On T-Shirt Wars and Punk Rock Museums

‘Nazi Punks Fuck Off’ was the first Dead Kennedys song I ever heard. In it’s one minute run time, it had more ideas than most other songs:

“You’ll be the first to go
You’ll be the first to go
You’ll be the first to go
Unless you think”

It called out ‘punks’ for playing dress-up, it called out businessmen and cops for being hypocrites; it was the only thing in my teenage peripheral telling me that not being an idiot was ok. When teachers, politicians, and parents told you “that’s just the way it is,” DK showed you another way.

In 1979, Jello Biafra (DK’s singer) ran for mayor of San Fransisco and turned it into a circus. He had campaign promises like banning cars from the city, forcing businessman to wear clown suits, and make the police stand for elections. When authorities questioned him on his platform, it usually back-fired and showed something ugly about them and their system.

“You still think swastikas look cool
The real nazis run your schools
They’re coaches, businessmen and cops”

It the 80s the PMRC put Jello and his music on trial for obscenity. Tipper Gore (Al Gore’s Peggy Bundy) led the censorship charge. Despite all of Tipper’s progressive-environmental-LGBQ-friendly posturing, Jello’s agitations showed her true colors; at best a church lady, at worst diet-Ceaușescu. Jello won the case and set a legal precedent. He stood up to their culture, and changed the world for the better.

That’s what makes Dead Kennedy’s present situation of royalty lawsuits and public feuding so tragic. Their ideas can’t even govern their own band, let alone society at large. Biafra is just some sketchy boss who doesn’t pay his employees. East Bay Ray (DK’s guitarist) is the anarchist who called the cops.

East Bay Ray et all’s willingness to tour with an incomplete band, and his constant complaints over artist royalties in the internet age do imply that he’s all about the benjamins. But Jello keeps peddling lies about his former bandmates that have been proven false in court. He also seems completely comfortable taking credit for all of the band’s success despite being unable to play any instrument or come anywhere near DK’s peak in his solo(ish) career.

What’s most troubling is that so many people are willing to engage in Jello’s cult of personality. Even today you’ll still find fanboys and the hot-topic homeless protesting fake DK’s shows and repeating Biafra’s endless nonsense.

“Punk ain’t no religious cult
Punk means thinking for yourself”

Punk started as a iconoclastic movement about smashing old idols to make a new one out of yourself. It ends when you’re willing to take sides in a fight about t-shirt royalties.

“You ain’t hardcore cos you spike your hair
When a jock still lives inside your head”

Last week, a businessman burned £5m of punk memorabilia that he inherited. Auctioneers and record nerds cried crocodile tears, but I think they should thank him. At the very least he saved them some cash, but maybe he forced them to think, just like ‘Nazi Punks Fuck Off’ did for me. Sometimes actions sing louder than songs. Yesterday never comes. Start now.

“In a real fourth reich you’ll be the first to go”