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Let Them Eat Jellybeans, a compilation LP put together by Biafra, was released around this time. Jellybeans served as an introduction for many to punk and underground music, featuring such bands as Black Flag, Flipper, Circle Jerks, the Bad Brains, Voice Farm, and the Dead Kennedys themselves. Once again, this was released in many countries and pirate versions abound.
After a change of drummers ( Slesinger left, Darren "D.H." Peligro joined), the DKs released a 12" EP titled In God We Trust Inc. Most of the eight songs included dealt with corruption and fascism in organized religion, and the record became a target of the religious right, which featured Christ on a crucifix made of dollars. Lyrics of songs such as "Religious Vomit" and "Moral Majority" are often quoted by religious right wing groups during presentations on the evils of rock and roll.
Musically, In God We Trust Inc. was a bit of a departure for DKs. Most of the songs included were of the thrash variety of punk - incredibly fast, short songs. The EP included a wild cover of "Rawhide," and a version of "California Über Alles" updated to cover the election of Ronald Reagan. Also included was "Nazi Punks Fuck Off, " which was later mistakenly referred to on the Phil Donahue Show as "Nazi Punk," in an attempt to show that punk rock embraced Nazism. Fortunately, an audience member corrected Donahue.
"Nazi Punks Fuck Off" was also released as a 7-inch single by Subterranean Records, which was originally set to release In God We Trust. The single was uniquely packaged in a plastic baggie with the lyrics printed first on mylar inserts, and later on the bag itself. A cloth armband with an anti-Nazi symbol was included. The single is still in print, and can be had for $3.50 ppd., yet for some reason it continues to appear in collectors ads for ten dollars or more.
Plastic Surgery Disasters , in many ways the Dead Kennedys best album, was released in 1982. This featured the singles Bleed for Me and Halloween and attacks on everything from preppies to mechanics to "Winnebago Warriors." It also included "Moon Over Marin," as close as DKs ever came to a ballad, although the anti-pollution lyrics are not the sort that Frank Sinatra will be crooning anytime soon. As always, DKs stuffed the album cover with interesting reading matter, this time a large booklet of lyrics and collages by Biafra and his artistic collaborator Winston Smith.
Plastic Surgery Disasters marked the end of the alliance between Alternative Tentacles and Faulty Products. The "bankruptcy" (don't believe it) of Faulty Products cost the band (and many small labels distributed by Faulty) lots of money and delayed the release of many Alternative Tentacles records. Biafra took it as a sign that he should put out the records himself, and after a brief manufacturing and distribution deal with Subterranean, during which the world was introduced to the Butthole Surfers via their first ever release, ATR finally became independent.
Rumors had it that an LP to be called Cancer Cures Everything was coming soon , but after a long hiatus, the Frankenchrist album was released,. Considered by Biafra to be the DKs shining moment ( although fans don't usually agree), Frankenchrist was the LP that got the band in the biggest trouble of its career. It wasn't the music however, that got the band in hot water( and with songs like "MTV get off the air" and "Stars and Stripes of Corruption," the music wasn't certainly endearing the band to everybody in the world), it was a poster that was included free with the album.
Biafra stumbled upon a reproduction of a painting by European artist H.R. Giger titled "Landscape No. 20: Where We Are Coming From." The painting, which features dismembered, ugly genitals copulating in what looks like sludge, had been reproduced in many books and magazines over the years, and Biafra secured the rights to include it as part of the Frankenchrist package. About the painting, Biafra says "I began to realize, 'My god, we have met the enemy and it is us, this is what we do to each other every day in consumer-oriented society. Wait a minute, this is what we're talking about on a lot of the Frankenchrist songs.' I thought the Giger painting would be a great way to drive home the point, even if some people in high positions of power with no sense of humor didn't seem to understand."
