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Home > Music

Drool drool drool drool

19 September 2003

You may not know the Dead Kennedys. Shouty, quite fun, very angry, lots of cuss words. But you will know one of their sleeve artists. They had an insert in the '80s drawn by HR Giger, an artist who designed the alien in Alien, did other award-winning sleeves you've seen and plenty of sculpture and architecture besides.

The Dead Kennedys' sleeve used his Landscape 20, a desolate and upsetting landscape made up of penises. Because of this, and the band's tendency to criticise American foreign policy, Tipper Gore made the Dead Kennedys one of her prime targets when she set up her powerful Moaning Minnie lobby group of senators' wives, the Parents' Music Resource Centre.

And the PMRC got a victory when they prosecuted the Kennedys for selling an album with that artwork (even though it was an insert) to young people (even though not all punks were pre-teens, at least not in the mid-'80s). So it was that the band found themselves charged with Distributing Pornography To Minors.

Giger was making some kind of anguished comment with his piece. Francesco Urbini, by contrast, was a 16th century Italian ceramicist who made a plate where a man's head was all made out of penises, and that was just for shits and giggles. You can tell that because the garland around all the shafts reads "Ogni homo me guarda come fosse una testa de cazi." (If you need help, "Everyone looks at me as though I were a dick-head.")

If it had come one generation later, it would have met Tipper Gore-type prudish censorship and been smashed. Happily, 1550s Italy was a little more advanced than 1980s America, and so the piece is, as of this week, safely in the Ashmolean Museum. Go, penis artists!, go Italy!, and fuck you Tipper Gore!

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