Time Not Mellowing Jello
- News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:
Time not mellowing Jello
by Shawn Conner
Tuesday, April 20, 2004
AN EVENING OF SPOKEN WORD WITH JELLO BIAFRA
When: Wed., April 21
Where: Vogue Theatre, 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $17.50 at Ticketmaster, 604-280-4444
The world would be a less colourful place without Jello
Biafra. Renegade punk rocker, defender of free speech,
spoken-word performer, independent-music supporter, critic
of both the Democratic and Republican parties, actor and
activist, the San Franciscan has been stirring up trouble
since his days leading his band the Dead Kennedys through
politically charged songs like "California Uber Alles" and
satirical barbs like "Too Drunk to F***".
Nor is Biafra mellowing with age. His current spoken-word
engagements find him ranting about George W. Bush, Al Gore,
the war on terrorism, Iraq and all the other hot-button
topics of the day. He even has some words for Canadians. At
the end of our interview, he mentions the need for us to
rally against "asylum laws that have been severely tightened
since the Vietnam era" in case of a new American draft.
Usually these verbal volleys land on the ears of aging
Kennedys fans, eager conspiracy buffs, left-leaning Noam
Chomsky readers and other sympathetic listeners. But, when
Biafra comes to the Vogue Theatre April 21, he'll be taking
a break from a U.S. tour that finds him facing an audience
more eager to mosh to punk acts like NOFX and Alkaline Trio
than to hear why they should vote.
"Oh, it's a totally different environment," says Biafra,
reached at home in San Francisco on Easter Sunday. "Part of
the beauty of the tour is, it's not preaching to the choir
at all." The "Punk Voter" tour, as it's called, was started
by Fat Mike, a member of NOFX and a musician. According to
Biafra, Fat Mike isn't known as a political animal.
"But I guess Bush stealing the election in Florida and what
he's done since really struck a nerve. So he's brought a lot
more media clout and his own considerable financial power
behind Punk Voter in a way a little guy like me never could.
But I'm the one who's drawn the short straw, and gets to
explain to NOFX fans why this is important."
Biafra first took the stage armed with nothing but his
opinions and sardonic snarl in January 1986. "I realized
pretty quickly I was no more of a poet than I ever thought I
was, but people really honed in on my warped sense of humour
and the suppressed information I weaved into the pieces. So
I went further in that direction, especially after I became
the test-case pigeon for dragging musicians through court
because of the content of their albums."
The case Biafra is referring to is the PMRC (Parent's Music
Resource Center) hearings that took place in the mid-'80s.
Spearheaded by Tipper Gore, wife of then-senator Al, the
witch-hunt eventually resulted in those "Parental Advisory"
blurbs that accompany CDs with questionable content. Adding
to his lawyer bills, Biafra has been involved in an ongoing
legal dispute with the rest of the Dead Kennedys, the
influential punk band he led from 1978 to 1987. East Bay
Ray, Klaus Flouride and DH Peligro sued the singer when he
wouldn't agree to sell one of the group's songs for use in a
commercial for a popular line of pants. So how much time has
he spent in court?
"That's a painful question," says Biafra. "I have no regrets
about the Dead Kennedys. I'm very proud of our music, but if
I had to do it over again I would never have gotten mixed up
with those three greedheads."
On a less litigious note, Biafra has no court dates pending
in Vancouver. His association with the city has been mostly
positive, and includes acting in a couple of local film
productions, touring and recording with punk bands D.O.A.
and NoMeansNo, and distributing records on his Alternative
Tentacles label by Nardwuar the Human Serviette's band the
"I first visited Vancouver when I was 13 on a trip with my
dad," recalls Biafra, born Eric Boucher in 1958 in Boulder,
Colo., "six blocks from the JonBenet Ramsey murder site"
(according to the bio). "We started in Alaska and then took
the train from Prince Rupert to Jasper and Vancouver. I
liked Alaska and B.C. and that part of Alberta a lot, and I
even thought of enrolling in UBC or Simon Fraser. Turns out
I was more interested in punk rock so it never went that far."
His next musical project is a new album with the Melvins, a
proto-grunge group not known for strong opinions on civil
liberties or the corporate co-opting of the Democrats. Asked
if the record is going to be political, Biafra replies,
"What part of my art is not political? Even the satire of
'Too Drunk to F***' is political. Jesus."
Now available: _The Unspeakable and Others_
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News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:
"It's a political statement -- or, rather, an
*anti*-political statement. The symbol for *anarchy*!"
-- Batman, explaining the circle-A graffiti, in
_Detective Comics_ #608