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Review: Dead Kennedys’ Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables March 29, 2015

Posted by sjroby in Book reviews, Music.
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Another Netgalley review in exchange for free read.

Though a lot of the books in the 33 1/3 series just tell the story of the album on the front cover, many don’t, instead presenting fact or fiction inspired in some way by the album. So I should point out that anyone looking for detailed information about this album — differences between the different versions, stories behind all the songs, recording info, etc — won’t find a lot of that here.

This book is more about San Francisco city politics in the late 1970s, the romanticization of punk as a revolutionary force, the genius of Jello Biafra and the band’s combining shock tactic lyrics with humour and actual political points.

It’s certainly educational in its San Francisco urban history (a lot of the stuff about the punk scene is familiar from other sources), but Foley’s partisan take on things sometimes leads him to overdo it. Even when I agree with him, which is often, it feels like he’s preaching to the converted rather than making a cogent argument.

This book won’t do much for readers interested in Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables as a musical recording. It’s more for those who want to believe in punk as a politically important and meaningful cultural moment. I’ve been one of those people, though I doubt I still have the paper I wrote on the subject at university. Ultimately, though, as much as I enjoy this album and as much as I still love a lot of old and new punk rock, it’s still an album never heard or heard of by the vast majority of people I know, then or now. It might be better to make a case for the political and cultural importance of the band and the album by looking at those who’ve been influenced or inspired by it. I also would have liked to learn more about the band members, and what happened to them since this album.

Not entirely my thing, but in 2015 it’s almost refreshing to see this kind of idealistic punk ranting. Makes for a bit of contrast with the cynical, sarcastic tone of the Dead Kennedys’ songs themselves.

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