Mark Bliesener, who gave the Dead Kennedys their name, on how he coined the moniker

Categories: Untold Stories

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Behold, Untold Stories, another new periodic feature on Backbeat. As you've probably deduced from the name of this feature, Untold Stories will feature first-hand accounts of momentous occasions involving local folks that have never really been highlighted -- thus the Untold part of that equation.

The inaugural installment comes courtesy of Mark Bliesener, a longtime Backbeat contributor, who has more than four decades of experience in the music business, from managing acts like Big Head Todd and the Monsters and Lyle Lovett to co-authoring The Complete Idiot's Guide to Starting a Band to being a music critic and performer himself. Click through to read how Mark coined the Dead Kennedys moniker.

In May of 1976, I quit my job in L.A. playing drums with ? and the Mysterians, and "retired" to Berthoud. The scheme was to live as far away from pavement as possible, and I found a place on a dirt road near Carter Lake. As quasi-idyllic as this may sound, a persistent problem was raising the $135 per month rent. But I did own a PA system, inherited as my part of the settlement in some long-ago band breakup. So I offered the system, with me as operator, for $50 a night.

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The illustrious Mr. Ted Kennedy, inspiration for "The Dead Kennedys"
Burgeoning Boulder punkers like the Ravers, Nightflames and others used my gear. In the process I met a posse of Boulder High School rock-and-roll devotees who were hanging around, helping the bands hump gear as well as starting their own bands, which would soon become the backbone of the local punk scene, fanatics like me -- although I had eight or ten years on them -- who existed far out of sync with the late-'70s Colorado post-therapy, country-and-western norm.

Guys like Joseph Pope (later bass player with SST Record's Angst and Grammy winning engineer) and Eric Boucher, who would soon start to refer to himself by a variety of names, including Occupant and eventually Jello Biafra. Which made perfect sense to me as I had been operating under the moniker Radio Pete since 1972.

And we were always talking. Yakking. Yammering on about the Velvets, Mott, the Dolls, Phil Spector, Stooges, Flaming Groovies, Ramones, Pistols. We shared a common fear that raw three chord rock and roll would end up as the museum piece it then seemed destined to become -- difficult as such a notion may be to fathom in 2011, following the rock-and-roll-ization of, well, everything.

One afternoon, we were in Eric's bedroom at his parents house in Boulder recording onto cassette 7-inch singles which he'd recently brought back from a trip to the U.K., fresh slabs of vinyl unavailable here by groups like the Vibrators, Cortinas and X-Ray Spex. So we're talking about bands and the names of bands, and I happened to mention that I've kept a running list of new band names for years, and inspired by my girlfriend's teddy bear, named Ted Kennedy, that I had come up with the greatest band name no one could ever use -- "The Dead Kennedys."

After I said it, the name just sort of lay there in the room... In 1978, when I heard of the fantastic first DK's shows, I thought it was so cool that the,name was finally being used. I Still do.


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3 comments
Jamicassady
Jamicassady

Dear Radio Pete, It is our pleasure to know you and work with you...we look forward to many years of collaboration. I loved this!!Jami Cassady and Randy

Guest
Guest

The name generated controversy. Wrote San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen in November 1978, "Just when you think tastelessness has reached its nadir, along comes a punk rock group called The Dead Kennedys, which will play at Mabuhay Gardens on Nov. 22, the 15th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination. Despite mounting protests, the owner of Mabuhay says 'I can't cancel them NOW — there's a contract.' Not, apparently, the kind of contract some people have in mind."[3] However, despite popular belief, the name was not meant to insult the Kennedy family, but to quote Biafra, "to bring attention to the end of the American Dream".

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