SAN FRANCISCO — Offspring singer/guitarist Dexter Holland testified Monday (May 15) that the Dead Kennedys‘ credibility would have suffered if their music had been used in a commercial.
Former Dead Kennedys frontman Jello Biafra (born Eric Reed Boucher), who refused to allow the band’s “Holiday in Cambodia” (RealAudio excerpt) to be used in a Levi’s khakis commercial, is being sued by his ex-bandmates in Superior Court. Guitarist East Bay Ray (born Ray Pepperell), bassist Klaus Flouride (Geoffrey Lyall) and drummer D.H. Peligro (Darren Henley) claim Biafra mismanaged the band’s back catalog and royalties. Biafra claims that the three brought suit against him because he nixed the Levi’s deal, and Biafra is countersuing, alleging mismanagement of Decay Music, the bandmembers’ business partnership.
“The punk-rock movement was supposed to be a very rebellious movement,” Holland, in a black bowling shirt and choker neckchain, told the court on the final day of testimony. “Anything that connects the band to what is considered mainstream goes against what the band stands for.”
The bleached-blonde Holland pointed out that the Sex Pistols were scorned by the punk community after one of their songs appeared in a soda commercial.
Holland, whose former indie band is now signed to Columbia, said punk-rock groups must be especially careful not to do anything that might be considered excessively commercial.
Peligro sat between Ray and Flouride, conferring and occasionally chuckling. At one point during testimony, Peligro drummed his chest with his fingertips, nodding his dreadlocked head to an unheard rhythm.
The usually outspoken Biafra kept quiet, looking down at the table, shuffling papers and taking furious notes while Ray testified. Biafra said last week that Ray told him there would be “repercussions” if he blocked the Levi’s commercial deal.
On the witness stand, the gaunt Ray, with round eyeglasses and black Vulcan-like hair, denied making the comment. Ray said he had been opposed to the Levi’s ad, and merely presented it to his former bandmates for consideration.
Soft-spoken Flouride also testified Monday, denying Biafra’s claim that Flouride suggested that the band agree to the Levi’s ad, announce that proceeds were being given to charity, and then donate only 5 percent.
The suit filed by Ray, Flouride and Peligro contends that band-founded Alternative Tentacles Records — owned solely by Biafra since 1986 — failed to promote adequately the defunct group’s catalog of hard-driving punk rock known for its scathing social commentary.
Several witnesses have testified that promotion of back catalog is not a regular music industry practice, but that older recordings can be pushed in connection with new releases or tours.
Ray testified that in 1992, Cherry Red Records greatly increased European sales of the band’s 1978 debut, Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, by re-releasing it repackaged with a bonus disc of other tracks that included “Too Drunk to Fuck” (RealAudio excerpt).
Ray, Peligro and Flouride’s attorney, David Phillips, asked Holland if a new release of live material — or a repackaging of old studio material with bonus tracks — would be adequate reason for promotion.
Holland, who runs the indie label Nitro, said either would serve to promote a band that no longer tours or records, but that the material must truly be something new, to avoid the appearance of “milking it.”
Biafra maintains that his high-profile activities — as a spoken-word artist and as a Green Party presidential candidate — serve to promote the Dead Kennedys’ records.
Holland called Biafra’s spoken-word material “an extension of the band.”
Biafra’s name is strongly connected with the Dead Kennedys, Holland, 34, said. “What he does on his spoken-word tour is very similar to what the band did.”
Closing arguments are scheduled for Tuesday. Jury deliberation will begin Tuesday or Wednesday.