Jello Biafra

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Jello Biafra, onstage in Switzerland (, ).
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Jello Biafra, onstage in Switzerland (October 15, 2003).

Eric Boucher (born June 17, 1958), better known by the stage name Jello Biafra, is an American punk rock musician and political activist best known as the former lead singer of the Dead Kennedys. In the wake of the band's disbandment, he has become a solo musician and spoken word artist. In his political life, he is an active member of the Green Party and has participated in activism relating to his progressive political beliefs. He is a self-proclaimed anarchist (though not a promoter of anarchy), and advocates civil disobedience and pranksterism in the name of political change. Biafra himself has been known to use absurdist media tactics in the tradition of the Yippies to highlight issues of civil rights, social justice, and anti-corporatism.

His stage name is a combination of the brand name Jell-O and the name of the short lived country of Biafra. The country of Biafra attempted to secede from Nigeria in 1966; after four years of fighting and horrific starvation, Nigeria regained control of the nascent Biafran state. Jello Biafra came up with his name as an ironic combination of a non-nutritionally valued corporate food product and mass starvation.

Contents

Biography

Early years and the Dead Kennedys

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Jellobiafradkdays.jpg
Jello Biafra when he was with the Dead Kennedys.

Biafra was born in Boulder, Colorado, USA to parents Stanley and Virginia Boucher. Biafra developed an interest in international politics early on, which his parents encouraged him to learn more about. As a child, he would avidly watch the news. One of his earliest memories of his childhood is of the John F. Kennedy assassination. Biafra claims he has been a fan of rock music since first hearing it in 1965, when his parents accidentally tuned in to a rock radio station. During the 1970s, he became involved in activism in reaction to several events of the era including the Vietnam War, the Chicago 7 trial, and the Kent State shootings.Template:Ref

He began his career in music in January of 1977 as a roadie for the punk rock band The Ravers (who would later change their name to The Nails). In the fall of that year, he went on to attend the University of California, Santa Cruz. He spent one quarter of the year studying acting and the history of Paraguay before leaving to become involved in San Francisco, California's punk scene. In July of 1978 he responded to an ad put out by East Bay Ray and together they formed the Dead Kennedys. He began performing with the band under the stage name Occupant, but shortly after began using his current stage name. Biafra wrote the band's lyrics, most of which were political in nature and displayed a sardonic, sometimes absurdist, sense of humor despite their serious subject matter. In June of 1979, Biafra formed the record label Alternative Tentacles with which the Dead Kennedys released their first single, "California Uber Alles". The label was created to allow the band to release albums without having to deal with pressure from major labels to change their music (although the major labels were not willing to sign the band due to their songs being deemed too controversial).Template:Ref All later albums by the band would be released on Alternative Tentacles (with the exception of live albums released after the band's break-up, which did not feature Biafra).

In the fall of 1979, he ran for mayor of San Francisco as a prank, using the Jello ad campaign catchphrase, "There's always room for Jello", as his campaign slogan. As he campaigned, Biafra wore campaign t-shirts from his opponent Quentin Cop's previous campaign and at one point vacuumed leaves off the front lawn of another opponent, current Californian senator Dianne Feinstein. His platform included unconventional points such as forcing businessmen to wear clown suits and a citywide ban on cars.Template:Ref Biafra has expressed irritation that these parts of his platform attained such notoriety, preferring instead to be remembered for serious proposals such as legalizing squatting in vacant, tax-delinquent buildings. He finished fourth out of a field of ten, garnering 3.5% of the vote (6,591 votes); the election was resolved in a runoff that did not involve him (Feinstein was declared the winner). In reaction to his campaign, San Francisco passed a resolution stating that no candidate could run under any name other than their given name.

Biafra became a spoken word artist in January 1986, starting with a performance at University of California, Los Angeles. In his performance he combined his sense of humor with his political beliefs, much in the same way that he did with the lyrics to his songs. Biafra has held this career since, but did not begin recording spoken word records until after the disbandment of the Dead Kennedys.

