Music » Music Stories & Interviews




Do pie-eyed, pierced 15-year-olds really care if they pay a king's ransom to see a decoy DK? Jello Biafra certainly thinks so. In February, the ex-Dead Kennedys frontman filed a lawsuit against his former bandmates East Bay Ray, Klaus Flouride, and D. H. Peligro for the unauthorized use of his name, voice, photograph, likeness, and/or artwork. He maintains that said materials are being used to promote a Dead Kennedys reunion tour featuring a "stand-in" lead singer, former child star Brandon Cruz (of TV's The Courtship of Eddie's Father). And though he presents his case in a typically alarmist fashion, absolutely seething with self-righteous indignation, Biafra's objections are quite valid. It seems some promoters have conveniently neglected to inform venues, and some clubs have neglected to inform fans, of Biafra's conspicuous absence from the bill.

"I have asked the ex-DKs to please remove my name and likeness from all their releases and promotional material," says Biafra in a recent press release. "Don't get me wrong, I'm as proud as ever of Dead Kennedys, and grateful for how much we mean to people. But to me what they are trying to do is like spray-painting a McDonald's logo on the Mona Lisa. They have the right to cover versions of Dead Kennedys songs — everyone does — but I feel really badly for all the people paying ticket prices, reported to be as high as $25, thinking it's the real Dead Kennedys, and wind up getting stuck with the world's greediest karaoke band!"

So begins the next chapter in Biafra's lengthy legal ledger. The man just can't seem to keep himself out of court. A good half of his career has been spent in litigation — first with the Moral Majority, and more recently with his former band on another point of contention. According to Biafra's press releases, a somewhat trivial dispute grew ugly in 1997 when he opposed the use of "Holiday in Cambodia" in a Levi's Dockers television commercial. At the time, the band was incorporated as Decay Music — a partnership that operated by majority rule. Although outvoted, Biafra so vehemently opposed the use of the song that he began a flamboyant campaign of stall tactics to prevent the deal from going through. In retaliation, East Bay Ray, Flouride, and Peligro sued Biafra's label, Alternative Tentacles, for nonpayment of some $76,000 in royalties over a 10-year period — subsequently winning a $200,000 settlement in 2000. Ironically, as a band member, Biafra will receive part of that judgment sum. Biafra and Alternative Tentacles are currently appealing the verdict.

There are, of course, two sides to every story. The band now known as Dead Kennedys maintains that the court case against Alternative Tentacles was NOT in retaliation for the Dockers episode, but the legitimate collection of unpaid debt — cut and dry. They characterize Biafra's story as a diversionary tactic meant to bury the reality that he was found guilty of fraudulently concealing revenue by a California court. Biafra's former bandmates also seized control of the entire Dead Kennedys catalog from Alternative Tentacles, except for the band's first album, Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, and the legendary single "Nazi Punks Fuck Off."

Since that seizure, Decay Music `sans-Biafra` has entered a whorish frenzy of reissue fever. Re-mastered versions of Dead Kennedys classics, a new live recording, and a live performance video are popping up like pimples all over the globe, distributed by Manifesto in the U.S. and Plastic Head in Europe. Biafra is incensed about these recent developments: "I feel I have an obligation to blow the whistle and warn people why I do not support and did not authorize these so-called "reissues" on Decay Music and Manifesto. I am embarrassed by the poor performances on the live album and embarrassed to be associated with Manifesto. I feel they are taking advantage of an ugly legal verdict even before a judge has heard our appeal."

Biafra is not a hapless or blameless victim, though he does often come across as a big beret-wearing baby. But as the DK "reunion" tour makes its way across the U.S., his accusations of bait-and-switch promotional tactics are repeatedly validated. Band photos circulated by promoters clearly depict the Dead Kennedys' original lineup. Local rags running the photos are often unaware of the lineup discrepancy. Venues have been notified of the lineup change as little as two weeks prior to performance dates. So the subterfuge continues. As for the Dead Kennedys, fraud seems to run in the family.

Dead Kennedys
with Drink Fight Thugs, Red Reverse, Social Revolt
Thursday, April 18
$12 advance, $15 day of show
White Rabbit
2410 N. St. Mary's
224-9600 (Ticketmaster)

Support Local Journalism.
Join the San Antonio Current Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the San Antonio Press Club for as little as $5 a month.