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I got into Dead Kennedys when I was a teenager in the late ’90s. They had a couple songs on Burning Ambitions, these awesome punk rock compilations recommended to me by Dave, my local record store guru. Around the same time my pal Joe dubbed a bunch of their stuff onto a cassette for me. Even for punk, Dead Kennedys were warped. They played this dark, inward style of surf music where the guitar sounded like it was dripping with acid. The singer’s insane helium voice had to be a put on. Who sounds like that? Tiny Tim? Mickey Mouse on crack? It was demented, but I loved it. And the songs were these caustic, astute, invigorating, and often very funny diatribes railing against everything wrong with society — wealth disparity, suburban sprawl, nationalism, the military industrial complex, pollution, corporations, religion.
Thank god someone is saying all this shit out loud!
Cut to 2001. I was struggling to finish college. The struggle got even harder when I was struck by the calling to write a book about Dead Kennedys. Part of it came from reading Our Band Could Be Your Life, which was published that year. Each chapter in Our Band is devoted to a different underground group of the ’80s. Dead Kennedys are referenced often throughout the text but they didn’t receive their own chapter. That seemed insane. Man, when are these guys gonna get their due? A scrapbook was floating around back then called Dead Kennedys: The Unauthorized Version; it has a lot of cool pictures and quotes but that’s it. Someone’s gotta write a real book about these guys, one that really gets into how important they are. Why not me?
A good answer would have been, “Because you have zero experience.” I’d never written anything professionally. My career consisted of a Geocities website where I posted pea-brained opinions on records and movies. Hey, everybody has to start somewhere, and I liked to dream big. So suddenly I was pushing everything aside to figure out a Dead Kennedys book. I sat in my classes furiously scribbling in notebooks, working under the assumption that I could just bribe my professors into giving me passing grades.
I didn’t want to write this book without the help of every Dead Kennedy, so I wrote them all letters asking if they’d like to participate. This is probably the craziest part of the story — since I couldn’t find exact addresses for most of the band members, I just wrote their names and “San Francisco, CA” on the envelopes. Like I was writing to Santa Claus. One small caveat: I had to fax my letter to singer Jello Biafra. An associate explained that he preferred to receive correspondence that way. Okay, sure, you got it.
By this point, it was no secret that Dead Kennedys had fractured into two very embittered camps. A lawsuit over royalties and catalog control shattered any illusions about brotherhood. Let’s see how succinctly I can explain this fight. Dead Kennedys started their own record label in 1979 called Alternative Tentacles. After the band broke up in 1986, Jello was granted sole ownership of Alternative Tentacles. Ten years after that, the label’s GM discovered that the other Dead Kennedys — guitarist East Bay Ray, bassist Klaus Flouride, and drummer D.H. Peligro — had been stiffed on royalties to the tune of six figures. The instrumentalists claimed the GM blew the whistle on a coverup where Jello was going to disguise the missing royalties as brand new profit. Jello said he and the other Dead Kennedys were trying to solve everything amicably until they got mad that he wouldn’t agree to license their song “Holiday in Cambodia” to a Levi’s commercial.
Ray, Klaus, and D.H. sued Jello for fraud. The case went to trial in 2000; Jello was found guilty. As a fan, I didn’t know what to think. Who was telling the truth? All I knew is it would make a compelling portion of my book. So I sent my letters off, assuming they’d come right back or get lost in the mail. This was in August of 2001, I think. Then I caught some news that made me wish I’d never sent Dead Kennedys any letters in the first place. Ray, Klaus, and D.H. were reforming the band with a new singer for a national tour. What a crass, capitalistic thing to do — exactly the type of thing this band was always against. Who could replace Jello? No one. I was so pissed off I peeled the Dead Kennedys stickers off my car.
I was trying to forget about all this when an e-mail from Klaus Flouride hit my inbox in February 2002. It said something like, “Hi James, we got your letters. We’re playing in Jacksonville soon. Isn’t that close to where you are? Let’s meet up.” I spent a few minutes staring at this e-mail, trying to find any sign that it might be a prank. Eventually I realized it wasn’t. Hmmm. Well, I guess I’ll write a Dead Kennedys book after all. Honestly, I was shitting my pants. I still loved every Dead Kennedys record and this felt like an incredible break. Not that I was in any way prepared for it, or deserving of it.
