Dead Kennedys: Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, The Early Years, by Alex Ogg


Alex Ogg • Winston Smith (Illustrator) • Ruby Ray (Photographer)

“We have a sense of humor and we’re not afraid to use it in a vicious way if we have to. In some ways, we’re cultural terrorists, using music instead of guns.“
—Jello Biafra, Dead Kennedys

Dead Kennedys routinely top both critic and fan US and international polls as the greatest punk band of their generation. Their debut full-length, Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, in particular, is regularly voted among the top albums in the genre. Fresh Fruit offered a perfect hybrid of humor and polemic strapped to a musical chassis that was as tetchy and inventive as Jello Biafra’s withering broadsides. Those lyrics, cruel in their precision, were revelatory. But it wouldn’t have worked if the underlying sonics were not such an uproarious rush, the paraffin to Biafra’s naked flame.

“It was obvious that DKs weren’t just another band that was gonna come and go. They were something special. Biafra was an absolute talent. And he had a band behind him that were tight and good.“
—Howie Klein, concert promoter, disc jockey, and record label executive

Dead Kennedys’ continuing influence is an extraordinary achievement for a band that had practically zero radio play and only released records on independent labels. They not only existed outside of the mainstream but were, as V. Vale of Search and Destroy noted, the first band of their stature to turn on and attack the music industry itself. The DKs set so much in motion. They were integral to the formulation of an alternative network that allowed bands on the first rung of the ladder to tour outside of their own backyard. They were instrumental in supporting the concept of all-ages shows and spurned the advances of corporate rock promoters and industry lapdogs. They legitimized the notion of an American punk band touring internationally while disseminating the true horror of their native country’s foreign policies, effectively serving as anti-ambassadors on their travels.

“One day, this kid from my social studies class brought in a cassette tape of Dead Kennedys’ Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables and I listened to it and my life was changed completely.“
—Adam Gierasch, film director

The book uses dozens of first-hand interviews, photos, and original artwork to offer a new perspective on a group who would become mired in controversy almost from the get-go. It applauds the band’s key role in transforming punk rhetoric, both po- lemical and musical, into something genuinely threatening—and enormously funny. The author offers context in terms of both the global and local trajectory of punk and, while not flinching from the wildly differing takes individual band members have on the evolution of the band, attempts to be celebratory—if not uncritical.


“One of my favorite rock ’n’ roll memories is of an after-party during DKs’ first visit to Seattle. Recognize that bands like this for me—these actual guys being at a party in the same house that I was in—was like being in the presence of Led Zeppelin or Kiss.“
—Duff McKagan of Guns ’n’ Roses

“My education was punk rock—what Dead Kennedys said . . . It was attacking America, but it was American at the same time.“
—Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day


Alex Ogg is an author and journalist specializing in music. His work has appeared in newspapers including The Times and The Guardian, numerous magazines, and websites. His books include The Art of Punk (an Independent newspaper book of the year 2012) with Dr. Russ Bestley, Independence Days, No More Heroes, and The Hip Hop Years. He is a regular speaker on TV, radio, and at literary events. He has lectured at several universities and currently edits the academic journal Punk & Post-Punk. He lives in London with his partner and two children.

Punk art surrealist Winston Smith, a master of “hand-carved” collage, has been crafting his thought-provoking art since the 1970s. Smith first became known for his collaborations with punk legends Dead Kennedys and his numerous album covers, inserts, and flyers for the band in their formative years. His technique of cutting out by hand and gluing each individual element has inspired a generation of artists. His published collections include Act Like Nothing’s Wrong, Artcrime, and All Riot on the Western Front.

Born in New York, Ruby Ray migrated to San Francisco in the mid-1970s. She entered the underground scene while working at Tower Records in North Beach. When she acquired her first camera, she quickly turned it into a weapon. Ray shot using a Nikon FM and Tri-X 400 film, the fastest film of its time. While documenting new bands and people for Search & Destroy magazine, she wielded her lens like many young DIY artists were brandishing guitars—bold, carefree, and absolutely necessary. Ray’s photos have been collected in the book From the Edge of the World: California Punk, 1977–1981.

