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A Dead Kennedy Speaks: An Interview with Jello Biafra

If anyone will tell you what he thinks of George Bush’s New World Order, it is Jello Biafra. The always outspoken and often controversial former singer of San Francisco’s Dead Kennedys will set you straight in a hurry. In a heartbeat, he can offer an intelligent opinion on any number of the various wonderful effects of the government’s new friendly fascism. A victim of censorship and government persecution himself, Biafra along with other was charged in mid-1986 by California authorities for “distribution of harmful material to minors”—translated, the inclusion of a reproduction of H.R. Giger’s “Landscape #20” in the Dead Kennedys’ fourth album, Frankenchrist. The charges were eventually dismissed, but the Kennedys were finished as a group. Biafra has since gone on to record with the band Lard, as well as spoken word albums gleaned from his many college appearances, radio interviews and readings, each of them loaded with Hello’s uncompromising insight and biting sarcastic wit. When we heard he was coming to town, we leaped at the opportunity to speak to him ourselves, to give our readers a brief sample of what to expect… maybe. 

Flagpole: Did you know that Thomas got confirmed today?

Jello Biafra: I just found that out in the previous phone call. That doesn’t surprise me a bit in a way. Maybe that’ll mean the 52 senators that voted for him will get replaced by women next time. It just goes to show that America is a one party state masquerading as a two party state with big shots about the Democrats and Republicans having almost identical financial backers. 

FP: I think you’re correct.

JB: I mean, even if Thomas had lost Bush probably would have retaliated by nominating that really right wing woman judge from Texas, Houston.

FP: Whoever he would have picked would have been just as bad or worse. As far as the political candidates go is there any hope in the Democratic party that’s worth paying attention to?

JB: I’m starting to wonder if we’re going to see a third party by the end of this century because so many people are getting so disgusted with them that maybe they’re going to wind up going the way of the Whigs. 

FP: I’ve heard some spoken word albums you’ve done…

JB: Maybe I’ll just say the reason it’s called “Spoken Word” is because it’s a mixture of different things. It started out just as poetry reading and then evolved into humor and theatre and then became more information oriented as to the Frankenchrist album trial after that bust happened. So but I really hesitate to call it a lecture. I hate lectures. I hardly ever go to them unless it’s Noam Chomsky or something. Consider it infotainment. 

FP: “Lecture” gives it a more authoritarian kind of connotation. KRS-ONE is going to be at the University the day after you.

JB: Oh cool.

FP: He’s doing a similar thing. He’s called his Edutainment.

JB: That’s pretty good. I think more artists are going to have to do as much of this as possible in the future years since straight mass media is becoming more and more of a joke depending on what company bought out which paper, magazine or TV station during the Reagan/Bush era. I think even people who don’t consider themselves artists are going to be helpful in this area just telling other people they know what’s going on. After all, it was word of mouth that helped bring down the Iron Curtain. My parents were in the Soviet Union when the attempted coup happened there. My dad said one of the main ways it was thwarted was the people were printing up 8 1/2 by 11 newspapers and plastering them on subway poles. 

FP: What other artists do you admire that are doing the same type of thing?

JB: I would say in different ways everybody from Ice-T to Crass to Noam Chomsky.

FP: How about Laurie Anderson?

JB: I’ve hardly paid attention to her at all over the years so I don’t really know about her work very well.

FP: She was just here not too long ago and I thought her show was very enlightening. More of a spoken word, multi-media type of thing. What subjects are you going to address?

JB: I would say the two main ones will be New World Order as a Trojan Horse for a domestic police state, usually the Drug War and also of course the general topic of censorship, who wants to censor what, who pays for it, and why.

FP: That was something that Laurie Anderson talked about a bit—censorship.

JB: I’ve never seen so much blind following of the blatant lies in Gulf War news coverage if people hadn’t been conditioned to accept being lied to and having the truth withheld from them first. I think the most amazing example was the welcome home parade for General Norman Schwartzkopf who looked remarkably like the bully that used to beat me up in elementary school and there was all the hoopla in the corporate papers about, oh, how the city of Tampa is biting their nails because they’re expecting half a million fans. And I emphasize the word “fans” who show up to gawk at Schwartzkopf. So they did live Rose Bowl Parade type coverage and only 500 people showed up. So instead of pointing out that there was this few people that were interested in Schwartzkopf, they tightened the camera further and further on Schwartzkopf’s head to make it look like there were a half a million people there. Hitler and Goebbels couldn’t have done it better.

FP: You agree when people say media/press, the networks have just become a propaganda tool for the government?

JB: I would say much more directly that 10 years ago, much more openly.

FP: Have you read that book On Bended Knee?

JB: I haven’t heard of it.

FP: It’s all about how Reagan manipulated the press.

JB: I don’t think you could blame that on a talking head like Reagan. Keep in mind who bought out the networks during the Reagan era after de-regulation of corporate take overs. I mean, what kind of coverage can you get of the Gulf War or the defense industry corruption on NBC News when NBC is owned by General Electric? One of the world’s largest arms and nuclear power component manufacturers. Granted, they did run a documentary a year or two ago on how nuclear power had been magically rendered safe by a new device they were using in France. I have no idea whether GE manufactured that device or not, but it wouldn’t surprise me. And of course ABC is owned by Cap Cities Industries and one of Cap Cities’ co-founders and main stockholders until his recent death was former CIA director William Casey. 

FP: If you got to meet face to face with Bush tomorrow, what would be the first thing you’d say to him?

JB: Oh God, that’s a good question—”How’s life in the drug dealing business?”

FP: Before they slap the cuffs on you…

JB: Right.

FP: Any last words on what people can do locally to stir things up?

JB: Keeping alive the information such as the allegations that Ollie North and George Bush were involved in running cocaine through the Contra network in this country and all the suppressed information needs to be spread word of mouth as it’s getting pulled out of the paper such as the October Surprise, such as the alleged politically correct thought police which should actually be another Trojan Horse for the far right wanting to run a lot of instructors out of their jobs of colleges if they have a different view of racial relations and historical perspectives on the Vietnam War that the New World Order would like. 

FP: Speaking of which they just voted that tenured professors could be fired at the University of Georgia.

JB: Ahh…

FP: They claimed it was for a budget cut but you know what’s going to happen.

JB: Last time this many progressive minded professors were on the verge of getting tenure in American Universities was right when the Joe McCarthy purge happened. Surprise, surprise… It’s interesting with these anti-PC people that it’s OK for somebody to scrawl “nigger” across an African-American kid’s dorm door or to hold up rating cards for women walking across campus or even goose their ass, that’s freedom of speech, but it’s not freedom of speech to try and have sensitivity classes and black studies classes to get rid of these kinds of attitudes.