Melbourne, 2020
Crystal Ballroom, St Kilda, 1983

A coronavirus tip…

Sick of washing your hands to the tune of Happy Birthday when you’re feeling neither happy nor like it’s anyone’s birthday?

Here’s something for you and your whole locked-down family to chant while keeping that bugger of a bug at bay.

As you are disinfecting your digits, try a full-throated (spittle-free) rendition of Hyperactive Child, an antiseptic, anti-establishment ditty from the Dead Kennedys.

In the space of just 37 seconds these punks thrash through three verses, two choruses and a spoken word intro. Full on. The lyrics track the micro-journey of a nonconforming child who knows too much about the oppressive education system he’s been conscripted into. When he fails to toe the line, he’s forced to endure some psychotropic “treatment”. The final verse is cryptic, leaving the listener wondering if our hero has been drugged into compliance or has maintained the presence of mind to continue to rebel.

The 106 words that make up the lyrics of Hyperactive Child are shot out of the singer Jello Biafra’s motor mouth at an average rate of just over 3.7 syllables per second, leaving no room for cutting corners as you clean off your Covid. This song probably couldn’t be sung any faster without incurring some sort of epiglottic injury.

I’m tired of kissin’ ass
I can’t sit still all day
You know I know your school’s a lie
That’s why you dragged me here

‘You’re a hyperactive child
You’re disruptive, you’re too wild
We’re going to calm you down
Now this won’t hurt a bit’

Drag me to the floor
Pullin’ down my pants
Ram a needle up my butt
Put my brain into a trance

‘No more hyperactive child
Got too much of a mind
Wouldn’t you rather be happy?
Now this won’t hurt a bit’

Cameras in the balls
No windows, just brick walls
Pledge allegiance to a flag
Now you will obey

In 1983 I saw Dead Kennedys on their first Australian tour at the grotty but grand Crystal Ballroom in St Kilda. Klaus Fluoride, East Bay Ray, Jello Biafra and new drummer D. H. Peligro were in peak form, pumping out songs that shifted between the classic punk sound of their debut album to the faster hardcore style of more recent releases. Acerbic, funny, political, loud and tight, I’d never heard any band play this fast before.

That night I hung out down the back of the venue because the molten mosh pit at the foot the stage was simply terrifying. The stage diving craze was in full flight and bodies would leap, float, fall and sometimes re-emerge within the swaying sea of hundreds of sweaty punks (who, if asked, might have said that “social distancing” was one way of describing the kind of alienation they experienced every day).

Above all this tumult, San Francisco’s finest thundered manically through their set list. That night I witnessed that most magical of events – a brilliant band playing at the very top of their game.

Hyperactive Child. Try it. You’ll be down to the basin and back in less than a minute.

This has been a public service announcement.

Stereo Story #506


Stephen Andrew is a psychotherapist, writer and musician. A former contributor to Rolling Stone Australia, Rhythms and Juke, he is also a multi-instrumentalist of The Stereo Stories Band. Guitar, bass, vocals, drums...