I learned to love music when I learned to love Punk Rock. When I was a kid, the band that epitomized punk rock to me was the first punk band I had ever heard – the Dead Kennedys. To this day if you told me that you had never heard any punk rock I would probably tell you to listen to the Dead Kennedys first. Naturally, as a consequence of listening to punk bands, I develeoped an aversion early on to that nemesis of all things punk rock: hippy music. And everyone knows that one band epitomizes the sound of the hippies: The Grateful Dead. Now nevermind the fact that I didn’t know what a hippy actually was, and nevermind the fact that I really had no idea what the Grateful Dead actually sounded like, just know that I knew that I hated them. I had been thoroughly educated by umpteen punk songs, from Dead Kennedy’s producer Geza X’s band the Deadbeat’s ‘Kill The Hippies’, to the Teen Idles’ mockery of the Grateful Dead in ‘Deadhead‘, it was an obligatory theme of early punk records to have at least some anti-hippie sentiment. In fact I still remember my friend and I sharing a gleeful ‘high five’ when we heard that Jerry Garcia had died. It was as if we had just heard of the dethroning of some colossal tyrant.
So imagine my queezy skepticism when my friend Brian gave me a tape that he claimed had a recording of a Grateful Dead / Dead Kennedys collaboration on it. I imagine that his desire to share this with me was in some way a reciprocation for turning him on to punk rock by giving him a Dead Kennedys mix tape some time before. He told me that he had been listening to the radio, and that the local rock station had been plugging the fact that they were going to play an exclusive recording of the aforementioned collaboration. This was several years before the DK’s inclusion in video games led to them being played regularly on ‘alternative’ corporate radio stations, so Brian smartly put his tape in the deck and hit “record”.
What he taped is the Grateful Dead playing a cover of the Dead Kennedy’s most infamous song – Nazi Punks Fuck Off! The DJ claims that DK singer Jello Biafra sings backups but I don’t hear him – and he has a loud and unmistakeable voice. The original version of this song must be one of the most well-known hardcore punk songs ever recorded, and its legendary intensity and vitriolic fury still stand up today over 30 years after it was recorded. This cover version by the Grateful Dead is much more subdued, both lyrically and musically. I discovered many years later that the tune they used for the song is the Mardi Gras standard Iko Iko. It’s a completely different tune, but surprisingly enough it works perfectly with the song. Now it would probably be a big surprise to a lot of people that this recording was made, but I’ve begun to understand that punk rock owes a lot more to the hippies than most people realize. First the obvious connection between the Grateful & the Kennedys - San Francisco is of course the most famous hippy city in the world, and at least the third most famous punk city in the world. And a lot of the cornerstone aspects of punk rock that were mostly introduced to punk by the likes of the Dead Kennedys, especially things like protest lyrics, zines and independently released records, were all concepts that were pioneered by the San Francisco hippy bands. In fact, I would suggest that one of the single most obvious influences on the Dead Kennedys is the song ‘I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag’ by Country Joe & The Fish, who happen to have done very punk things like releasing 7″ EP’s and such. It’s also obvious if you are familiar with Jello Biafra’s work that he is highly influenced by Pete Seeger, who was a pivotal influence to the SF hippies, too. Anyway… you know what? I really like this song! In fact I think that this song probably had a lot to do with me beginning to branch out and investigate other types of music! So there you have it, I like the Grateful Dead Kennedys. Punk still rules though!
So I’ve checked the internet every few years to see if anyone has put this little gem up for posterity, but still nuthin’! Apparently it really was an exclusive to that radio station. I’d love to hear the story behind this recording if anyone knows it! Unfortunately I didn’t think to ask Jello Biafra when he was taking a piss at the urinal next to me, so I missed my chance there. I’d better remember next time! In the mean time, take a listen to this paradoxical track and tell us what you think about it…
I made the video posted above. The images switch back and forth from GD to DK to GD to DK and so on .