Originally, the painting was meant to be the gatefold inner cover for Frankenchrist, but a member of DKs vehemently objected and it was instead inserted into the album as a poster. Although the poster was expected to raise some eyebrows, no one expected it to cause as much trouble as it did. A warning sticker, albeit a sarcastic one, was affixed to the cover, partially to parody the warning stickers that the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) was demanding at the time, partially to cover themselves in case there was difficulty. The sticker read : "WARNING : The inside fold out to this record cover is a work of art by H.R. Giger that some people may find shocking, repulsive or offensive. Life can sometimes be that way."
When a San Fernando Valley mother complained that her 13- year old daughter had purchased the record as a gift for her 11-year old brother (at a Wherehouse Records outlet in a large mall), the LA City Attorney's Office decided to prosecute the case. Deputy city attorney Michael Guarino, the prosecutor in the case, admitted they chose to prosecute the DKs because it would be a "cost-effective" way to send a message to other musicians, record companies and fans. Guarino had been considering prosecuting several other groups when this case came along, and he thought he could win this one.
The first Biafra heard of all this was when he was awakened from his sleep one morning by the sound of his window being broken and several police officers invading his house, supposedly to seize the "evidence." ( No one bothered to knock.) They took numerous personal effects, including his address book, as well as a few copies of Frankenchrist and the business ledgers of Alternative Tentacles, making it impossible to conduct business for a while.
Charged in the case were Biafra, and four others, including the 67-year old man whose company pressed the Frankenchrist disc. Conspicuously not charged were Wherehouse Records which sold the offending album. They had agreed to stop selling Frankenchrist and all other Dead Kennedys albums when the controversy first surfaced.
Biafra and the others decided to fight the charges of distributing harmful matter to minors, and set up the No More Censorship Defense Fund, which along with helping with the legal fees in the Frankenchrist case, makes available copies of articles dealing with censorship and plans to help others who are being harassed. Contributions came in mostly from fans of alternative music; envelopes of teenager's allowance and an encouraging note were common. Not so common were contributions from those popular figures who stood to suffer if Biafra lost the case. Three notable figures who did come to Biafra's aid were Frank Zappa, Little Steven Van Zandt and Paul Kantner.
Although Tipper Gore's PMRC did not claim credit for the case, they certainly approved of it, and it was their talk of rating records that led to the pro-censorship climate of the mid and late 1980's. ( Of course, they are very loath to call it censorship, even though several major record store chains had agreed to not to carry any record that contained a negative rating label.) The No More Censorship Defense Fund called for a boycott of Coors beer and other companies that financed the PMRC, and chronicled their activities in the newsletters inserted in DKs albums.
Finally, after months of delay, during which Biafra's time was taxed enough that he had no time to work on his music, the case went to trial. After a week-long trial in which witnesses such as Greil Marcus testified on the group's behalf, and a respected art teacher attempted to show how the poster was an integral part of the Frankenchrist package, the jury came out deadlocked (7-5 in favor of acquittal), and the judge dismissed the case.
Ironically, the painting which stirred up all the controversy had been printed in several books which could be found in libraries all across the U.S., all published without incident. Giger is a highly respected artist who had even won an academy award ( for his Alien set design), and found all the controversy very strange.
In the midst of all the hullabaloo , the Dead Kennedys had broken up. Bedtime for Democracy, their final album, came out in late 1986, and was unfortunately a major disappointment. While many of the lyrics were interesting enough, musically it verged on the generic, and there were few standout cuts. The song that received the most airplay was the cover of the Johnny Paycheck tune "Take This Job and Shove It." Another tune, "Rambozo the Clown," inspired a T-shirt featuring a drawing of Rambozo himself.
During the final year of virtual purgatory waiting for the Frankenchrist trial, Biafra embarked on a couple of short solo tours, speaking on the issue of censorship among, many, many other things. These spoken-word performances were issued on the No More Cocoons double album in 1988. He also recently assembled a fantastic collection of the DKs early singles and lost tracks, Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death. The package included a bonus flexi disc, the tracks of which were also included in the cassette and CD versions.