The Dead Kennedys return with punk compassion
In 1980, I came upon the first Dead Kennedys album, Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables, with my outcast friends and soon discovered that the DKs were a gateway band into a new experience called punk rock. The band played energized, socially conscious songs of hidden histories and political critique, often served up with a twist of humor. Thirty years later, we can still dance to live versions of “California Uber Alles” and “Holiday in Cambodia” with the Dead Kennedys, which will be blasting the Catalyst on Saturday, Feb. 5, with The Disciples and Ol’ Cheeky Bastards opening.
The San Francisco-based Dead Kennedys have seen plenty of changes since being co-founded in 1979 by Jello Biafra (Eric Boucher) and Klaus Flouride (Geoffrey Lyall). In 1986 lead singer Biafra and the band parted ways, with Biafra focusing on collaborations with other bands and performing spoken word shows. (He now leads a band called The Guantanamo School of Medicine.) The current lineup of the Dead Kennedys has three of the four original members: bassist Klaus Flouride, guitarist East Bay Ray and drummer D.H. Peligro. Skip McSkipter now lends his lungs as vocalist. GT recently spoke with DKs co-founder Klaus Flouride about 21st century anarchy, compassion and parenting.
GOOD TIMES: Some punk rock is overtly political and resonates with anarchist ideals. Of course, people have different ideas about what anarchy means.
KLAUS FLOURIDE: Lots of people confuse nihilism with anarchy. That’s what you’re taught to do in high school. We were taught that anarchy was something to stay away from because it meant total loss of civilized behavior. I think anarchy is just the opposite; instead of having some outside force imposing civilized behavior on you and treating you like children, you’re able to be grown up and behave like adults without being told what’s good and bad.
What do you think stops people from building compassionate, trusting communities?
At this time and age there is a greed thing with people. It drives everything. The top 3 percent own most of the wealth of the world and they’re not going to be taking care of people, except for very few of them. This world has a bit of maturing to do before we can come anywhere near being able to live in real anarchy.
Some people hoped that punk rock might inspire revolutionary change. How has that played out?
Fairly poorly. We’re still singing about a lot of the same stuff. But keep in mind that I’m a firm believer that if you’re going to go for a source for deep political thought, a rock ’n’ roll band probably is not your best choice.
We didn’t try to come up with answers as much as questions and we tried to show absurdities and get people to think for themselves. We wanted people to do their own looking into things. That was our system. Did we reach our goal? No, I don’t think so. There are a few more people that think a little more than if we hadn’t had the punk spirit, movement and attitude. But it seems there is no silver bullet to get people to think. You just have to keep encouraging.
Tell me how your ideas about freedom and anarchy inform your parenting.
The more you try to lay down authority the more you’re going to have a rebellious kid. … You have to treat kids with logic and respect more than authority. If you teach somebody how to live kindly, then basically it should come back at you. With children, you direct more than control. It’s this classic thing; you give them wings and then you have to let them fly.
The Dead Kennedys perform at 9 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 5, at The Catalyst, 1011 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $17/adv., $20/door. For more information, call 423-1338. John Malkin is a local musician, journalist and host of the weekly interview program The Great Leap Forward on Wednesdays from 7 to 9 p.m. on Free Radio Santa Cruz, 101.1 FM.