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Dead Kennedys

The Dead Kennedys were a punk rock band from San Francisco, California. Their songs attacked assumptions of the political left and right with mordant humor. Their music mixed the arty elements of English punk with the energy of the American punk scene. Lead singer Jello Biafra was also responsible for releasing many other punk and alternative bands on his Alternative Tentacles label.

The Dead Kennedys formed in San Francisco in June 1978. They consisted of Biafra on vocals, guitarist East Bay Ray[?], bassist Klaus Flouride[?], and drummer Ted (Bruce Slesinger[?]). They played numerous shows at local venues, and in June of 1979, they released their first single, California Uber Alles, on Alternative Tentacles. They followed with an east-coast tour, where they found a stagnant scene, which they attributed to the lack of all-ages venues. Their intense live show was a shock to the subdued East Coast music crowd.

In fall 1980, the Dead Kennedys released their first LP, Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables. (Soon after, drummer Ted was replaced with D.H. Peligro[?].) Throughout the 1980s, they toured all over the United States as well as Europe, gaining a large following in the underground music scene. Their music became a deadly political force, attacking targets like the religious right and Ronald Reagan with fierce sarcasm.

The release of the Frankenchrist album in 1985 caused a fervor with the newly formed PMRC (Parents Music Resource Center), and in 1986, the Dead Kennedys were brought to trial for "distribution of harmful matter to minors". They each faced up to a year in jail and a $2000 fine. In 1987, the charges were dropped after a three-week trial. The album, however, was banned from many record stores nationwide.

After the release of Bedtime for Democracy[?] in late 1986, the band called it quits. Biafra went on to become a highly active political force, appearing on numerous television shows and releasing a number of spoken-word albums.

Jello Biafra ran for president of the United States in 2000, seeking to be the Green Party candidate, but lost the nomination to Ralph Nader. For the last few years, former band members have been involved in a vigorous legal wrangle over the use of Dead Kennedys songs in advertising. Biafra was brought to court over failure to pay royalties and failure to promote the Dead Kennedys albums, and in 2001, the entire Dead Kennedys catalog (minus Fresh Fruit) was turned over to Manifesto Records[?]. The Dead Kennedys began a "reunion" tour, replacing Biafra with Brandon Cruz[?]. Many hardcore fans were outraged by the tour, claiming they were stealing Biafra's music. Biafra maintains that he did not deny them royalties, and in addition, he claims that he is not receiving any royalties on the Manifesto releases.

An overview of their career may be found on the compilation Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death, which features the infamous singles "Holiday in Cambodia" and "California Über Alles."


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