A week later, there I was, face to face with Klaus Flouride in a Jacksonville parking lot. He had a kindly, measured demeanor, like that of a trusted uncle or neighbor. “Another writer recently contacted us about doing a book,” Klaus told me. “But you sent us actual letters, and that impressed us.” I still couldn’t believe the letters didn’t wind up in the trash. Klaus took me into the club to meet Ray, whose light blue button down shirt tucked into khakis was a more conservative look than I was expecting. We engaged in some polite, friendly small talk. Then, suddenly, Ray took a firm tone. “Could you go back outside? As I’m sure you know, anything I say can and will be used against me.” Okay, so this guy’s a little paranoid. Back in the parking lot, D.H. Peligro was doing pull ups on a portable workout rig. He did more pull ups in two minutes than I’d ever done in my life. “So, you’re the author?” he inquired with a sly grin.
Later on I re-entered the club to watch soundcheck. For the first couple of minutes, Ray, Klaus, and D.H. didn’t really have it together. They sounded like high schoolers picking their instruments up for the first time. Then they went into “Life Sentence” and it was like bam, that classic Dead Kennedys sound. Just like the record. Afterwards, Ray’s guitar tech invited me and my traveling companion Chris (also a massive Dead Kennedys fan) to dinner. It was fascinating watching the guys who recorded Plastic Surgery Disasters wander around downtown Jacksonville on a Sunday night, tying to figure out where to eat. We ended up at a Firehouse Subs. They had “Futurama” on a television inside the Firehouse. I will never forget laughing like a hyena at something Bender the Robot said and Klaus Flouride whipping his head around like he’d heard a car crash.
Brandon Cruz, the singer substituting for Jello, was pleasant but we didn’t talk very much. It was definitely strange watching him onstage with the rest of the band. As I recall, the original plan for this iteration of Dead Kennedys was to play one surprise concert to celebrate their legal victory against Jello. They started rehearsing with different singers but word got out. It didn’t take long for crowds to start forming outside their rehearsal space. So they decided to book a tour. And they hired Cruz, a former child actor who more recently sang for Dr. Know.
I had this idea that after they played I’d spend a little time interviewing each Dead Kennedy but I only got to speak at length with Klaus that night. We sat down at the bar and he immediately opened up about all this strife he’d had with his father. Not in an intense way. He was just telling it like it was. That conversation wrapped up and the evening ended with a semi-circle in the parking lot. The Dead Kennedys and I agreed we were gonna do this book. They gave me their phone numbers. I apologized to them if I had been too intrusive at all during our visit.
“Well, you followed us to dinner,” Ray said. “That was weird.”
“Your guitar tech invited me.”
Insecurity started to get the better of me so I offered another apology. This one was kind of rambling. Ray and Klaus looked uncomfortable. Suddenly D.H. let out a huge cackle. “Oh my god, James! Don’t worry! It’s all good!” He stepped forward to give me the hand clasp half hug that men give each other to emphasize that it is, in fact, all good.
So I went home. And I spent the next five or six months interviewing Dead Kennedys for my book.
I had standing dates every week (every other week?) to call Ray and Klaus and chat for an hour or so. Communication with D.H. was more sporadic. I’m not sure if he was just busy or if he changed his mind about getting involved with the book. Klaus also put me in touch with a handful of shadowy figures from the band’s history, like their first drummer Bruce Slesinger (a.k.a. Ted). Bruce was fired after the first album because his relentless teasing drove Jello nuts, leading to “either he goes or I go.” It was kind of refreshing how divorced Bruce was from this chapter of his life. He seemed to view Dead Kennedys like a high school science project.
“Well, I guess I can help you,” he finally sighed into the phone. “I just don’t know who would really care at this point.”
Winston Smith, the artist who created all the imagey for Dead Kennedys’ albums, was much more enthusiastic. He wrote me novel length e-mails about what life was like way back when, detailing all sorts of funny stories. I was still living with my parents when all this was going on and I remember Winston calling my house once when I wasn’t home. My mom answered and they apparently had a long, lovely conversation about god knows what. My mother raved about it. “What a charming man!”
