Flame That Bright, Don’t Last the Night

Fired by the white-hot righteous flames of punk rock rebellion I bought Dead Kennedys Bedtime For Democracy way back in 1992.  When I stumbled across a second-hand copy in Leeds Market it was a must-buy, the Winston Smith cover art was worth the price alone and they were pretty much my favourite punkers of all at the time.  Full of excitement I took it home and … meh!

Dead Kennedys Bedtime 09

My initial verdict, after straining my eyes on the teeny tiny words inside the gatefold cover, was ‘great politics, no tunes’ and listening to it again, skinny young long-haired me was bang on the money.  In fact I’d change that a little bit now, 23 years later to ‘great politics, too many words’.  I really think a lot of the tracks here suffer from Jello and the band trying to cram all his words into each track, now I’m a big fan of fast but some of these tracks must have put Mr Biafra’s jaw in a splint!*

Dead Kennedys Bedtime 01

Check out the number of tracks!
Check out the number of tracks!

This incarnation of the Dead Kennedys was a fine, whiplash-fast ensemble, as they show here time and time again; the gibbering speed-of-light ‘Dear Abby’ being a prime example.  So it’s the tracks which buck that formula that are the ones that stand out here.  I’m a big fan of the slower paced ‘I Spy’, where the band’s undoubted mutant rockabilly genes creep to the surface again for all to hear**.  I also have a lot of time for the even slower, tuneful, ‘Cesspools In Eden’ and it’s seeping tale of pollution; come on everyone sing-a-long!

Cesspools in Eden,  Oozing away
Cesspools in Eden,  Leak by the day
Cesspools in Eden,  Have a nice day

The revenge of Lady Liberty
The revenge of Lady Liberty

The jazzy ‘DMSO’ and it’s tales of chemical anti-cop retribution is another winner, but my absolute favourite is ‘A Commercial’.  A sarcastic redneck-baiting advert for a ‘USA for South Africa’ telethon, it’s excellent – Jello lines his Reagan era targets up against the wall and custard pies them all, it’s much more effective than the full flame-thrower treatment elsewhere on the album.

All those teeny tiny words confuse inconspicuous panda.
All those teeny tiny words confuse inconspicuous panda.

If you know the Kennedys, or remember your 1980’s USA you’ll be able to guess most of the marks in advance (hell, how could anyone not be a sneery left-wing punker back then?) Reagan, corrupt polluting corporations, the government’s use of the military, the music industry, macho dudes, Reaganomics and the US lefty punk scene.

The latter is the most interesting to me, this was the Dead Kennedys’ fourth and last LP and cynical though they always were, the disillusionment with a bitchy (Do The Slag), conformist (Chickenshit Conformist^), humorless (Where Do Ya Draw The Line) hardcore punk scene that was starting to become just another brand (Anarchy For sale).  Maybe the whole thing just wasn’t enough fun anymore and apart from a few brief spikes, the music on Bedtime For Democracy mirrored this, it sounds a bit like a break-up.  ‘Flame that bright, don’t last the night’, as the great man wrote^^.

Click to enlarge the brilliant Winston Smith cover art below, oh and my own deeply cool redesign:

582 Down.

PS – have a bit of Jello in Canada (also contains footage of a young Henry Rollins, Aaron):

You can smell both bands disillusionment with the whole scene.

*The next logical step was to dispense with the band and go all spoken word.

**words and music on this baby by D.H Peligro.

^Great title – I’m going to steal it for my autobiography some day.

^^me, actually, I just made up that line, in my brain and done wrote it down.  I’m pretty sure that makes me an artist.

