There are only two things I know about Dead Kennedys: They are one of the pioneering Californian punk bands and their debut album Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables is excellent. Other than that I know nothing about this band. Thankfully Michael Stewart Foley puts everything into perspective.
As I have said before one of the best things about the 33 1/3 series is that each author has their unique way of approaching an album and in this case Foley eschews recording techniques (well there’s a couple of pages but it’s scant) and focuses on the political climate that shaped the album and Dead Kennedy’s philosophy and I think this is a great idea.
San Francisco, during the late 70’s, was in turmoil: serial killings, Harvey Milk’s murder and general political unrest. Nearby the People’s Temple leader, Jim Jones orchestrated a mass suicide of 913 people in the name of his cult. A mess if there ever was one.
Most of these events were detailed in Biafra’s lyrics when writing the Fresh Fruit… At the same time the group were absorbing philosophical theories, and the New York punk scene. All which made Dead Kennedys and Fresh Fruit a force to be reckoned with (this is no exaggeration) At one point Jello Biafra campaigned for mayor of San Francisco, something which was totally new to me.
Foley details all the messy political happenings and meshes them perfectly with Dead Kennedy’s ascent from being a cult band to one that managed to influence a lot of people. Also Foley manages to interview all members of the band and scenesters so the end product is an absorbing and informative read.
This review was originally on Goodreads. I have reviewed or rated all the 33 1/3 volumes to date. You can read them here