As I was working on my book about Dead Kennedys I spent almost no time wondering why this legendary punk band agreed to get on board with me, a no name writer. Maybe they figured I was going to write the book regardless so they might as well have their say. Maybe they thought an amateur drip like me could easily be swayed to only tell their side of the story. In all the hours I spent interviewing these guys, I never felt like they were trying to manipulate me. That said, I was 23 years old, this all took place two decades ago, and I haven’t listened to the interviews since I taped them. Ray had a persistent hacking cough for a while when we were talking, and it crossed my mind that he might be dying. Oh god, what if that’s the reason all this is happening? Is that why he’s weird and cranky about certain stuff?
Even though Ray and Klaus won their lawsuit the wounds had yet to heal. They would only refer to Jello by his last name, and it seemed to physically hurt them every time they said it. Clearly some of that went back to the glory days. Jello was never the chummiest guy, they explained, and he completely walled himself off emotionally after his wife left him in the mid-’80s. I’m not sure when that happened in relation to the obscenity trial they went through with 1985’s Frankenchrist but those are the events that exacted the final toll. I was interested to learn Ray was the first to announce he was quitting Dead Kennedys. That was right before they recorded their swan song, Bedtime For Democracy. “When we were making that album, Biafra would only address me as ‘the bass player,'” Klaus said.
I should force myself to listen to the interviews because I’ve forgotten more than I remember. Still, there are a handful of anecdotes from this project that remain indelible. If you have Give Me Convenience or Give Me Deat you’ve heard the recording of Dead Kennedys at the 1980 Bay Area Music Awards playing their anti-industry screed “Pull My Strings.” I asked Klaus why they didn’t get the plug pulled during all that; he said nobody in charge of sound that night was paying attention to content. ‘They were just getting high and watching the the levels, like, [imitates hitting a joint] ‘The kick drum sounds a little hot!'” The story with their rhythm guitarist Carlos (alias 6025) wasn’t as funny. Carlos did brilliant work for the band but he was also struggling with mental illness. He’d try to describe concepts the rest of the group couldn’t understand, and the disconnect set off his frightening temper. Carlos left Dead Kennedys around the same time as Bruce.
In July 2002, I finally heard back from Jello Biafra. He sent me a handwritten reply. “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 rehashing all the ugly gossip surrounding the other 3 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 along the interest. Sincerely, Jello Biafra.”
I called Ray after receiving Jello’s letter. “Are you still gonna write the book?” he asked. “Of course,” I lied.
A year later, Jello Biafra showed up to do a spoken word event at my college. I went to it because part of me felt like I had to show myself or “confront” him or something ridiculous like that, but when he made himself available before the show to meet fans I just stood there. I couldn’t approach him. What do I think I’m gonna say here? The whole thing’s over. The most memorable part of Jello’s lecture happened when someone’s cell phone went off. Immediately his body recoiled like he’d stepped barefoot in dog shit. Then he started shouting, “OKAY, who’s the CELL PHONY?”
I fell out of touch with Ray, Klaus, and everyone else, and I don’t remember hearing from any of them after I wrote an abbreviated version of this story for Crawdaddy! that was published near the end of 2008. I bet they were on tour. Improbably, Dead Kennedys remained a fixture on the reunion circuit. They were also on their fourth singer. Brandon Cruz quit in 2003. Then they hired Jeff Penalty, who did it for six years before things went sour. Jeff published a memorable resignation letter citing “arguments about splitting money equally, arguments about how the band should be run, arguments about the wisdom of hiring a band manager whose other star client was a Christian folk artist, arguments about whether we should or shouldn’t go on MTV, and arguments about many other wretched things.” Dead Kennedys hired Skip Greer from the Winona Ryders to replace Jeff. He’s been with them ever since.
In 2019 I interviewed Jeff Penalty for Hard Noise. I thought maybe enough time had passed and he’d be willing to get into the details about his exit from Dead Kennedys. I was wrong. Jeff didn’t want to go on record about any of that stuff, but he did tell some interesting stories about how he wound up in the band in the first place and how he approached this endeavor artistically.
