Dead Kennedys - Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables (Re-issue, Cherry Red)

Dead Kennedys – Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables (Re-issue, Cherry Red)

Dead Kennedys – Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables (Re-issue, Cherry Red)
A punk/new wave classic

It was their fourth studio album, that from its title says all you need to know about Dead Kennedys. A defining American punk, or new wave band, that had been both political and satirising in nature, released Bedtime For Democracy in 1986. Theirs was a routine of short, sharp stories depicting a time when Worldwide inflation had continued to rise throughout the 70s, peaking at 14 percent in 1980. It was that same year that Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables, their debut long player, was released. An album comprising 14 songs that were like a cheese grater hitting the senses. This sounds painful and certainly, for the uninitiated, this may be the case, but this band, with their ideological lyric and savage musical presentation, was certainly a force to be reckoned with. Their name was a “…homage to the American Dream” rather than an insult to the Kennedy family.

I just love the opening words on their first number ‘Kill The Poor’“Efficiency and progress is ours once more. Now that we have the Neutron Bomb. It’s nice and quick and gets things done…” An alarming prospect, but a satirical stab at the leaders of the day and realistically one that is now more prescient than ever. Fast and furious, vocalist Jello Biafra hits the listener between the ears as he tells his story. Theirs was a variety that was less rock ‘n’ roll than The Ramones and even more cutting than The Sex Pistols. They were more in the same ballpark as the UK’s Crass and could well have been the starting pistol for the likes of fellow countrymen Black Flag. This was fierce art and as ‘Forward To Death’ moves into view, at 1’23”, it barely gives time for the listener to draw breath, as Biafra explains in the chorus “…Gag with every breath. This world brings me down. I’m looking forward to death…”. This number really has its full impact in a country where the draft was in operation. In July 1980 this was something that President Jimmy Carter re-introduced, so for male youth in the US this was a real concern. With the same cutting guitar and Biafra’s lyrical delivery, “Are you believing the morning papers? War is coming back in style. There’s generals here, advisors there and Russians nibbling everywhere…”. The Cold War was becoming a reality, but it’s the sarcasm that really speaks in the next line “The chessboard’s filling up with red, we make more profits when we blow off their heads…” Filled with satire and mockery, which is easily missed given its hard backdrop, it’s almost a case of Mock the Week on steroids.

Then there’s ‘Let’s Lynch the Landlord’ with its Beach Boys surf-like guitar and anti-capitalist motif. This is another journey where its cutting take is lifted with a comedic wink, “The Landlord’s here to visit. They’re blasting disco down below. Says “I’m doubling the rent. Cause the building’s condemned. You’re gonna help me buy City Hall”. This hilarity might’ve been lost, given its presentation, but is every bit as relevant to their audience, as it may not have been to their parents. Halfway through the album comes ‘California Über Alles’, the band’s debut single released in the UK on the Fast Product label. In the song, an imaginary president, outlines his fascist vision of America, the translation of Über Alles being a German phrase meaning “above all else”. It might’ve been that fiction was a little too close to the truth. One of the strongest and most accessible songs on the album, nearly 40 years after its release, remains relevant today.

‘I Kill Children’, may be unsavoury in tone, but musically it’s like a narcotic, easily imbibed, with a sharp guitar, steady beats, and howling feedback to keep the listener’s attention through 2 minutes and 5 seconds. The 1 minute and 30 seconds of ‘Stealing Peoples’ Mail’ missed my attention, as ‘Funland at the Beach’ proved far more attractive. From its very name, it saw me shooting ducks, riding the ghost train, and sliding down the helter-skelter. This wasn’t just music, it was entertainment that held a message. The message was terrorism and its unpleasant aftermath, one of those being the ensuing lawsuit that followed these events. This time it was told with a punk/new-wave passion. The subject of mental health and schizophrenia in particular, became the subject of conversation in ‘Ill In The Head’. As another cheese grating guitar, full of distortion begins, the narrator asks “…why am I alive?” A well-observed number, it creates an uneven stage of disjointed music, chords, and rhythm. The penultimate song is another well-recognised tune. ‘Holiday In Cambodia’, is a song centring on well-doers who profess to know a situation through very little understanding. Today we have 24/7 news available to us, so would at least suppose we are more informed, but the song came from the point of view of those who, however well informed, still feel they could walk in the shoes of those affected. Becoming a punk standard, versions have been recorded by the likes of Foo Fighters and thrash metal band, fellow townsman Lȧȧz Rocki. A tune filled with sinister undertones and an almost James Bond-like melody. Playing out, is the ultimate tongue-in-cheek strike at the King of rock’n’roll, Elvis Presley, as Dead Kennedys take on ‘Viva Las Vegas’’ in a beyond fast-paced version of the song. Well known and after only 3-4 years after the death of the King, was also likely a nod.

After 14 songs, over only 33 minutes, this debut by San Francisco’s Dead Kennedys comes to a close. Another 3 albums were to come over 6 years, while December 1986 would see the breakup of the band. Biafra would go on to speak out on his political beliefs, releasing a number of spoken word albums. The other members, East Bay Ray (Raymond Pepperell) – lead guitar, Klaus Flouride (Geoffrey Lyall) – bass, would go on to pursue solo careers, reforming in 2001, with former Dr. Know singer Brandon Cruz replacing Biafra on vocals. Drummer, Ted (Bruce Slesinger) would leave the band in 1981, to pursue a career in architecture. This is a visceral journey through a time we are reminded never to forget, but with commentators such as these, it is unlikely we will.


God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.