Published by ° PM PRESS ° in the UK and US, by Ventil Verlag in Germany and by Ediçoes Ideal in Brazil.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Dead Kennedy’s Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables: The Best “Little” Music Books of 2014
By Matthew Duersten
LA Magazine
December 16, 2014
FOR THE ENTERPRISING PUNKThe scrappy, Bay Area-based PM Press might win the “Little Book” award for 2014. Randal Doane’s Stealing All Transmissions: A Secret History of the Clash (PM, $15.95), which began as an article he pitched to The New Yorker, clocks in at around 130 pages, and Alex Ogg’s Dead Kennedys: Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables: The Early Years (PM, $17.95), originally composed as liner notes, is only 200 pages. Both are similar tales of scruffy underdogs attempting to cross the moat of the Big Time Music Industry. Where they diverge is how their subjects went about doing it. Doane’s account burns through a three-year period (’79-’81) when a group of U.S. promoters, retailers, rock writers, fans, and radio DJs endeavored to break The Clash in America. This culminated in the band, who had been suffering from a nasty press backlash in their home country, being signed to CBS and recording their artistic triumph London Calling.Dead Kennedy’s Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables: Review 1
by Jimmy Alvarado
November 24th, 2014If nothing else, author Alex Ogg should receive some sorta award for managing to circumnavigate assorted landmines and turn in a book that incorporates all Dead Kennedys members pertinent to the story. The vitriol that peppers the relationships between various members—especially that between Biafra and East Bay Ray—can occasionally be felt bubbling just under the surface and Ogg doesn’t shy away from presenting their often contradictory accounts of the band’s history up to their titular album. Starting pre-punk and working its way forward, the book is chock full of interesting tidbits about past lives (the revelation that Klaus Fluoride once played in a band with Billy Squier was particularly savory), song origins, and the band’s placement within the greater history of San Francisco’s punk underground.

Dead Kennedy’s Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables: Review 2
by Andy Higgins
November 24th, 2014

Aside from Marian Kester’s poorly received Dead Kennedys: The Unauthorised Version, this well-researched and relatively fresh-fruited subject matter christens it with a hallmark of originality. Indeed, with over one hundred book titles already dedicated to bands such as the Pistols, Clash, and Ramones this book is long overdue, which, in many ways, makes it a more welcomed and interesting read.

Throughout its pages, Ogg reminds us that Dead Kennedys notoriety was achieved with almost zero radio play, without the assistance of a major label, and largely from coverage in the underground / DIY press.

DK Maxxx.
by Kris Needs
Classic Rock Magazine
September 2014

After forming to instant controversy in San Francisco in 1978, Dead Kennedys were the first hardcore punk band to gain a major following in Europe after their 1980 debut album Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables was released by the UK’s Cherry Red Records. It eventually gained a US outlet on frontman Jello Biafra’s Alternative Tentacles imprint. Since then the band’s legend and influence has ballooned, while Biafra has become one of America’s most high-profile activists.

With Jello’s approval and input, noted punk author Alex Ogg captures vividly the group’s formation and story, focusing mainly on the debut album.”

Dead Kennedys: Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables: A Review
Musings on music, books and life
August 26th, 2014

This is not a book about the Dead Kennedys career. It is more a tale of how they got together, recorded and released one of the iconic punk rock albums. The story of such a now fractured band requires a lot more discussion

Fresh fruit was different to so many other records at the time as there was no major record label providing financial supports. This was a band that were taking the shock aspect of punk and putting a positive message forward. The book charts the formation of the band as their early singles were released.

Dead Kennedys: Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables: A Review
By Mark Diston
The Register.UK
August 24th, 2014

Dead Kennedys is a riveting read, concise without being academic. It captures the era and the spirit of the times perfectly. Alex Ogg maintains a stoic patience until the appendix, where he shows a slight bias in favour of Ray and Klaus’ claims for writing credits on the album. I’m sure Jello’s lawyers will be in touch shortly after publication.

Dead Kennedys: Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables: A Review
By Pete Craven
August 13th, 2014

This book, as the title implies, covers those key initial years of the DKs, delving into the member’s personal stories, their gravitation to San Francisco, and the subsequent formation of the band. Yeah, that’s when the real fun starts! Theirs was, as the world was to discover, a memorable formula, fronted by Biafra’s natural rebellious attitude, to take on and upset the establishment with pranks and mischief, and driven by uniquely powerful and penetrating music, awash with guitarist East Bay Ray’s twisted dark surf guitars. Seriously, hang your head in shame if you’ve never had your ears exposed to Fresh Fruit….

