Ex-Dead Kennedy exercises his right to free speech at CSUMB.
Thursday, November 11, 1999
Ialmost didn''t get to interview Jello Biafra. "Is the tape player rolling?" he asks as soon as he jumps on the line. Taken aback by the assaultive conversational style of a man who, I freely admit, was one of the gilded punk rock heroes of my teenage years, I utter a none-too-graceful stutter.
"Come on, play it back," he continues, his trademark nails-on-chalkboard sneer taking on a condescending tone. "Play it back."
When I assure him that I misquote people only when they deserve it, Biafra promptly unleashes his Inner Rock Star, insisting that he requires all reporters to record his interviews.
"I don''t like talking at a first-grade reading level," he snaps. "This is going to be real short."
I get a momentary urge to tell him that this I''m-much-smarter-than-thou act might fly in whatever fancy-panties hipster ghetto in San Francisco he calls home, but it ain''t cool with me. Unfortunately, Momma raised me too polite. I calm down. After all, this is Jello, the punk icon who''s made a career out of hectoring, cajoling and generally refusing to stop being a pain in the ass.
As he gets rolling, though, the ex-singer of Dead Kennedys (for the younger folks in the audience, DK was a--perhaps the--punk band of the late ''70s and ''80s) and perennial counter-culture star lays it on the line. He even chills out a little.
"I''ve always had a soft spot for pranks and creative crime," he says. "Anything I can do to subvert the corporate culture is fine by me. Resistance is great fun."
So it must be for Biafra. A dozen years after his legendary punk band landed him in court on a bogus obscenity rap inspired by Tipper Gore and her sniveling Parents Music Resource Council, he''s still tearing into his pet enemies--corporate power, mass-produced culture and big-time politics. (When Biafra ran for mayor of San Francisco in 1979, his platform included a proposed requirement that business people wear clown suits.)
And what of the prospect of Tipper Gore, his old nemesis, becoming First Lady? "Well, that won''t necessarily happen," he says. "Considering what a Trojan Horse for the extreme right wing and the wise-use movement [Al Gore] is, I would jump for joy if [he lost.]"
Just before cutting the interview short, he leaves me with a succinct statement of purpose, a manifesto straight from the heart of his art and politics.
"People who are down for equal rights and equal opportunity are the majority in this country," he says. "According to Jim Hightower...eight out of 10 people in this country have seen their incomes decline in the midst if this so-called economic boom. That''s a huge working majority that''s not talking to each other.
"The bottom line in reaching people who might seem like they''re on the other side of the fence from you is asking them, why aren''t you able to put food on the table the way you used to? We''re all on the same side because we''re all getting screwed."
Obviously, time hasn''t ground off the man''s edges. Jello Biafra--prickly and downright contrary--remains a force to be reckoned with. And that, all fits of pique aside, is a good thing.
Jello Biafra performs spoken word at CSUMB''s World Theater Friday, 8pm. $2/CSUMB students; $3/other students; $5/general. Call 582-4067 or visit www.monterey.edu.