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!
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!*
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 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.
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:
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.