Punk Band Dead Kennedys Show Relevence 40 years After Their Conception

By: Jesus De La Rosa
OwlFeed Journalist

Despite only have a short 8 year run, from the conception in 1978 to their dismantlement in 1986, San Francisco Punk band Dead Kennedys have become giant names in the scene, garnering a reputation for their masterful satirical commentary on society and politics as well as offending many who hear their songs. Their fast paces, hardcore style adds to the aggressive nature and can be intimidating to some, senior Maria Morales recalls her first time listening to their music, “I first heard Nazi Punks and it blew me away, it was aggressive and weird and the lyrics were bold, they knew what they wanted to say and didn’t care if they offended.”


Photo credit: songfacts.com

Mostly active during the Carter and Reagan administration, their satire and message still rings eerily true almost 40 years later.


Their debut album, “Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables,” is probably their most famous work, spawning hits like “Holiday in Cambodia,” a song painting a brutal depiction of Pol Pot in Cambodia while mocking rich American college students at the time for their self-righteous attitudes and their beliefs that they knew the plights of the poor. The song invites them to take a trip to Cambodia, where about 1.5 to 2 million Cambodians were killed in a genocide carried out by Pol Pot’s communist regime, a genocide that many people still don’t know occurred.

The album opens up with one of their most abrasive tracks, showing upfront that the Dead Kennedys won’t shy away from controversy, the problematically titled “Kill The Poor.” The track is meant to highlight the greed and lack of basic human decency some nations and politicians have. The song is sung in a satirical and mocking tone, praising the creation of the neutron bomb as an effective way of killing off the poor while preserving all the valuable infrastructure around them. Speaking to Punknews.org, Biafra recalls the thought process behind the track, “We could have another song about how bad nuclear war is, but can we say it in a different way? What about from the Pentagon’s view? Even the Carter admission is talking about this Neutron Bomb that kills people but doesn’t harm valuable property…” Aha! “Kill the Poor was born!”

Cuts like the B-side “Police Truck” are still relevant to this day, telling a story through the corrupt eyes of a cop, who spends his days abusing his power and terrorizing his community. Their album Frankenchrist doubles down on their opinion on a Regan led America, who they feel, as expressed in the song Hellnation, got re-elected by “conning poor people and peers”.

The Dead Kennedys were a prolific voice in punk rock up until their disbandment in 1986, and the band was plagued with inner legal disputes post-breakup, ironically enough over money. While the other members still play under the name Dead Kennedys, lead vocalist Jello Biafra has not been a part of it, and they have yet to capture the spirit of the original Dead Kennedys.

Many fans feel that in this time of extreme political tension and divide, we need the Dead Kennedys once again to voice the anger and frustration many are feeling. While this is likely to never happen, Biafra does have suggestions as to what a political resistance would be now. In an interview with Rolling Stone, he recounted an old saying of his ‘Don’t hate the media, become the media.’

This does not mean blogging to an echo chamber of people who agree with you,” he said. “It means going to people face-to-face. And they may put you down the way Trump put you down at first. And it may turn your stomach hearing their side of the argument but someone has to plant those seeds.”