Dead Kennedys walking

By DANIEL BROCKMAN  |  October 8, 2010

Of course, no fan of the Dead Kennedys would ever choose to be aware of those facts, since the idea that nostalgia record sales were paying for Biafra's vanity projects and Ray's mortgage was anathema to the punk ideals that caused the records to sell in the first place. Which is why the eventual late-'90s court case, an ugly drawn-out process that took years to resolve, was so distasteful. When Ray discovered that the label was paying the band less per CD than other acts on the label (including solo Biafra projects), he and the rest of the band fought to gain control of the back catalogue. Biafra's retort was that the band's real goal was to monetize the catalogue by pimping it out to licensing and advertisements.

"When we discovered everything, initially we had some heart-to-heart meetings," Ray explains. "We talked to people, and they all said, 'Don't do it.' You know, don't rock the boat. Why? Because Biafra made money for them. The distributors, the business people — he made money for them, Dead Kennedys made money for them! They thought that the case would destroy the image of the band. But then, we thought that supporting the fake image isn't punk rock. Punk rock is about doing what you know is right."

In the end, the judge sided with the band, the albums were remastered and put out on Manifesto Records, and in celebration the three non-Biafra DKs went on the road as Dead Kennedys. Biafra's claim that the remaining Kennedys would sell his songs to Levi's proved unfounded. Yet if the case had gone the other way, David Fincher would most certainly not have been able to use "California über Alles" as an audio punch line in a scene in The Social Network.

Perhaps the lesson here is that "doing what you know is right" is a tricky thing to figure out — an act that sounds heroic but often has withering consequences. Ray, Flouride, and Peligro have been able to keep the DK 2.0 project afloat for almost a decade, touring the world and allowing a portion of the faithful a glimpse at the raw power that once fueled '80s punk. Ray himself is one of rock's most underrated guitarists — his echoplex-drenched work is like audio napalm, especially when wedded to Biafra's fiery rants. His work on tracks like "Holiday in Cambodia" and "Police Truck" injected the band's punk invective with the immediacy of lo-fi garage and the sophistication of Syd Barrett–esque psychedelic grandeur — and it's really hard to put a punk kibosh on the band's tours when that means allowing new generations to bear witness to the current members' raw instrumental majesty.

"For some, the cult of personality is bigger than the music," Ray points out. "To me, that goes against what the band was about. But I dunno — it was like that when the band was around, and it's still true today. So if you object to a Biafra-less band, don't come! For me, it's about the music, not the cult." If that sounds less than ideal, then consider that, with the chances of a Biafra-fronted Dead Kennedys at essentially zip (Biafra proved to be unreachable for comment), perhaps the music is all that's left. "Well, there are bigger problems in the world, aren't there?" is Ray's response.

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  Topics: Music Features , Paradise Rock Club, Punk Rock, Dead Kennedys,  More more >
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