Dead Kennedys: Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables: A Review
By Kris Needs
Record Collector Magazine
August 2014

After finding instant infamy in San Francisco in 1978, Dead Kennedys became the first US hardcore punk band to grab a major following in Europe after their 1980 debut album, Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables, was released by the UK’s Cherry Red label, tellingly, before having to wait for home release on frontman Jello Biafra’s own Alternative Tentacles imprint. Biafra swiftly became one of the US’s most outspoken and controversy-courting activists, eventually running for President in 2000.

Five years in the making, this first major work on one of the States’ most influential bands pulls out all the stops to recount the group’s formation, manifesto and music, focusing mainly around the debut album.

Dead Kennedys: Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables: A Review
By Sam Lefebvre
SF Weekly
July 9th, 2014

Opening that same Friday is an art exhibit titled “Punk: Convulsive Beauty,” which doubles as the launch for a new book from local publishers PM Press, called Dead Kennedys: Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, The Early Years, by Alex Ogg. The exhibit, held at the gallery iHeartNorthBeach, presents photographs by Ruby Ray and visual work by Winston Smith, both of whose work appears in Ogg’s book.

A staff photographer for V. Vale’s seminal Search & Destroy fanzine, Ray captured bands like Crime, the Avengers, and the Sleepers — as well as punk’s early adopters — at home and in the streets. True to Search & Destroy’s broader countercultural focus, her best-known image is perhaps a portrait of William Burroughs…

Dead Kennedys: Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables: A Review
By Rock Star Journalist

Author Alex Ogg has accomplished a rare task with his new book, Dead Kennedys: Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, The Early Years. In the history, out now from PM Press, Ogg manages to present all sides of the band’s history, speaking with all sides of the now-warring members. More surprisingly, it’s actually entertaining.

Much of this is due to Ogg’s own wit, and ability to see the slightly-surreal and absurd aspects that characterize Dead Kennedys’ history. The verbal jabs and parries between the members makes for a rambunctious read, but it never degenerates into the literary equivalent of a Real Housewives episode.

Dead Kennedys: Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables: A Review
by John B Moore
New Noise Magazine
July 15th, 2014
Reviewer rating: 3.5 stars out of 5 stars

You thought your job today was hard? Imagine trying to write book about the highly influential, but notoriously litigious political punk band the Dead Kennedys – a group that seemingly thrives on trading insults at each other. That was the task faced by music journalist Alex Ogg and he managed to pull it off quite impressively with the absorbing Dead Kennedys: Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, The Early Years.

Dead Kennedys: Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables : A Review
by Nathan Brown
Louder than War
July 9th, 2014

Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables, The Early Years does what it says on the tin. It starts by placing the key players and the band that would become Dead Kennedys in the context of the development of punk at a local San Francisco level and globally. It then charts their rapid progress in spite of, or possibly because of, a “cultural hand grenade of a name” from garage practices and their early performances, DIY released first 7 inch and onto their debut LP – all of which happened from their own reckoning by “pure dumb luck” – perhaps playing down the hard work and ingenuity which was partly responsible. As Louis Pasteur said “Fortune favours the prepared mind”.

Imagine If Crass Was Funny: ‘Dead Kennedys: Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables’ : A Review
by John L Murphy
June 13th, 2014

Intended as liner notes for the 25th anniversary of this punk album, Alex Ogg’s project had to wait five more years for what turns into a longer book on a 38 minute 1980 LP. Legal disputes over songwriting credits, added to the protracted resentment between singer Jello Biafra and his bandmates, notably guitarist East Bay Ray and bassist Klaus Flouride, tested the patience of the author and theDead Kennedys, past and present.

This story, told efficiently by a veteran chronicler of punk, reveals that the American underground in the late ’70s could match the best of the British punks when it came to political commentary paired with feisty music. Furthermore, unlike so many righteous punks before and after the Dead Kennedys, this San Francisco outfit retained its sense of humor.