Classic – Dead Kennedys – Holiday in Cambodia

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Yesterday Epic Records dropped Death Grips. Death Grips isn’t so much a flash in the pan as a shirtless man yelling like a wolf who runs in to the kitchen, snatches the pan from your hand, dumps out everything from the pan on the ground and throws the pan through the window before running away. No you’ve got no dinner, why did you let this man in to your house?

That was really poorly written, but I was inspired by Death Grips. After releasing their album for free and ahead of schedule (and with a photograph of an erect penis on the cover), against the wishes of Epic, they gesticulated snotty indifference to the label’s ire. So yesterday Epic dropped them. Death Grips is, if nothing else, a very divisive outfit, and their fans are probably more vociferous than their detractors.  But in light of their “don’t give a fuck about ANYTHING” ethos, I was lead to consider bands from the past who employed similar “shock and disgust” tactics.

The Dead Kennedys were very much the “shock and disgust” band of their time. The only difference is that when the Dead Kennedys wrote a song it was usually about something. A song like “Kill the Poor” is a winking satire highlighting the fact that there is a section of the population who essentially feel that’s a good idea. The band’s seminal album Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables is full of these absurdist cautionary tales.

“Holiday in Cambodia” is one of those songs that feels picked out of the ether. It’s an incredibly profound subject for a song and one that I don’t believe has ever been retried. Generally the song is about wealthy people vacationing amidst the squalor of the third world. As is typical of Jello Biafra’s lyrics, the song doesn’t so much explain as it suggests; maybe “cultured rich person” means the same thing as “totally oblivious rich person.”

The Kennedys never did anything groundbreaking musically, but they are essential to the history of punk. They were the pinnacle of angry, bottle-throwing, amp-blowing  power, but they also had something to say. Seems to be more than we can hope for these days.

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