While I missed the Dead Kennedys legendary performance at the Belmont Ballroom on our nation’s 205th birthday, I was lucky enough to see the Dead Kennedys a couple of times in the mid-1980s.
The second time was in 1985 at the Wilson Theater, and all I remember about it was Jello Biafra going off on a long rant about Safeway, and it seeming a bit weird to see them in a theater setting as opposed to a club setting.
The first time? Ahhhhh, therein lies a bit of a story . . .
You see, we had a choice that night. It was Friday June 15, 1984 and we could either see The Dead Kennedys top a hardcore bill at a converted dairy farm out in Malaga called “Rock Haven” or we could see John Lee Hooker play the Tower Theatre.
The Dead Kennedys or John Lee Hooker. What would you do? Remember, it’s 30 years later, the choice probably seems obvious, especially since John Lee Hooker has left this mortal coil and the Dead Kennedys still exist, albeit in a Jello-less fashion. At the time, it was practically an existential crisis.
But Kirk & I chose The Dead Kennedys — and I’m still not sure that, musically, it was the right choice — probably because it was only $5.00 and the flyer said B.Y.O.B. And of course, you never knew what was going to happen at a hardcore show. And what happened at this was that the cops came and shut it down after only one Dead Kennedys song. Of course, this was deep into the night, and — as was right and proper for any hardcore gig — a few bands had already played.
So by that time, things were pretty fuzzy, though the cops focused folks pretty quick. On getting the hell out of there, and there a huge rush of punk kids trying to get the hell out of there so they wouldn’t get picked up for underage drinking. Kirk and I, both over 21 — and I’m not even sure if Kirk had started drinking yet then — decided to hang out and watch the commotion.
Then Kirk got an idea. There was Jello Biafra, also just hanging out, watching everything. After all, I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the first time cops broke up a Dead Kennedys gig, and I also pretty sure it wasn’t the last time, either. So we walked up to him, and Kirk told him that we were from the local college radio station and invited him to come back to KFSR, then and there, and talk about what had just happened.
No dice. Once again, I’m sure that strangers walked up to him all the time and asked him to do things, and — thinking about it now — I’m sure he was just abiding by that old maxim: “Never go with a DJ to a second location.”
Anyways, I’m sure that John Lee Hooker was excellent, if less exciting.
Learn more about Fresno 1980s hardcore at Dale Stewart’s excellent 80’s Fresno Punk Scene History website.
Oh, “Moon over Marin” is pretty much my favorite Dead Kennedys song. Almostly completely for East Bay Ray’s amazing guitar hook, which could have come of of Boy and Jello’s lyrics:
Another tanker’s hit the rocks
Abandoned to spill out its guts
The sand is laced with sticky glops
O’ Shimmering moonlight sheen upon
The waves and water clogged with oil
White gases steam up from the soil
Of course, that was back in the 1980s, when people worried a lot about environmental disasters. Luckily, 30 years later, we’ve solved all that.
Because of the relatively conventional guitar hook and what could pass for a hummable melody in the verses, “Moon Over Marin” always felt like an outlier compared to the rest of the Dead Kennedys catalog, and I’m not sure they ever tried anything like it again.
I also wonder what the hardcore kids thought about it back then: probably that it was no surprise that this was the DKs song a guy like me would love. If so, they were right!!
Fan-made video for “Moon Over Marin”