BEAT intreview with Jello Biafra

By Murray Engleheart. (BEAT, 11/15/95)

When Jello Biafra, one time leader of notorious San Fransisco punks, The Dead Kennedys, was on trial in 1986 on charges of "distributing harmful matter" relating to inclusion of Geiger's Penis Landscape with the Dead Kennedy's Frankenchrist album, he got a couple of interesting phone calls. One was from the late Frank Zappa.

 "It was one of the few silver linings to come out of the trial," the man who once ran for mayor and received a respectable level of support at the polling both - he came fourth - said in his almost cartoon-like voice from his home at 2:00am.

 "He got hold of me and the helpers of The No More Censorship Defence Fund rather than us having to find him. He gave me some very valuable advice very early on, something that anybody subjected to the kind of harassment should remember: you are the victim. You have to constantly frame yourself in that way in the mass media so you don't get branded some kind of outlaw simply because of your beliefs and the way you express your art. The outlaws are the police"

 "I got to visit (Frank) two or three times at his house in Los Angeles and those were pretty special times. He showed me a hilarious Christian aerobics video. The women were in their skin tight leotards doing jumping jacks 1-2, 2-2, 3-2 Praise The Lord! and of course the bustiest one was in a striped spandex suit dead front centre of the screen!"

 The Zappa call in retrospect shouldn't have been too surprising. The great man spent his life battling censorship. No, the call that was really weird was from a genuine rock star.

 "The most ridiculous offer of all was Gene Simmons of Kiss calling up wanting movie rights to the Frankenchrist trial."

 "Australian interviewers have been asking if America's so horrible, why don't you leave. But hey, this is my home, home is where the disease is. As long as I stay in America, I'll never run out of subjects for songs."

 The man who founded the Alternative Tentacles label, the recording birthing ground for the likes of The Buthole Surfers and early Husker Du, is right of course. He has put most of his creative energies into spoken word of late, but has a stockpile of songs he's written over the last two years and he's yet to record.

 "I'm drying out from recording and mixing a track over the past few days for of all things, a Willie Nelson tribute album." he said and cackled madly. "For anyone who knows the song, Still Is Still Moving to me, it's the closest thing to a...oh, a Dead Kennedy's Holiday In Cambodia sounding song that he ever came up with and the lyrics are cool too."

 Though he doesn't think that writing a book is "his line of work", Jello has certainly hit a vein with other orator authors like Ice T.

 "I didn't know I was in the Ice T book (The Ice Opinion)," Jello laughed evilly. "I have wanted to read that. He's one of the most brilliant people I've ever met. I don't agree with all of his views, especially in the area of Women! But overall, he's a fascinating person to be around. The intelligence and energy just kind of rubs off in sparks."

 Ice's reference to Jello was that Jello once told him rather than scream about all the problems, sit down and think of one solution.

 "I didn't quite put it in terms of one solution; there isn't one magical solution. I remember that conversation and I'm glad I made an impression on him because I do think that more people listen to artists, especially rappers and musicians, than they do to politicians and if they're going to look to us for leadership and brain food, we ought to provide some ideas for improvement over the current collapse of the Roman Empire that we are witnessing in this country. I have tossed out some ideas on (spoken word epic) Beyond the Valley of the Gift Police, some of them sarcastic, but some of them also very practical.

 Not surprisingly, Jello is a supporter of Body Count within the terms of reference that he outlined his support for Ice T.

 "Cop Killer is the Born To Be Wild of the 90s. Everything that people find shocking now will be routine in 10 years. It always works out that way. Remember when Elvis Presley's legs were banned from American television? So I envision that someday, an ad will come on the television (he puts on his TV commercial voice), `Remember the good old 90s? We'll relive the nostalgia with Cop Killers - Hating Whitey In The 90s, starring Body Count, Ice Cube, Ice T, NWA, Snoop Doggy Dogg' you name it"

 Jello was still recovering from a savage beating he received from some punks at a San Francisco club called Gillman Street after an incident in which he was injured in he mosh pit. He would not discuss the incident. He was tired of talking about it. What he did want to discuss was the current state of punk rock. And no, he's not anti-Green Day et al.

 "What I've had to point out is that not everybody who has a long and deep involvement with punk wants to turn it into some bitter fundamentalist, isolationist church and go around playing cop on other people. If that was the attitude I'd found when I first got into punk, I would've gotten right back out again. I think that circling the wagons and putting up fences right at a time when millions of new people could potentially turn onto the police and the spirit of punk is sad and irresponsible."

 "I don't think either The Offspring or Green Day started their band with intention of becoming so enormously popular, that sort of fell into their laps, especially The Offspring. What I'm hoping will eventually happen is they will grasp the amount of power and financial clout that is now at their fingertips and use those as tools to help read people with real things the way punk politics always designed to do before but nobody had any money. The Grateful Dead of all people have been doing this for years"

 "My attitude is if somebody bludders into that level of popularity, at least remember the human factor. These guys are still human beings and hopefully have hearts and if you keep in touch with them rather than vilify them, you may be able to encourage them to go in the right direction."