The following is an excerpt from the book No Slam Dancing, No Stage Diving, No Spikes: An Oral History of the Legendary City Gardens by Amy Yates Wuelfing and Steven DiLodovico. Photod by Ron Gregorio.
Dead Kennedys/Butthole Surfers – April 28, 1985
Jello Biafra: People who take the underground and punk and indie rock scenes for granted today sometimes have no idea what it took to build those scenes. When punk started, it was a very visceral reaction against the sheer stupidity of the ‘70s. You know, we didn’t want adult rock, soft rock, Eagles, Hotel California, let alone disco. Punk rock brought back the spirit of rock and roll in a way that shocked the people you wanted to make uncomfortable. It also meant a lot of hostility toward us being able to play anywhere. You know, cranky old bar owners who only wanted to listen to the Grateful Dead and hated the way we looked, and there would be sound men who didn’t want anything to do with us because we were playing too loud. There was also the police, so cracking open a national circuit town by town took a lot of work and a lot of guts. I mean, Black Flag did more of that than anybody else to open up the national touring circuit. D.O.A. did a lot and Dead Kennedys were somewhere behind that. But you never knew what was going to happen. It’s amazing in the San Francisco Bay area how hostile older counter- culture people and ex-hippies were toward the punks. They shocked what they called “The Establishment,” and we shocked them. Paul Kantner from the Jefferson Airplane went to punk shows, but almost nobody else from that generation would give us the time of day, and some, like Bill Graham, were actively hostile to other venues and other kinds of shows even existing. I guess part of the reason City Gardens survived was the lack of residences around the building. It was kind of a desolate industrial area with a beat-up old warehouse building that, if it wasn’t going to be used for something positive like this, it wasn’t going to get used at all. I don’t know how much Randy was harassed by the powers that be in Trenton, but it couldn’t have been that much or he wouldn’t have been able to stay open that long. I don’t recall there was ever fear that the police were going to storm the doors and start beating people up the way they did in Los Angeles and occasionally in San Francisco.
Ron Gregorio (Editor, Hard Times magazine): I interviewed Jello that night, and it got kind of hostile because I asked him a question he didn’t like. He was going on about politics, and he was obviously far left, which was one of the reasons I liked his band. I asked him, “What are you doing? You have a lot of political sentiment, so what are you doing to push the movement forward?” He said, “Well, I’m a musician. That’s what I do.” And I remember saying something really stupid like, “You’re out there preaching, so maybe you should be doing more than just playing in a band.” It went downhill from there. It didn’t get confrontational, but that ended up being first and last conversation I ever had with Jello Biafra, who was my hero at the time.
Carl Humenik (City Gardens security): I used to love the Dead Kennedys. I loved their music, and I loved what they used to say—the political stuff. But at one show, Jello comes over to me—I was working the front door—and said, “You just let that person come in with a camera!” I said, “Yeah, people come in with cameras.” He said, “No! No cameras.” I said, “Alright, why not?” And he goes off that people will sell that picture and he doesn’t get any money out of the deal. I’m thinking, he sings anti-capitalism songs and now he’s saying he’s not making money off a 13-year-old girl taking a picture of her idol? And you know the picture is not going to be great, because it’s one of those dollar-store cameras. But I’m like, “Okay, fine. Whatever.” So then Jello walks around the club and finds a guy who sold records in the coat-check area, and Jello finds a Dead Kennedys album. He picks it up and snaps it in half. Grabs the next one, snaps it in half. I was like, “What the fuck are you doing?!” He said, “These are bootleg copies!” I said, “Yeah, but they’re HIS!” He replied, “I’m not making any money off these bootleg copies.” I said, “You’re Jello Biafra; you’re not supposed to worry about someone making a dollar off of you! If you’re really worried about it, go after the person that he bought it from. Do you think he knew he was buying a bootleg copy?” And he’s like, “I don’t care. He’s not selling this bootleg shit of my stuff. I’m not getting any money out of it.” I said, “Fuck you!” From that point on I had no respect for him whatsoever.
Amy Yates Wuelfing: That was the night I inadvertently outed Randy to Jello. I let it slip that Randy was a mailman, and therefore a U.S. government employee. I think Jello was probably more taken aback by the fact that someone in punk rock had a real job, since no one else did.
Randy Now: Biafra didn’t give me shit about being a mailman, but when he found out, he taunted me jokingly about it. It was also because I owned a brand-new Thunderbird and picked him up in it. I told him I was a mailman, and that’s how I could afford that car.