Unfortunately, for the fortunes of Dead Kennedy's and those with close associations to them, one day a 13 year old girl purchased the record in the Wherehouse Records in Los Angeles County. The poster came to the attention of the girl's mother and after calls to the California Attorney General and the Los Angeles Prosecutors, band members and distributors found themselves on a criminal charge of 'distribution of harmful matter to minors', a charge which if successfully prosecuted carried a maximum custodial sentence of one year and a $2,000 fine. Pretty heavy stuff.
'Work 219: Landscape XX' by H.R. Giger
The recently formed Parents Music Resource Centre (PMRC), a lobbying group of influential 'Washington Wives' (most notable of which were Tipper Gore, wife of Clinton Vice-President Al Gore and Susan Baker, wife of James baker, Treasury Secretary under George Bush Snr). The PMRC raison d'etre was to clamp down on what they saw as the degenerate elements in rock music and in this pursuit they had the ear of their power broking husbands in the capital. Incidently, it is was the PMRC who were responsible for that record shop phenomena of the 1980's, the 'Parental Advisory Explicit Content' stickers, otherwise known as 'Tipper Stickers'. I find it highly amusing that these days you are more likely to see that particular logo on T-shirts sported by the same breed of 'degenerate' musicians that the PMRC were attempting to censor! Or even more bizarrely sold to the parents of young children. Didn't see that one coming did ya Tipper!
Anyway, back to Dead Kennedy's plight. The PMRC were not slow to get in on the act. Whether or not the Dead Kennedys were on the 'Wives' radar prior to the 'Frankenchrist' furore I do not know. Primarily, the PMRC targeted their 'Filthy 15' which featured candidates that you could conceive would be in there (Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, WASP) and a couple that you wouldn't (Cyndi Lauper and Sheena Easton..... '9 to 5'?..... pure smut!). However, these were high targets, big guns in the industry with accordingly large legal teams.... but hey what about a DIY punk band on their own independent label?
Jello Biafra's attic apartment was raided by representatives of both the Los Angeles and San Francisco Police Departments in the early hours of 15th April 1986. They were in search of 'harmful material' in the form of the Giger album poster insert.
The raid lead to the pressing of the charge of 'distribution of harmful matter to minors'. It was brought by Los Angeles City Attorney, Michale Guarino against five defendants, Jello Biafra and Michael Bonanno (former Alternative Tentacles label manager), Ruth Schwartz (owner of Mordam Records), Steve Boudreau (a distributor involved in supplying Frankenchrist to the Los Angeles Wherehouse store), and Salvatore Alberti (owner of the factory where the record was pressed).
In the initial hearing, Judge Susan Isacoff, overruled the prosecutions demands that the poster be considered in isolation of the album as a piece of pornographic obscenity. She determined that the poster must be considered in the context of the album and its material and as such it was possible to defend inclusion of the poster as art reflecting the themes expressed in the album. The case against Schwartz, Boudreau and Alberti was dropped due to a lack of evidence but Biafra and Bonanno were not off the hook.
The trial became very high profile and sparked deep debate on the subject of censorship in music championed by big guns such as Frank Zappa and .... John Denver! The band's label Alternative Tentacles established the 'No More Censorship Fund' that saw donations rolling in from across the globe, funds that would go towards the rising legal costs involved in fighting the case, an estimated $20,000.... a huge sum for the band and label in 1986!
In August 1987, the case against Jello Biafra and Michael Bonanno came before a jury who returned a verdict split 7 to 5 in favor of acquittal. Guarino efforts to force a retrial were denied by Judge Isacoff.
Here's Jello's take in his own words as he challenges Tipper Gore on the Oprah Winfrey Show:
It was a pyrrhic victory if ever there was one. The strains over the legal action that dragged on for nearly two years contributed to the band splitting..... but the censorship debate continued apace for several years afterwards.