photo & text by nacrowe
my experience with having a radio show precede DEER GOD RADIO and go back all the way to high school. i was lucky in that the boarding school i attended had a radio station that they fully encouraged students to participate in. for me it was a game changer because 1) even back then i was always exploring music and this provided a platform to share such with 2) a new community that i inadvertently joined in the process. the more i got involved the more i listened to other shows and learned about new music. so in essence it was an all-around great vicious cycle to be a part of that i really enjoyed.
during that period of my underclass years in high (roughly 1998-2000) i discovered 1980s HARDCORE. bands like BLACK FLAG, MINOR THREAT, THE GERMS, REAGAN YOUTH, VOID, DESCENDENTS, MDC, YOUTH BRIGADE, THE MIDDLE CLASS, DOA, THE CIRCLE JERKS, and of course, DEAD KENNEDYS. believe me, that list goes on... and on. some of those bands i learned from classmates, but the majority of them were from the shows of upperclassman at the station.
for me, DEAD KENNEDYS stood out because of their musicality and the strident, confrontational nature of their rabidly political lyrics. frontman JELLO BIAFRA was also highly charismatic and funny, something i dont think he gets credit for. i think the lyrics of FRESH FRUIT FOR ROTTING VEGETABLES (ALTERNATIVE TENTACLES, 1980) songs like "KILL THE POOR" and "LET'S LYNCH THE LANDLORD" work because they are so hyperbolic yet earnest. it felt even two decades later like he was very much playing with fire with a smirk and a sense of mischief as well as purpose. its an interesting mix. undoubtedly the reference in his name to the NIGERIAN BIAFRAN WAR also drew my attention, given that i had recently relocated to my boarding school from a middle school in LAGOS. i cant say that association wasnt an initial detail that peaked my interest at the time.
in songs like "CALIFORNIA UBER ALLES," "HOLIDAY IN CAMBODIA" and even "VIVA LAS VEGAS" there is a sense of reducing AMERICAN MIDDLE CLASS VALUES of CONSPICUOUS CONSUMERISM and POLITICAL ACQUIESENCE to their end extremes. in an era of TRUMPISM and the efforts of extreme elements with the conservative movement actively corroding democracy itself, these songs seem more of a harbinger of things to come than silly pastiche. obviously BIAFRA saw something in RONALD REAGAN's AMERICA that portended things to come.
the last thing i'll mention is the guitar work of EAST BAY RAY, which at times delves into ROCKABILLY and even SURF MUSIC. despite the aura and charms of BIAFRA, the hidden ingredient are the decidedly tasty slap-back delayed, single-not soundscapes that mark much of the songs on this record and future DEAD KENNEDY records. much as BIAFRA infused his political screeds with humor, parodies and clever wordplay, the guitar work of EAST BAY RAY and its departure from the basic power chord monotony of HARDCORE really amplified and focused the attack and bite of the band. for me those are the two main ingredients that made their debut such a remarkable achievement.
aside from being a definitive album of the period, this record likewise reminds me of the power of keeping an open ear to new music, which is something i continued in college as well as more recently with the nonprofit, streaming radio station MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC out of STATEN ISLAND of all places. like GEORGE CLINTON once said, "FREE YOUR MIND AND YOUR ASS WILL FOLLOW."
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