Clip: Joel Selvin on the Jello-free Dead Kennedys (and other incomplete reunions)
- I like to think of these not-quite-reunions as a generational
development, only now the Cars have become the Platters. (Or at least
the Temptations, who I think have one original member in the touring
Flipper's reunited? Who's left alive from 1986?
It happens: Great rockers split and bands adapt. But the Dead Kennedys
minus Jello Biafra? That's not right.
Joel Selvin, Chronicle Senior Pop Music Critic
Friday, April 7, 2006
Like many bands on the reunion concert circuit these days, when the
'80s San Francisco punk rockers Dead Kennedys take the stage this
weekend for the soldout Fab Mab show at the Fillmore Auditorium, the
group will be missing one original member -- in this case, its best
known member, vocalist Jello Biafra.
But the Dead Kennedys without Jello Biafra would be like the Grateful
Dead without Jerry Garcia. Wait a minute: They've done that, too.
Since the death of the first bandleader, musicians have continued to
perform in bands without key members. As the rock 'n' roll generation
moves into senior citizenship, this inevitability is taking a sharp
increase. The announcement that the Cars would do a reunion tour this
summer, as the New Cars, has prompted much comment.
Not only is lead vocalist and primary songsmith Ric Ocasek MIA from
the tour, but the band will also make do without the service of
bassist Benjamin Orr, the only other member to ever sing one the
band's hits ("Drive" and "Just What I Needed"). Orr died of cancer in
2000. In their place, the other two members -- quick, name them --
have drafted, of all people, Todd Rundgren, who typically made no
bones about why he is taking the job.
"So now an opportunity has arisen for me to pay my bills, play to
larger audiences, work with musicians I know and like, and ideally to
have some fun for a year," he wrote on his Web site.
Also paying their bills on the road this summer without the signature
sound of the band's original lead vocalists are the Doors -- who were
stopped from using that name by a lawsuit from the band's drummer in
an unexpected display of integrity -- and Queen, who solved the
problem of vocalist Freddie Mercury having died from AIDS in 1991 by
simply appropriating the lead vocalist from another British rock group
of the era, Paul Rodgers of Bad Company.
As the ranks of '60s rockers thin, fans are being treated to such
indignities as half a Who, a Four Tops with only two, an Allman
Brother band, a Beach Boys without a Wilson. The Creedence Clearwater
Revisited led by the drummer and bass player actually outdraws
performances by the band's original singer, songwriter and bandleader,
John Fogerty. The other members of Journey have worked their way
through a procession of Steve Perry impersonators.
The surviving members of INXS probably still have mortgages on their
Italian villas, and it's not their fault that vocalist Michael
Hutchence's 1997 death ended their careers prematurely, so they did
that dumb reality TV show. Judas Priest replaced that band's original
vocalist with someone from a Judas Priest tribute band, before
bringing the original guy back.
The surviving members of the Grateful Dead had the decency to retire
the name with the death of the group's centerpiece, guitarist Jerry
Garcia, although after a few years of touring under the unwieldy name
of the Other Ones, the musicians decided to reclaim at least a portion
of the old name and call themselves the Dead. Just because Garcia went
and died shouldn't mean that the other guys in the band have to give
up their not unsplendid livelihood, especially if there are still fans
willing to pay to see them.
But the Kennedys is a somewhat different case. With its fiercely
independent stance and resolute viewpoint, the band stood for
something and mouthy Biafra was its fearless spokesman. Confronting
censorship or political issues, he was always frank, pointed and slyly
humorous. The other three members could easily be seen as
semi-competent instrumental backing to his inspired agitprop ravings.
But they won a lawsuit against Biafra in 2000 that has been a sore
subject for Biafra since the day it began.
He issued a statement concerning the latest reunion concert. "These
are the same greed-mongers who ran to corporate lawyers and sued me
for over six years in a dispute sparked by my not wanting 'Holiday in
Cambodia' sold into a Levi's commercial," Biafra wrote. "They now pimp
Dead Kennedys in the same spirit as Mike Love suing Brian Wilson over
and over again, then turning around and playing shows as the Beach
Boys. They despise everything our band ever stood for.
" 'Money Uber Alles' is what all these bands used to stand against.
Back in Mabuhay days, no one was more upfront about not selling out to
Bill Graham than Dead Kennedys and Flipper, especially Will Shatter
(RIP). (Another S.F. punk group also appearing in the Fillmore reunion
show without a key member.) Now Bill Graham Presents has been
swallowed and the name is being used as a front for Clear Channel, as
nasty a corporate predator as Fox News and Wal-Mart."
The Dead Kennedys issued a statement, too: "We're sick of hearing the
tired and baseless claim that the DK lawsuit was motivated by our
desire to put music into a commercial. Our record label was stealing
royalties from the band! Do we need anymore motivation than that? Are
folks just suppose to lie down and let the school bully steal their
lunch money? And have you noticed any Dead Kennedys' music in any
commercials lately? Or ever? News Flash: Jello uses rumors and
misinformation to cover up his own wrongdoing!"
But to Biafra, this is not a simple betrayal by former associates, but
nothing less than a global matter of corporate collusion and
capitalistic greed. And that's why Jello Biafra is still the real deal
and, without him, the Dead Kennedys aren't.
>Good article. I saw Flipper do a show at CBGB's last year and they
> Date: Sat, 8 Apr 2006 09:37:20 -0400
> From: "Carl Z." <zimm28@...>
>Subject: Clip: Joel Selvin on the Jello-free Dead Kennedys (and
>other incomplete reunions)
>I like to think of these not-quite-reunions as a generational
>development, only now the Cars have become the Platters. (Or at least
>the Temptations, who I think have one original member in the touring
>Flipper's reunited? Who's left alive from 1986?
were actually good though poor Bruce Loose has definitely seen better days.
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