Originally published in Arthur No. 14 (January 2005)
Photography and art direction by W.T. Nelson
God Bless Jello Biafra
The inspirational former Dead Kennedy and veteran punk gadfly talks with Sorina Diaconescu about what to do when the going gets grim.
Is there anybody better suited to comment on the absurdities and contradictions of America today than Jello Biafra—musician, activist, performer, poet, indie entrepreneur, First Amendment champion, scathing satirist and all-around radical artist that has inspired generations of young ‘uns the world over?
Here’s a man who at the tender age of 20 formed his first band, the visionary hardcore punk outfit Dead Kennedys, and was born anew as a frontman with a peculiar, quivering bark and a stage name contrived to invoke “plastic America and its overseas results.”
A legit icon of West Coast punk rock rebellion, the dude has withered blows that would have broken the hearts and the bones of the baddest motherfuckers out there. All the more, he did it with a big, lopsided grin smudged on his face, and an extended middle finger proudly pointing skyward.
Jello is now 46—which means he occasionally says things like, “you know, I’m not Iggy Pop and I’m not Henry Rollins, and I’m working my ass off trying to get in better shape and compensate for my age.” But his goal, as stated over the years, remains the same: “to kick over the apple cart of corruption.” While his avenues of expression have shifted back and forth between music and spoken word one thing is for sure: he can still provoke and enlighten, as his latest collaboration, with legendary iconoclasts Melvins, Never Breathe What You Can’t See, amply demonstrates.
Interviewing Jello is predictably fraught with intensity and drama but also deeply inspiring and laugh-out-loud hilarious. Time has not mellowed him. He’s still the same character we punk rock kids grew up loving: an articulate guy with a boundless imagination filled with ideas sick, funny and violent enough to score him enemies like Tipper Gore (who pretty much pegged her “Parental Warning” stickering campaign on his work) and the D.A.s’ offices in L.A. and San Francisco: In one of L.A.’s most notorious First Amendment lawsuits of the ‘80s, Jello and a cast of co-conspirators were charged with peddling obscene material to minors via sleeve art for the DKs record Frankenchrist. (The jury hung, the charges were dismissed, and even the D.A. who pursued the case in court eventually admitted to the press that his son “adores Jello and he plays his music all the time.”)Continue reading