Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Jello Biafra































[Jello Biafra - Photograph by Allen Ginsberg - caption: "Jello Biafra (nee Eric Boucher) head of Dead Kennedys rock band, visiting N.Y. after obscenity trial (won by hung jury) over Art Illustrations to his "Frankenchrist" album. "Nazi Punks Fuck Off" and "Too Drunk to Fuck" were earlier Punk underground hits. He was touring, lecturing on Reagan-era Censorship moves. Late nights the "rebounding from the want ads, surprised scrutinized by candid surveillance camera", recovering from flu, his open briefcase in small bedroom, pens clipped on to strap, old backstage tour passes posted inside, October 6, 1987"]

From an interview with William Ryan, 1981

AG: The very frank statement of the planet condition by the Sex Pistols amazed me when they sang,"No future for you,/ no future for me." It’s exactly what people thought unconsciously — just like people were thinking in the 'Sixties when (Bob) Dylan sang, "You’ve thrown the worst fear that can ever be hurled/ the fear to bring children into the world". It’s just that somebody, finally, said it. So, I think that The Clash, with their Sandinista album and songs like Washington Bullets, is making a clear statement.”

WR: Have you heard The Dead Kennedys, their song “California Über Alles,” which is an attack on…

AG: But ambivalent. It’s an attack on Jerry Brown [the then - and now current - Democratic Governor of California] or something. Why bother attacking Brown? That’s where the self-defeating irony comes in.

WR: In an interview, Jello Biafra of The Dead Kennedys alluded to growing up in Boulder (Colorado) He described Boulder as organic Disneyland, referring maybe to all the healthy optimists, the organic granola-heads out in the sunshine…

AG: But why start with Brown, who is relatively intelligent and may actually listen to them and would probably agree with their attack?  However, I guess it cuts both ways..” 


[H.R.Giger - Work 219:LandscapeXX, (Penis Landscape), 1973. Acrylic on paper on wood 70 cm x 100 cm - "WARNING: The inside fold out to this record cover is a work of art by H.R.Giger that some people might find shocking, repulsive or offensive. Life can sometimes be that way" (sticker included in the packaging of the Dead Kennedy's album, Frankenchrist" (1985)]

But then, four years later, when the PMRC witch-hunt was kicking in, and Biafra was being hounded by, indeed actively prosecuted by, the powers-that-be, the LA City Attorney's Office, over the insertion (sic) into their album-packaging of a controversial poster (a reproduction of "Penis Landscape" by H.R. Giger),

Looking back (from 2006, from an interview in Punk News):

JB: Well I think Allen Ginsberg was right when he said that the reason they [LA City Attorney's Office, the PMRC, the Reagan administration] were so interested in pawing and prying into everybody else's sex life and trying to control it, is (was) (that that is) the gateway into controlling the way people think, and the way people behave and giving people one mass lobotomy through fear so they're a more obedient workforce in the ant-hill society.

and, the previous year, in  Arthur magazine:

JB: Ginsberg was an inspiration simply by being a friend. He sought me out; called me out of the blue in the middle of the DKs’ Frankenchrist obscenity trial to offer his moral support and advice. We talked about the difference between what was happening to me and what happened to him and William Burroughs in earlier years. He of course advised me to do a lot of meditation. I guess I’ve gone a little in that direction. A hot bath is pretty much the only place I get to (do) any reading, and it’s where I get a lot of my best thoughts. Ideas pop into my head out of nowhere.
In some ways, Ginsberg reminded me of my father—if my father had pursued his writing dreams a little further and I hadn’t happened. I wound up crashing at [Ginsberg’s] apartment several times [at 437 East 12th Street], in an area that was just a little larger than a piano bench but for some reason very comfortable. Whenever you’d get up and walk into his kitchen, there would always be these unusual, interesting people hanging out and talking and exchanging ideas, with Allen being like the uncle, roving around with his camera and taking candid pictures of everyone. So it wasn’t just Ginsberg himself, as much as his whole web of people, and what we could each bring out of each other when we shared our thoughts

Some of this is captured in Household Affairs

Shortly after the DK trial, Biafra appeared at the River City Reunion


[Jello Biafra at The River City Reunion, 1987 - Photograph by Rosemary Marchetta 

Biafra (from an interview, in 1987):  It was nerve-racking, reading my stuff at the River City Reunion in Lawrence Kansas. It was a celebration after twenty years of countercultural movement. They had William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Anne Waldman, Ed Dorn, John Giorno, oh, lots and lots of people. One of the last segments was me co-billed with Timothy Leary. I went on first, and never had I realized what a horrible writer I was when I was (until I was) trying to read to that audience, knowing Ginsberg, Waldman and the rest (of them) were all in the crowd. 


[Jello Biafra & Timothy Leary at The River City Reunion - Photograph by Rosemary Marchetta 

Since those heady days (gulp! over a quarter of a century ago!) plenty of water has gone under the bridge (or, perhaps, over the bridge!), Biafra has continued to maintain a laudably high profile - as an outspoken political activist (independent, idiosyncratic, but notably, an important and vocal member of the American Green Party), as a record executive (co-founder and owner of the ground-breaking independent label, Alternative Tentacles), as a touring and recording musician (his current band is the provocatively-named Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo  School of Medicine), and, last but not least, as an accomplished (and prolific) "spoken word" artist (see here, for example, for some of Jello's rants - "What Would Jello Do?"


[Jools Holland  Interviews Jello Biafra about "Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables", 198o


[Jello Biafra -" No More Cocoons", 1987, the first of numerous Jello Biafra "Spoken Word" albums}





Jello Biafra


Here's a Jello Biafra interview, this past April, from The Guardian 

and  here he is, a month later, in Punk News 

and here, for your delight, is The Guantanamo School of Medicine. The Beat, of course, (the contemporary is always contemporary) goes on!

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