There still hasn’t been a book dedicated to telling the entire story of Dead Kennedys. Maybe one day, right?
Why did Yaphet Kotto turn down a role in the original Ghostbusters? What was Slavitza Jovan doing before she was Gozer? Was there a fistfight on the set of Ghostbusters II? What was it like making the 2016 reboot? What’s the deal with that “Ghostbusters go to Hell” script? All these questions and many more are answered in A Convenient Parallel Dimension: How Ghostbusters Slimed Us Forever, the most thorough and detailed book ever written about this famous film franchise. Written by me, Jim Greene!
The official release date for A Convenient Parallel Dimension is 11/1/22 but tale is told that people are beginning to receive preordered copies right now. Not sure what the story is there but I can tell you if you buy this book directly from the publisher at Rowman.com instead of Amazon I make more money. So take that into consideration when making your purchase. Of course, it’s not about the lettuce. Ask your local library to get some copies so people can read this incredible history for free.
Early reviews have been flattering. Noted Ghostbusters fan / historian Alex Newborn offered a very positive video critique of the book. Proton Charging, one of the longest running Ghostbusters news aggregates around, made me blush when they compared my work to the Webb Telescope. Keep the praise rolling in, folks. I actually love compliments.
Not sure what else to say right now other than thank you to everyone who’s been supporting A Convenient Parallel Dimension. I’ve never worked this hard on anything and I can’t wait for all the ghost heads to read it.
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Americans like to joke about the Cola Wars but for a generation of Filipinos the term is quite literal. In February 1992, Pepsi launched a promotion in the Philippines called Number Fever, where random digits printed on bottle caps could lead to cash prizes. For a while, everything was perfect. Some people won a hundred Philippine pesos or a little more; about a dozen were lucky enough to win a million pesos (equivalent to $40,000). All the while, Pepsi experienced record popularity in the archipelago nation.
That all came crashing down on the evening of May 25th. That’s when news anchors announced the number 349 as the key to the next one million peso award. Depending on what you read, 349 was only supposed to be printed on one or two Pepsi bottle caps. Definitely no more than two. Alas, due to an incredible mistake Pepsi eventually blamed on “computer error,” the number had been stamped on nearly 800,000 caps.
Thrilled winners from all over the Philippines descended upon Pepsi bottling plants the next morning, eager to claim their prizes. Elation turned to fury as Pepsi locked them out and refused to pay. It didn’t take long for riots to erupt (bottles and stones were launched with venom; one protester hurled a slab of cement at a security guard). Panicked, Pepsi executives held an emergency meeting where they decided to offer 500 pesos ($20) to anyone with a 349 cap. At the time, company figureheads were under the false impression that only a few thousand people had these caps, not over half a million.
The consolation offer had its takers but overall the Number Fever scandal galvanized Filipinos in a way other national controversies hadn’t. So protests were continuous, fervent, and large. Nearly 700 lawsuits and 5,000 criminal complaints were filed. Armed anti-Pepsi coalitions formed. And the violence escalated, punctuated by Molotov cocktails and other amateur explosives. Pepsi delivery trucks were hot targets. Upwards of 30 were smashed or bombed in some way.
Yes, there were casualties. On February 13th, 1993, two innocent bystanders (a teacher and a five year old child) were killed when a grenade bounced off a Pepsi truck in a Manila suburb. A few months later, three Pepsi employees died after a grenade was tossed into a Davao-based warehouse. Strangely, in an interview with The Los Angeles Times that July, Pepsi spokesperson Kenneth Ross angrily denied that any attacks against Pepsi had ever taken place while also affirming that the company “will not be held hostage [by] extortion and terrorism.”
Police arrested several members of the anti-Pepsi “hit squad” Alliance 349 in December 1993 on charges of causing harm and possessing explosives. The case against them fell apart when the star witness who helped facilitate these arrests revealed that he was a Pepsi employee who’d been asked to infiltrate Alliance 349. Furthermore, the witness insisted that Pepsi themselves were behind the truck bombings so Alliance 349 could be smeared as illegitimate. There was also a rumor that rival beverage companies had perpetrated the deadly violence.
