each other’s guts. In June, after a year of playing in and around the Bay Area, the band released their first single, titled “California Über Alles“. (Try to avoid the comments section, if at all possible.) The single was released on Alternative Tentacles, an independent record label formed by Jello and Ray.  The song, sung from the perspective of then- and current governor of California, Jerry  Brown, depicts a hippie/fascist California of the future, where uncool people are killed by the “suede denim secret police” with “organic” poison gas chambers. In retrospect, the Tea Party would have misunderstood the shit out of this song.

The song was a great early example of the menacing and tense mood of the DK’s music. Militaristic drumbeats, a gradually increasing speed, and Biafra’s sneering vocals casually commenting on how “you’d look nice as a drawstring lamp” (Which is, essentially, a lamp with a lampshade made out of human skin.). After the release of the single,  the Kennedys embarked on a successful east coast tour.

Also, around this time, Jello Biafra ran for mayor of San Francisco. Out of a field of ten, he finished fourth.

With their star rising, (you know, as much as a hardcore band’s star can rise) music industry bigwigs started to take notice. On March 25, 1980, the band was invited to perform “California Über Alles”  at the  Bay Area Music Awards along with major label acts in order to give the event “New Wave credibility.”

Seen Here: New Wave.

Instead of playing “California’, the Dead Kennedys , dressed like this…

‘These guys look like they would be down with major labels, right?”

…took the stage, but about 15 seconds into the song, Jello proclaimed “Hold it! We’ve gotta prove that we’re adults now. We’re not a punk rock band, we’re a new wave band.” They then performed a new song called “Pull My Strings“. A stroke of musical genius that viciously attacked the musical industry. You really have to hear it to appreciate it, but to give you an idea, this was the chorus:

“Is my cock big enough? Is my brain small enough for you to make me a star? Give me a toot. I’ll sell you my soul. Pull my strings and I’ll go far.” 

Needless to say, they were not invited back.

In May 1980, the Kennedys released a second single entitled “Holiday in Cambodia.”  Another underground masterpiece, the song was a dual attack on both Pol Pot’s regime in Cambodia and, essentially, hipsters. On September 2nd, the band released their first studio album on Alternative Tentacles, Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables. This is the closest the DK’s got to a perfect record. There is not a single disposable track on the entire album, and it is widely thought to be a punk rock classic. Not only that, but it remains pretty damn relevant. Have a listen to “Kill the Poor.” Doesn’t it sound like a present-day Republican (Or present-day Democrat, for that matter) campaign promise?

In January 1981, drummer Ted decided he wanted to leave the band to pursue a career in architecture. He helped the Kennedys find and hire his replacement, a massive young black kid from St. Louis named Darren Henley, who took the name D.H. Peligro. On an unrelated note, how many other punk bands can you name that have black members? (Not named the Bad Brains, I mean.)

“Well, there’s Yellow-“
“I said PUNK, asshole.”

Around this time, in a preview of what was to come, East Bay Ray started pressuring the band to sign with Universal Music subsidiary Polydor Records. The idea was nixed by Biafra, who threatened to leave the band if that were to happen. Polydor Records grew uninterested in signing anyways after the DK’s revealed that their next single was entitled “To Drunk to Fuck.”

The election of Ronald Reagan in January of that year served inspiration for the Kennedys, as seen the In God We Trust, Inc. EP. From attacks on the religious right (“Moral Majority”), Neo-Nazis (The excellent “Nazi Punks Fuck Off.”) and the Gipper himself (“We Have a Bigger Problem Now”, which was essentially a re-tooled version of “California Über Alles”). In 1982, their second studio album, Plastic Surgery Disasters was released. While not as good as Fresh Fruit, PSD was still a very well-received effort that started straying from traditional hardcore and started experimenting with psychedelic and jazz music.

With the release of Plastic Surgery Disasters, and the subsequent touring of the States, Europe and Australia, Dead Kennedys became one of the biggest underground rock groups in the world.  The Alternative Tentacles record label flourished as well, with bands such as D.O.A., the Dicks and the Butthole Surfers signing on.

In 1985, the band released the excellent Frankenchrist album, which explored in more depth the Kennedys’ musical range. While still not as good as their debut album, Frankenchrist is a close second, with songs like “Soup is Good Food” and “Stars and Stripes of Corruption”   attacking, once again, the US government while songs like “MTV Get Off the Air” and “Jock-o-Rama” poking fun at American social dynamics.

Unfortunately, the album was also the beginning of the end for the Dead Kennedys. You see, on a poster included with the album was a painting by H.R. Giger (The guy who designed the aliens in Alien) entitled, rather descriptively, Penis Landscape. This was racy enough, but even more unfortunately for the band, this was the era where the PMRC and the religious right were trying to stamp out any form of  “harmful matter” in music. Long story short, the band survived without penalty, but Alternative Tentacles was driven to near bankruptcy. Here’s hoping Tipper and her faux-Green ex husband stay irrelevant. On the other hand, maybe something would be done about Nicki Minaj.

I, for one, suggest a targeted assassination.

After that whole debacle, the Dead Kennedys grew disillusioned not only with society, but also with the hardcore scene itself, which was attracting, among others, thugs, racists and homophobes who were only there to act tough. Frustrated, California’s most iconic hardcore band called it quits in February of 1986, though they did finish recording their fourth and final album, entitled Bedtime for Democracy. While it was subversive as ever, it kind of seemed, well, dull. With no real standout tracks, the only message that this album conveys to me is a “fuck this shit” mentality. Never would one think that Jello Biafra would display that idea, but there you go.

So, this seemed rather cut and dry, right? Band forms, becomes good, breaks up, end o’ story. There can’t be much more to it, right?

Nope.

Stay tuned, dear readers, the tragedy of the Dead Kennedys is far from over.