We know you all know that Hole’s Live Through This and Bobbie Gentry’s Ode to Billie Joe are publishing in December, but we wanted to make sure you didn’t forget about the 104th and 105th volumes of 33 1/3. Devo’s Freedom of Choice and Dead Kennedys’ Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables will be out May of 2015! What a lovely thought to keep you warm through this cold, sad, winter.
Finally, after all that waiting, The Future arrived in 1980. Ohio art-rockers Devo had plainly prepared with their 1979 second LP Duty Now for the Future, and now it was go time. Propelled by the new decade’s high-tech, free-market, pre-AIDS promise, 1980’s Freedom of Choice would rocket what Devo co-founder Gerald Casale calls his “alternate universe, hermetically sealed, alien band” both into the arms of the Earthlings and back to their home planet in one scenic trip.
Before an artistic and commercial decline that resulted in a 20-year gap between Devo’s last two studio records, Freedom of Choice made them curious, insurgent superstars, vindicated but ultimately betrayed by the birth of MTV. Their only platinum album represented the best of their unreplicable code: dead-serious tricksters, embracing conformity in order to destroy it with bullet-proof pop sensibility. Through first-hand accounts from the band and musical analysis set against an examination of New Wave’s emergence, the first-ever authorized book about Devo (with a forward by Portlandia’s Fred Armisen) explores the group’s peak of success, when their hermetic seal cracked open to let in mainstream attention, lots of cocaine and the occasional violent Italian dwarf. “Freedom of Choice was the end of Devo innocence–it turned out to be the high point before the s***storm of a total cultural move to the right, the advent of AIDS, and the press starting to figure Devo out and think they had our number,” says Casale. “It’s where everything changes.”
In 1978, San Francisco, a city that has seen more than its share of trauma, plunged from a summer of political tension into an autumn cascade of malevolence that so eluded human comprehension it seemed almost demonic. The battles over property taxes and a ballot initiative calling for a ban on homosexuals teaching in public schools gave way to the madness of the Jonestown massacre and the murders of Mayor George Moscone and city supervisor Harvey Milk at the hands of their former colleague, Dan White.
In the year that followed this season of insanity, it made sense that a band called Dead Kennedys played Mabuhay Gardens in North Beach, referring to Governor Jerry Brown as a “zen fascist,” calling for landlords to be lynched and yuppie gentrifiers to be sent to Cambodia to work for “a bowl of rice a day,” critiquing government welfare and defense policies, and, at a time when each week seemed to bring news of a new serial killer or child abduction, commenting on dead and dying children. But it made sense only (or primarily) to those who were there, to those who experienced the heyday of “the Mab.”
Most histories of the 1970s and 1980s ignore youth politics and subcultures. Drawing on Bay Area zines as well as new interviews with the band and fans, Michael Stewart Foley corrects that failing by treating Dead Kennedys’ first record, Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, as a critical historical document, one that not only qualified as political expression but, whether experienced on vinyl or from the stage of “the Mab,” stimulated emotions and ideals that were, if you can believe it, utopian.