The bombings eventually ceased and in 1994 21 year old Jowell Roque became the first person to win a lawsuit pertaining to Pepsi’s Number Fever. A court in the Bucalan capital of Malolos ruled that the beverage maker owed Roque 1.1 million pesos plus damages. Pepsi appealed, which is what they did when even the tiniest pittance was demanded from them by a jury.
In 1996, the Department of Justice in the Philippines dismissed every fraud charge against Pepsi, reversing an earlier order calling for the arrest of the company president and a handful of other executives. Still, some Number Fever court cases lasted another ten years, until the Philippines Supreme Court declared that Pepsi had no further obligation to make payouts.
It’s my understanding that these days Pepsi has a foothold in the Philippine market but they’ve never been able to recapture what they had just before the Number Fever War. Honestly, I’m surprised they can show their logo at all. I understand Pepsi couldn’t have spent the $32 billion it would have taken to fulfill all these mistaken bottle cap promises. And yet!
To run this contest in one of the most economically disadvantaged countries in the world? And botch it? And only offer victims twenty bucks in place of the forty grand they thought they were getting? And spend decades fighting any proper justice in court? And you’re Pepsi, not Faygo or Dr. Brown’s?
Seems like someone should have gone to jail.
This review was originally published via The Classical Mess, a Substack I was doing a few years ago before I found out they gave money to bigots.
When Jeff Goldblum was making Vibes in 1987 he told a reporter visiting the set that the film was merely “a light entertainment” and that he preferred “more serious, adult movies.” Goldblum went whole hog into those waters with Twisted Obsession (1989), a retelling of the 1976 Christopher Frank book The Dream of The Mad Monkey. Twisted Obsession is virtually unknown in the U.S. and if you see it you’ll understand why.
Goldblum plays an ex-pat screenwriter in Paris named Dan who suspects something carnal is occurring between a director he knows and the director’s teenage sister. Dan himself starts lusting after the sister; they engage in a few positively graceless sexual encounters and suddenly Dan’s embroiled in a love rhombus (this guy also has an on again, off again thing going with his lit agent). For good measure, Twisted Obsession includes a subplot about vanishing cadavers and clandestine, cult-like activities.
We’re supposed to feel a modicum of sympathy for Dan because his wife abandoned him and their small child and he can’t afford nicer clothes and he’s got an egregious, take-no-prisoners mullet. There’s zero warmth in Goldblum’s performance, however, so Dan is just a creep. Moments meant to feel playful come across as bitter and mean. When Dan spikes a corn cob into his son’s face as a joke (ha, that old chestnut) you only chuckle out of shock and discomfort because the anger is so palpable.
Twisted Obsession chokes to death on its own morose and surly vapors and it’s clear no one has any idea what to do with it now. One assumes Goldlbum’s current enthusiasm for the film must be nil. It does nothing to support his 21st Century persona as benign goofball; if anything, Twisted Obsession uncomfortably mirrors recent accusations that Goldblum’s offscreen behavior is not really benign. I only saw the movie because it’s part of The Excellent Eighties, a DVD set that positions itself as an ultimate source for kitschy, fun-loving crap from the ‘80s (David Hasselhoff is prominently displayed on the cover). Jeff’s mullet must have cleared the bar.
“Look at this dad’s wacky hair as he sexes a 17-year-old! Does he have a keytar too?”
Steven Spielberg’s 2017 newsroom drama The Post signals early that it will be cliché-ridden hokum. As the production company logos vanish, we see military choppers hovering over a steamy jungle while Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Green River” takes off in the background. Pairing Creedence with footage from Vietnam was overdone 30 years ago; any first year film student would be docked a letter grade for such a boring, obvious move. Of course, by the time The Post is over the viewer has been so assaulted by the plain and the literal that they might forget there ever was a scene in Vietnam.
I’ve read that Spielberg considered The Post an act of resistance against Trumpism, a counter-attack on “fake news” that for some reason absolutely had to come out when it did. One might argue the story of Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon Papers, and The Washington Post’s fight to print the shocking truth about the Vietnam War is more prescient now since Trump decided to cap his anti-media, fib-laden presidency by swiping classified documents. At any rate, The Post was flung together very quickly, without pulp or artistry, condemning it to die in the shadow of All The President’s Men (still the greatest film ever made about the freedom of the press).
