Monday, June 01, 2015

Three Chords and the (Painful) Truth

I just finished reading Michael Stewart Foley's Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables. I also attended and enjoyed a book event with the author at Moe's in Berkeley.

This short book (about 40,000 words) situates Dead Kennedy's outrageous debut album in an exceedingly troubled time in San Francisco's history--a period that David Talbot, drawing on Donovan, calls the season of the witch. Released in 1980, Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables coincided with a sharp cutback in social services, a steep rise in homelessness, and what one contemporary punk called "the golden age of serial killers."

An accomplished historian with an appreciation for the punk ethic, Foley sketches the social and political conditions of the late 1970s and the band's take-no-prisoners response to them. He's also alert to San Francisco's distinctive punk scene and its openly political stance.

His essay is a welcome complement to the extensive literature on the city's utopian mood and music of the 1960s. In fact, he argues that Dead Kennedy's project was also utopian insofar as it prefigured the searingly truthful society it hoped to create.

I plan to base at least one lecture on this work when I teach a course on San Francisco this fall. Very worthwhile.

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