Sunday, September 19, 2010

September 19: Dead Kennedys, "Holiday In Cambodia"

Artist: Dead Kennedys
Song: "Holiday In Cambodia"
Album: Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables
Year: 1980

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While every genre gets a bad reputation for one reason or another, and often leads to people writing off the entire genre, there are always artists that stand in strong defiance to the perceived norms of that style and prove that anything can be done in any musical style.  This is perhaps no more true than in the genre of punk rock, as a majority of people write off the entire genre as little more than unskilled, teen-angst ridden rock.  Though much of the genre could be cited as such, it was bands like The Clash that proved that there was far more that could be achieved through the medium both in terms of musicality as well as placing a message within the lyrics.  In many ways, this is what kick-started the "hardcore" movement, and there are few bands that represent the punk-hardcore hybrid as brilliantly as one finds in the music of San Francisco's Dead Kennedys.  In less than a decade, The Dead Kennedys proved just how far one could push the limits of the punk and hardcore sounds, as they creates some of the most unique songs in the history of both genres, and became one of the most highly respected bands on the planet.  Often injecting strong political ideas into their music, there were few bands that could pull off the sense of irony that is found in many of their songs, and this is one of the most defining aspects of their music.  Though the band had a number of classic songs, there are few that better display all of the bands greatness than one finds in their 1980 single, "Holiday In Cambodia."

As "Holiday In Cambodia" begins, the unique way in which The Dead Kennedys blend together punk and hardcore is immediately apparent, and the song also gains an unsettling sense of darkness right from the onset.   The bassline from "Klaus Fluoride" (real name: Geoffrey Lyall) is one of the most recognizable in the history of the genre, and it packs an amazing amount of mood, making it clear that "Holiday In Cambodia" was not going to be a "normal" punk or hardcore song.  As guitarist "Easy Bay Ray" (real name: Ray Pepperell) enters the song, he brings an almost psychedelic sound with his playing, and the way in which his guitar seems to bounce and echo across the track is strangely reminiscent of the sounds of The Stooges.  There s no question that the punk "soul" of "Holiday In Cambodia" lives within the drumming of "Ted" (real name: Bruce Slesinger), as the speed and ferocity with which he plays is punk rock at its very best.  It is on "Holiday In Cambodia" that one can hear how the ideas of punk and hardcore music are about the spirit as opposed to a specific sound, and it is much the reason that all these years later, the song does not sound in the least bit dated and stands as one of the greatest songs in the history of the genre.  The song brings a fantastic punch, yet the playing of the three musicians keeps an almost breathtaking sense of careening movement throughout the entire song, making it absolutely unforgettable.

However, while the musical assault on "Holiday In Cambodia" is absolutely phenomenal, The Dead Kennedys are clearly nothing without the unmistakable voice of Jello Biafra (real name: Eric Boucher).  With an almost nasal-sound, the slightly sung vocals that are found throughout the catalog of The Dead Kennedys are perhaps their most identifiable aspect, as there are few singers who were able to bring a similar sense of sarcasm and irony quite like Biafra.  While most of the songs of The Dead Kennedys take aim at a single subject, on "Holiday In Cambodia," Biafra crafts a brilliant lyric that goes after both the songs' title, as well as a not-so-subtle slam on the complacency within the culture of the United States.  Biafra goes even further than just stating the two ideas, as he manages to place them in brilliant juxtaposition with one another, contrasting the phrases, " ethnicy jazz to parade your snazz on your five grand stereo..." and "...well you'll work harder with a GUN in your back for a bowl of rice a day..."  This contrast, between the spoiled American youth and those under the brutal regime of Pol Pot, may seem a bit extreme, but the fact of the matter is, even more than three decades later, one can draw similar parallels around the world.  Biafra is unrelenting in his attack on both subjects, and it is songs like "Holiday In Cambodia" that have helped the punk and hardcore scene open the eyes of the world to atrocities both far away and those at home.

Though a majority of the punk rock genre is stripped down rants of the angst of youth, there are countless examples of how far one can push the true ethos of the genre, and it is within these songs that many of the "punk classics" can be found.  Pushing the envelope in style as well as substance, there are few bands that represent the crossover between punk and hardcore as perfectly as The Dead Kennedys.  Perhaps moreso than any other hardcore-punk band, The Dead Kennedys blended together sounds ranging from psychedelia to surf rock to the most punishing punk, and this is what makes their music so easy to identity, and why they have influenced such a wide range of bands that followed.  There great, yet unique sound and power was clear from their very first album, as their debut record, Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables, remains one of the greatest punk records in history, and their entire range as musicians can be heard across the songs.  On "Holiday In Cambodia," the group is firing on all cylinders, as not only is the music beyond comparison, but Jello Biafra brings perhaps the greatest lyric of his career, as he brings a dual assault, and there are few places where is almost snarky delivery has sounded better.  Proving just how much could be achieved through punk or hardcore music, it is nearly impossible to find any song that brings a similar power in every sense of the word than what one can experence on The Dead Kennedys' 1980 single, "Holiday In Cambodia."

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