Dreadnaught: King of Afropunk


D. H. Peligro was the drummer for Dead Kennedys and briefly the drummer for Red Hot Chili Peppers. He later fronted the Band Peligro, which along with Fishbone and Bad Brains, became one of the few black performers in the punk rock movement. Peligro's autobiography, Dreadnaught, chronicles his work with these bands but also give good insight on what it was like being black in a musical environment that was predominantly white. His biography seems to be a basically honest account. Peligro doesn't hold back when he discusses his own personal issues. He speaks with frankness and isn't afraid to bring up his demons. For instance when he writes about being abused by his step-father , he communicates an uncomfortable mixture of terror and childhood vulnerability...

Sometimes when he was really drunk, he would wake me up out of a dead sleep and I would be staring into both barrels of his twelve-gauge shotgun pointed directly in my face.

"What yo' sweat? Are you a man?" he would ask me. I can still feel his hot alcohol breath on my face and hear his hoarse, sloppy whisper in my ear.

"Wake up! Are you a man?"

No, I'm a kid. I would think to myself.

He writes with this same frank honesty as he discusses his past drug use which resulted in 27 rehabs. He writes about his anger at his band mates who he blamed for his hardships while, in hindsight, acknowledging that he was essentially his own worse enemy.

The problem with most rock autobiographies is that the road to stardom to drug addiction to eventual redemption is so common most of us have memorized the tune. However, Peligro's account does have some unusual twists. I was surprised to hear that Dead Kennedys were very anti-drug. Also, Peligro had an unusual musical history compared to many punk rockers. Many, if not most, punk rock musicians got into the lifestyle first, then became musicians and learned music as they performed. The joke that the difference between New Wavers and Punk Rockers is that New Wavers can actually play their instruments has a ring of truth. However Peligro had quite a bit of musical experience before he entered the punk rock scene. His Uncle Sam, who played with the legendary bluesman Robert Nighthawk, was influential in Peligro's decision to learn drums and guitar and D. H. played progressive rock and metal before he gravitated to the San Francisco punk scene. It is these little bits of information that keep Dreadnaught from being just another rags-to-riches-to-rags rock tale. His outlook on the punk scene in the late 70s and 80's is a nice addition to the scores of other autobiographies out there and feels a bit more real than the glittery excesses of a Pete Townsend or Rod Steward. D. H. Peligro stayed in the trenches.

If you have any interest in punk rock, Dead Kennedys, or the Punk counter-culture, you should enjoy this book. Three and a half stars.


Background music:  Dead Kennedys -Plastic Surgery Disasters.