Digging Up the Past

Oh, for Frankenchrist's sake! The Dead Kennedys return, sans Jello.

So far, Jay Munly is having a big year. He's now one of the few remaining Denver-rooted members of Slim Cessna's Auto Club, which saw a significant change in its roster following the band's two farewell performances at the Bluebird on December 30 and 31. Those Club-gazers who managed to navigate their way through the capacity crowds to the merch table might have caught a glimpse of Munly's new book, Ten Songs With No Music, which sold out its initial printing during the two shows. And this week, he releases Jimmy Carter Syndrome, his newest solo offering, on Smooch Records. There's also more to come: Munly is slated to release another CD, aided by the Lee Lewis Harlots, in a couple of months.

The danger of unearthing so much material at once is that one work might be outshone by another. In Munly's case, that would be a shame, as both of the current offerings are worthy. Known primarily as a musician, Munly also has a background in theater and acting, and he's won awards for his work as a writer of plays and short stories. This literary penchant has always been evident in Munly's music, and it shows again on Jimmy Carter Syndrome, a folkloric, string-heavy epic that includes appearances from 16 Horsepower's Pascal Humbert and DeVotchKa's Nick Urata (a former member of Munly De Har He). Jimmy Carteris produced by Bob Ferbrache, who also appears alongside fellow Tarantella members Cal, John Rumley and Ordy Garrison.

Munly's wordcraft is on full, unique display on Ten Songs With No Music, released this month by independent imprint Maude O.K. Publishing. A collection of ten short stories that echo characters and themes from his songwriting as both a member of the Auto Club and a solo artist, the book is sort of a paper libretto for many of the tragicomic and dastardly dark tales Munly has set to music over the years.

The slim volume nearly disappeared forever when the Auto Club van was stolen -- with Munly's computer inside it -- last year. (Although the vehicle and manuscript were later recovered, the moral of the lesson remains: If you are penning an original collection of artistic works on a computer system, make backups.) It's a good thing the van thieves didn't opt to hit the delete key: Ten Songs abounds in a frightful Americana voodoo that's often funny in spite of itself, full of religious allegory, damnation, church choirs and fur coats. It's Tennessee Williams in war paint, on the back of a mule, whistling Dixie all the way to the Rapture. We await the next chapter.

Munly -- and his book -- will appear at Twist & Shout on Friday, January 18, for an in-store performance and CD-release party for Jimmy Carter Syndrome. (Ten Songs Without Music is available through Maude O.K., too.) Munly will also appear Saturday, January 19, at the Lion's Lair, with DeVotchKa. Enjoy the shows; just don't stand too close to the hellfire.


In the theater world, when an understudy fills in for a regular cast member, the producers are required to make an announcement before the curtain lifts. Had such a rule extended to Sunday night's performance by the Dead Kennedys (also known as the DK Kennedys), the announcement might have gone something like this: "Ladies and gentlemen, the role of Jello Biafra will tonight be played by Brandon Cruz, the former frontman of a forgettable Northern California punk outfit who resembles a fry cook and whom you might recognize from his days as a child actor on The Courtship of Eddie's Father.

For many of the 400 or so pierced and bottle-bleached career punks who turned up at the Gothic Theatre for the Dead Kennedys' first official "tour" in seventeen years, Biafra's absence came as something of a surprise: Though most advertisements and fliers for the show made a point of specifying the new cast -- which includes original Kennedys East Bay Ray and Klaus Floride along with D.H. Peligro and Cruz -- those more inclined to pay attention to marquees than printed matter could have been forgiven for expecting the band's longstanding figurehead to emerge from the wings. When the muscular and well-greased Cruz appeared instead, he looked more like a stagehand than the wiry, elfin Biafra, who always seemed powered more by an internal combine engine than by rock-hard abs. Cries of "No!" as well as vigorously extended middle fingers greeted Cruz as he walked, however uncomfortably, to center stage and proceeded to do his best Biafra, which, though not bad as far as pure posturing goes, felt a bit like a practical joke. ("We've replaced these concertgoers' favorite anarchic punk icon with Sanka! Let's see if they notice.") At one point, Cruz stated that he felt like "a fucking karaoke machine," recalling, if unwittingly, Biafra's description of the new Kennedys as the "world's greediest karaoke band."

Those wishing to register complaint over the ol' lead-singer bait and switch should refrain from directing their comment cards to the former Mr. Eric Boucher, however. After playing legal Ping-Pong with his former bandmates for the past year, Biafra has sought to distance himself from the current Kennedy incarnation, dismissing as opportunistic (if not plain pathetic) the band's tour and recent "products," including a series of four DK reissues and Mutiny on the Decay, an uneven live recording that was refused by Alternative Tentacles and never approved by Biafra. So if you're planning to send anything to the Boulder-born punk politico (who appears to have spent much of his holiday in Denver clubs scoping bands, including Maraca 5-0and Slim Cessna's Auto Club, which is signed to AT), he prefers that it be cash donations to help cover new court costs: Biafra is currently appealing a decision that essentially entrusted control of the DK catalogue to everyone but the band's former frontman. See alternativetentacles.com for more info on Biafra's legal woes, as well as Become the Media, his new collection of spoken-word material.

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