51 thoughts on “Flame That Bright, Don’t Last the Night

  1. After Fresh Fruit I wondered, even back then, in my brain-smashed state, whether they’d do anything better. Y’know, sometimes you just get that feeling… the first time you riot is always better than the second time, or the third. By the fourth you just don’t get the same buzz from smashing and looting the American Dream store. (Although I did get a nice T.V. that played lots of nice propaganda plays -or movies as we sometimes know them.) It’s like this for me- there’s only so much speed you can ingest before you become a freak. This able has the horrible ear gnashing you’d get from a speed freak on a bus journey through south America. Tedious rants, frequent breakdowns and not enough toilet stops.
    Did I really just write that about my all-time heroes?
    I was fortunate to have been in the ‘first wave’ as it is now referred to. By the early eighties I was already standing by the dusty roadside in the middle of musical nowhere with my thumb out hoping for a ride.. to rehab. It never came. So I walked. The only time I ever got that punk feeling back was when, staggering around in the Venue in New Cross, (yes, I relapsed and went to a disco) the DJ played Teen Spirit. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. There it was again. I would even stick my little sober neck out and say there it goes again,again, when I listened to Champagne Holocaust by The Fat Whites. (But I’m heavily biased as my little progeny runs their record label!)
    So, yes, this ones a bit of a let down. But I won’t hear a bad word spoken about Jello and the crew. I would challenge anyone who differs to a fist fight and say – “Hey, you try and follow Fresh Fruit!” while pelting them with rotting veg.

    1. Okay now, no-one wants to hurt you fella. Let’s just all sit down and talk about it, I’m going to keep my hands right here where you can see them. See, everyone friendly, everyone’s cool. This way its all civilized. Oh and you won’t see the tranq dart until too late.

  2. After a string of 3 brilliant LPs (and one brilliant EP) this was a real disappointment for me. It still is, aside from the amazing cover, which still reminds me of the Ramones Rocket To Russia cover. I bought this on the day of release, and traded it in a week later, if memory serves. Give Me convenience is an excellent album unto itself, as you say, and a great starting point.

  3. Same as Zack, I only know well and own Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables. “California Über Alles” is my go-to Kennedys song. I love the references in the songs dating them to their time and place but have always thought they probably made it difficult for future generations to embrace the band. Been tempted to buy more but have tended to shy away, possibly due somehow to some kind of reverse warp space folding event that caused this 1537 review here to influence me even before it came into existence on the linear plain. So thanks for the pre-guidance.

    1. I’m like you with all the references, and being American I’m sure you’ll pic up on lots of them I won’t too. I think you’re right, it does date them but like CSNY ‘Ohio’ great protest songs will always find a young angry audience.

      I’d really recommend ‘Give Me Convenience’ and ‘In God We Trust Inc.’ too, after that there’s good stuff but diminishing returns.

      Never mind my time travelling – aren’t you prohibited from owning Dead Kennedys LPs as a federal employee?!!

  4. Also, love that video. They’re little babies! Hahaha. I was thinking even during the interview and I saw Henry that it was 84-86, because he had long hair – he shaved his head at the start and (claims to have) never cut it during his time as singer, so longer hair would be 84-86…

  5. I listened to the Dead Kennedys back in the 80s, especially after criminal charges were brought against Biafra for his “Frankenchrist” album. I have some of his spoken word speeches recorded on a CD. He says a lot of great things.

    1. I had four or five of his spoken word sets too and I found that after I listened to them and said ‘right on!’ I never really went back to them. But you’re right, he could hit the nail right on the head.

      1. That’s the danger with those things, I have a brilliant DJ mix by Coldcut that uses chunks of ‘No More Cocoons’ in a dance track, it’s brilliant.

      1. I knew a record store owner in Saskatoon who told me he went to hear Jello speak, and during the show Jello ranted about how he got edged out and about the remasters and the money of it all. And after the show he asked for spare change (he used a hat) to help support him since the other guys scfrewed him over.

        The very next day Biafra was in his store buying records with the money he’d begged the night before.

        Punk as fuck.

      2. I know someone very vaguely who put on a Jello show and he wasn’t an easy chap to deal with, apparently. They wouldn’t do it again.

    1. Roughly about 110 of those little minifigures. They’ve just bought out a really cool Halloween range – there’s a Frankenstein with a bass guitar; perfect for Lemmy from Motörhead!

    1. They were a blowtorch of a band. very funny too, which gets them huge extra 1537 bonus points.

      Plus they fit with all my knee-jerk left-wing commie pinko politics.

      1. Of course, the trouble withall that is that it burns out too quickly because even young a-holes can’t be all vitriol all the time or people stop listening. They just all ‘oh it’s THOSE guys again, here we go again…’

  6. I’ve often wanted to look into more of the Kennedys catalog. All I have is “Fresh Fruit,” but from what I gather; that may be the only one worth having.

      1. See and I didn’t like Give Me Convenience… I thought it left off too much, and didn’t flow well as a mix. But ignore me, I’ll be over in my corner, chewing on a bone and snarling… 🙂

Leave a Reply