What would Jello do?
Declaring what's right, former Dead Kennedys leader leans leftThursday February 26, 2004 12:04 am EST
Jello Biafra lives by his words.
An outspoken activist and former vocalist of '80s caustic California hardcore quartet Dead Kennedys, Biafra makes a living off a singular and sarcastic political wit. And for nearly two-and-a-half decades, he has been a fly in the corporate and religious right's ointment. Birthing bile with songs including "Die for Oil, Sucker," "California Über Alles" and "Religious Vomit," Biafra's skewed humor and revolutionary ethos fuel his endeavors, many canonized punk classics as piercing as a safety pin.
The physically nondescript punk promotes cultural upheaval through words, not his wardrobe, however. His solo outings are fiery spoken-word affairs pointed at political buffoonery, record industry shenanigans and media censorship. If Michael Moore's anti-Bush rants are equivalent to selling cocaine, Biafra is pushing crack.
Biafra's 1987 solo debut, No More Cocoons, appeared on his own Alternative Tentacles imprint and stemmed from the obscenity case over an H.R. Giger poster included with the Dead Kennedys' third full-length, Frankenchrist. The band won the case, but subsequently broke up. Several more spoken-word recordings followed from Biafra, leading up to his ruminations on post-9-11 America with Big Ka-Boom Pt. 1 and Machine Gun in the Clown's Hand.
Having waged verbal war on the administrations of three presidents — Reagan, Bush Sr. and Clinton — Biafra's warnings against looming Orwellian nightmares are realized under the shadow of George W. Bush in twisted visions of the PATRIOT Act and the War on Terror®.
"I should quit writing this shit because it keeps coming true," says Biafra.
But with every new law hiding a landmine, Biafra's unapologetic opposition to a questionable government hand-in-hand with an irresponsible mass media becomes increasingly poignant for peace punks, pierced or professional.
"We've been living in an ongoing, slow-but-steady corporate coup," says Biafra. "The corporations have more or less privatized both political parties, and thanks to the deregulation on mergers and hostile takeovers that went through during the Reagan years, they've bought out most of the major mass media outlets and turned them into corporate propaganda tools where Janet Jackson's titty and 'American Idol' are far more important than if our own planet survives."
Throughout the '80s, Biafra railed against the excessive politics and censorship promoted by the Reagan-Bush presidency, Tipper Gore and the Parent's Music Resource Center. In the '90s, he again spit vinegar at Bush and the Gulf War. With Dubya's administration taking power, Biafra feels it's more or less the same regime.
"'Cowboy Cornholio' is such a horrible president, he makes Clinton look good," says Biafra, "But some of the worst excesses of the Reagan-Bush years were pushed through by Clinton: NAFTA; the GATT treaty, which gave us the WTO; he signed Gingrich's welfare deform bill; and the last day in office, he pardoned one of the most evil, corporate swindlers in history, Mark Rich."
Biafra's tirades on corruption teeter on paranoia, but are balanced with a didactic, albeit confrontational, sense of humor. His near-icon status has led to many collaborations, though the one group he can't seem to corroborate is the one once his own. After opposing a licensing offer from Levi's jeans for a Dead Kennedys song, Biafra was sued in 1998 by the Dead Kennedys over issues related to unpaid royalties.
Despite the deflating flack from warring not only against administrations, but also his former bandmates, Biafra remains an insurrectionary catalyst. In 2000, he received a Green Party presidential nomination and was placed on the ballot. What does it all mean to those who would rally to his cause, or at least let curiosity lead them to one of his impassioned nigh-sermons, when the candidate next in line to Ralph Nader was in the Dead Kennedys?
"It means there are people attracted to the Greens who want to make the political process fun again," says Biafra, describing the stance he takes on his lurching lecture circuit appearances. "It's not just about finding alternatives to voting for Tweedledumb and Tweedledumber, both on the ticket for the corporate Republicrats, but to illustrate what is possible, even if it can't be had immediately."