Saturday, May 06, 2006

Me, Jello, & the Dead Kennedys Book That Never Was

I wrote a very lengthy version of this tale that quickly spiraled out of control, so I scrapped it and penned this truncated but still interesting (hopefully) version of Jim Greene Tries to Write a Book About the Dead Kennedys & Almost Succeeds.

In late 2001, I decided the world needed a comprehensive, exhaustive book about the Dead Kennedys, one of the most notorious punk bands of all-time (not to mention one of my favorites). I sat down, wrote each member a fancy-schmancy letter requesting their assistance, and dropped them in the mail. I didn't hear from back from any of them until February of 2002, when Klaus Flouride e-mailed me to let me know he, East Bay Ray, and D.H. Peligro were somewhat interested in this proposed book and that they wanted to meet with me in a couple of days.

I met the three of them in Jacksonville, FL, where they were playing one of the Dead Kennedys "reunion" shows with Brandon Cruz on vocals. For the record, these were about the only circumstances under which I would have attended a DK "reunion" show with Brandon Cruz on vocals. Klaus was very friendly and personable; he seemed to be the most interested in this book idea. Ray was also friendly, though a bit guarded. He was very careful about what he said to me, for fear that I might "use it against him." Although that was a little disheartening, I could understand.

D.H. I communicated with the least. He struck me as a pretty nice guy with a good sense of humor. I believe he had some prior engagement in the weeks following the Jacksonville concert, which is when I spent most of my time interviewing Klaus and Ray over the phone while they were at their respective homes. During this time I also spoke with DK artist Winston Smith and former DK drummer Bruce "Ted" Slesinger. All were very generous with their time and patient with me, considering I was just some punk college kid who had never really tried to do anything like this before.

I heard many fascinating and sometimes hilarious stories, including why Bruce/Ted left the band (he loved needling Jello, apparently, and the singer eventually laid down the ultimatum, "either Bruce goes or I go"), the infamous "Pull My Strings" performance (it was recorded as part of a live radio broadcast, and no one in the control room was really paying attention to what Jello was saying), and the time Jello retreated into the California wilderness to live in a shack with a really angry cat. This was the best part of the entire experience.

Unfortunately, things just weren't coming together on any other front. Outside of Winston Smith, it was damn near impossible to get anyone who knew the band to talk to me. Someone told me that was because they were all afraid risking Jello's wrath by taking part in something that was possibly non-Jello sanctioned. Also, I couldn't find an interested publisher. Most flat-out rejected me. One suggested I write a book about Courtney Love instead. I almost gagged.

Finally, at the end of February, I heard back from the High Priest of Harmful Matter himself, singer/poet/actor/activist Jello Biafra. Getting my letter to him was an ordeal in itself, as apparently he only communicates via fax machine. Anyway, he wrote the repsonse to my letter and addressed the envelope by hand, which was nice. His kindness ended there:

"Dear James,

Thank you for your offer, but as far as I am concerned, the last thing the world needs is a book about Dead Kennedys. Why not let the music speak for itself?

Plus, I have no interest in rehasing all the ugly gossip surrounding the other three ex-DKs' vicious ugly lawsuit.

I am sorry I can't be more helpful, but I don't really have the time for this anyway, let alone the interest.


Jello Biafra"

That was pretty much the nail in the coffin. I tried to convince myself to press on, but I could see not having Jello's help would be more of a hindrance than suddenly losing both of my hands. I thanked the other Kennedys for their help, told them I was moving on, and they wished me well.

In an ironic postscript, Jello came to my college to do one of his spoken word lecture things a month or so later. Of course I went, with the intention of confronting him and/or making a scene. When I got there and saw him, walking around outside the place like he owned the world, commenting on everything he saw in a loud, grandiose way so the Peanut Gallery surrounding him would have something to chuckle about, I decided to just let it be. Our worlds weren't meant to collide, and if they did, it would probably be ugly. I left during the first intermission of his word speak lecture.

So until another aspiring author decides to tackle the Dead Kennedys as his or her subject matter, the music will have to speak for itself (as Jello would prefer). I'm okay with that. I wasn't for a while, but I am now.

The music is very good, you know.


Blogger CJ Marsicano said...

I had the idea of doing a book on Dead Kennedys back in '98 (BEFORE the Ray/Klaus/Peligro triumvirate sued Biafra), and Biafra had replied by fax with that exact same first paragraph. Somewhere I still have that fax.

A few years later (Sept. 2001), I wrote about the DK's vs JB case for an online zine. Alternative Tentacles sent me an e-mail telling me to call Biafra at such and such a number. As it turned out, he wanted to tell me how much he liked the article.

2:37 PM  
Anonymous jon said...

jello sounds like a prick. at least he wrote back, i guess.

oh, and you left out the part of the story where you tried to pick up that girl at the smoothie stand at the mall by mentioning the DK book. haha, that was awesome.

10:01 AM  
Blogger tervin said...

I admire your moxie.

He gets paid a mint to do those spoken word things. I remember seeing his blurb in the info packets agencies send out.

9:25 PM  

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