Tom Hanks does not transform into Bill Bradlee, the gruff editor pushing to serve honesty to Washington Post readers. Meryl Streep does not transform into Katharine Graham, the beleaguered Post owner trying not to tarnish her legacy. All you see is Hanks and Streep vying for more Oscars with nothing but cold wet ham for dialogue. The Post’s supporting players fare no better. The front page story is on their faces: I’m doing this because it’s Spielberg.
Only Bob Odenkirk rises to the occasion in the lynchpin role of reporter Ben Bagdikian. A much better film could have been made out of the story threads wherein Bagdikian secures the bulk of the Pentagon Papers from Ellsberg. Odenkirk’s comedy partner David Cross is in The Post too, looking like the saddest version of Martin Balsam you can imagine.
The most laughable part of this whole cornball affair is that it concludes with a Marvel-style cliffhanger at the Watergate Hotel. Oh no! A burglary? Cue the typewriters! Even more pathetic are the final frames, which have Spielberg copying one of the most indelible shots from the start of All The President’s Men. Working on Ready Player One at the same time as this film must have given him brain damage.
At least Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman don’t cruise by in the DeLorean.
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This review was originally published a few years ago in The Classical Mess, a newsletter I was doing on Substack until I discovered they were giving money to very bad people.
Debbie Harry has always seemed remarkably well-adjusted considering her global renown. This image is not shattered by her 2019 memoir Face It. Harry unfolds the road map of her life and nothing, it seems, has driven her off sanity’s edge. Not sour business or lost love or discovering that world famous drummer Buddy Rich was one of the two 40-something creeps who followed her home at the age of 12 after making their intentions clear at a nearby lobster shack.
Harry writes about that mortifying episode and several other very traumatic incidents like they’re just wacky family stories to be told after a few drinks around the holidays. Is she too well-adjusted? Millions of people cope this way — downplaying visceral horror with a laugh or wry comment. Maybe she is truly unaffected. Either way, it doesn’t prevent Harry from coming across as a relatable, endearing human in Face It. Often it feels like the only thing separating us from her is we don’t own paintings of ourselves by Andy Warhol.
What are Face It’s revelations for the casual Deb head? Harry “made it” once with David Johansen back in the day. She admits she “was never a Muppet fan” and only went on “The Muppet Show” because Dizzy Gillespie had been a guest (Harry offers praise for Jim Henson, though, whom she labels “a big pervert, in the best possible way”). Also, Debbie Harry once enjoyed an Edgar Winter concert.
Then you have this fascinating aside about Lydia Lunch, that high priestess of the underground, and her devotion to Bret “The Hitman” Hart. Lunch, Harry, and Harry’s longtime beau Chris Stein were all wrestling fans and used to attend matches together. “Lydia Lunch was hot for Bret big time,” Harry writes, noting that “heads turned [and] eyes stared” when Lunch began screaming in her “earth-shatteringly loud” voice for Bret when he was on the card. I wonder if Bret Hart ever heard Teenage Jesus.
The back half of Face It starts to feel like a sprint to cram in every notable event from Harry’s life during the 21st Century. Now maybe you understand why Richard Hell halted his life story I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp around 1984. Harry’s work is more humane, though, and more human, so we bounce along, happily adjusting.
The first thing that comes to mind when I think about legendary Canadian punk band Teenage Head is the guitar playing of Gord Lewis. I love to hear him blaring like a siren during the opening moments of “Tearin’ Me Apart.” I love the romantic growl of his power chords across their debut LP. Everybody in Teenage Head played their asses off and the material couldn’t be written any better, but there was crazy magic in Gord’s style.
It was very upsetting to learn this week not just that Lewis had died but that he was apparently murdered by his own son Jonathan. Sounds like those in the know assumed something like this was going to happen. Gord’s brother Brian has spoken of mounting tensions between the father and son in recent weeks and that they were both “dealing with their own demons.”
Rest in peace, Gord. Thanks for the music. I crank the Head your honor.