MTV Get Off the Air

Album: Frankenchrist (1985)

Songfacts®:

  • This song, written by lead singer by Jello Biafra, is a typically-DK backlash against commercialization and the stifling effect it has on music. Ironically enough, our primary source for this entry will be from the book MTV Ruled the World - The Early Years of Music Video, in which Jello Biafra was interviewed and quoted on many topics.

    So here's Biafra on initial impressions of MTV: "It occurred to me early on that the name 'Dead Kennedys' was going to be enough that MTV would never play us anyway, so why bother? Plus, how can you turn a Dead Kennedys song into some sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll thing... well, no, take out the drugs - it's MTV - with me as the silent film comedian, mouthing the words, trying to look cute. My stuff was never supposed to be cute, any more than it was supposed to be used in TV commercials or something like that. The purpose is to provoke, not to soothe."

    Biafra continues: "The way they were laying it down then was, 'This is the way music is going to go. From now on, there is no point in even writing a song unless you know what it's going to look like on TV.' And it occurred to me instantly, 'Well, even if that's what the major labels think, I think this is bulls--t, and so do most of my peers, so I'm not even going to worry about it.'"

    Biafra also adds: "I didn't have cable in my house for 20 years, in part because, that way, no bands crashing on my floor could watch MTV on my time."
  • This song starts off with Jello Biafra taking on the stentorian tones of a VJ who talks like he's "wigged out on quaaludes." When asked how he felt about VJs (videos deejays of MTV), he said: "I kind of had a Beavis and Butthead reaction. One of them came on, and I was like 'Who is this dolt?' And off went the TV. That's about all I know. Now, I'm sure they have every modeling agency pounding at the door, if they even have VJs at all. But otherwise, to some degree, they just scooped up the first people they could find and threw them out there. And consequently, none of them are anywhere to be found today."
  • This was part of the notorious Frankenchrist album, which included an H.R. Giger print called Penis Landscape in the packaging. Around this time, morality in music was a big issue thanks to the PMRC, which was demanding warning labels on albums they deemed offensive. So when the Los Angeles district attorney's office got a complaint about the print, they prosecuted, putting Jello Biafra on trial in a case that lasted 16 months and effectively broke up the band. The jury in the case was deadlocked, so it was declared a mistrial.

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