In April of the same year, police officers raided his house in response to complaints by the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC), an organization founded by Tipper Gore. In June of 1986, Biafra was brought to trial in Los Angeles for distributing "harmful matter" in the Dead Kennedys album Frankenchrist. In actuality, the item in dispute was neither the music nor the lyrics from the album, but rather a print of a poster included with the album, Landscape #XX (also known as Penis Landscape), by Swiss surreal artist H. R. Giger. Biafra believes the trial was politically motivated; it was often reported that the PMRC took Biafra to court as a cost effective way of sending a message out to other musicians who have "offensive" content in their music. Allegedly a family claimed that the poster harmed their children. How this alleged harm was discovered and the authorities' decision to press charges were disallowed by the judge. Facing the possible sentence of a year in jail and a $2000 fine, Biafra founded the No More Censorship Defense Fund, a benefit made up of several punk rock bands, to help pay for his legal fees, which neither he nor his record label could afford. The jury deadlocked 7 to 5 in favor of acquittal, prompting a mistrial; despite a district attorney motion to re-try the case, the judge ordered all charges dropped. The Dead Kennedys disbanded during the trial; in the wake of their disbandment, Biafra made a career of his spoken word performances. His early spoken word albums would focus heavily on the trial (especially in High Priest of Harmful Matter), which made him renowned for his anti-censorship stance.

After the disbandment of the Dead Kennedys

In 1988, Biafra and Alain Jourgensen of the band Ministry formed the band Lard. The band became a side project for the members of Ministry, with Biafra providing vocals. In the same year, Biafra was given a cameo in the movie Tapeheads. While working on the film Terminal City Ricochet in 1989, Biafra did a song for the film's soundtrack with D.O.A. As a result, Biafra worked together with D.O.A. on the album Last Scream of the Missing Neighbors. Biafra also worked with Nomeansno on the soundtrack, which lead to their collaboration on the album The Sky is Falling and I Want My Mommy the following year.

In May of 1994, Biafra was attacked at the 924 Gilman Street club in Berkeley, California by skinheads who believed he was a sell out. Biafra was hospitalized with both his legs broken from the attack.Template:Ref

In October of 1998, Biafra was sued by former members of the Dead Kennedys for not allowing them to use the band's songs in advertising. According to Biafra, the suit was a result of his refusal to allow the band's most famous single, "Holiday in Cambodia", to be used in a commercial for Levi's Dockers; Biafra opposed Levi's due to his belief that they use unfair business practices and sweatshop labor. The three former members claim that their motive was not strictly about advertising, but also because Biafra denied them royalties and failed to promote their albums. Biafra maintains that he did not deny them royalties, and in addition, he claims that he is not receiving any royalties on the rereleases of their albums on the record label Decay, on which his contributions are not mentioned anymore. Band members other than Biafra reunited under the name of "DK Kennedys", replacing Biafra with Brandon Cruz. Many fans have met the new band with criticism due to the lack of Biafra.

In 1999, Biafra along with other members of the anti-globalization movement protested the WTO Meeting of 1999 in Seattle. Along with other famous musicians from the west coast, he formed the short-lived band the No WTO Combo to help promote the movement's cause. The band was originally scheduled to play during the protest, but the performance was canceled due to riots.

In 2000, Biafra was drafted as a candidate for the Green Party presidential nomination, and a few supporters were elected to the party's nominating convention in Denver, Colorado. Despite the positive reception of his address to the convention, Ralph Nader was overwhelmingly chosen as the party's candidate. Biafra, along with a camera crew, would then go on to report for the Independent Media Center at the Republican and Democratic conventions. Biafra detailed these events in his album Become The Media, which has resulted in him being credited with coining the slogan "Don't hate the media, become the media". Indymedia and related alternative media often use this line, or the now more apt "Don't hate the media, be the media."

Also in 2000, Biafra was the keynote speaker at the H2K hacker conference. Though Biafra had never used a computer in his life, he was seen by attendants as being capable of drawing insightful connections between hacking and activism.Template:Ref He has also spoken at the 2002 and 2004 conferences, and audio of these speeches are freely available online for download.

In April of 2001, Biafra took part in a protest against the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas conference in Quebec. In 2002, he appeared on-screen in the film Bikini Bandits, alongside other musicians such as Maynard James Keenan of Tool, and Dee Dee Ramone of The Ramones.

In 2005, Biafra appeared as a guest vocalist on the Napalm Death album The Code Is Red... Long Live The Code on the song "The Great and the Good".

Music

Cover to Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, the Dead Kennedys debut album
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Cover to Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, the Dead Kennedys debut album

Biafra has been a prominent member of the Californian punk rock scene and, while a member of the Dead Kennedys, was one of the founding members of the San Francisco hardcore punk scene. The Dead Kennedys was one of the first U.S. punk bands to write politically themed songs (possibly inspired by Black Flag, another major Californian punk rock band of the era). The lyrics Biafra wrote with the Dead Kennedys helped popularize the use of humorous lyrics in punk rock. Many later punk rock bands would cite the Dead Kennedys as a major influence.

Biafra's initial attempts to compose music were done on guitar, but his inexperience on the instrument and his own admission of being "a fumbler with my hands" led Dead Kennedys bassist Klaus Flouride to suggest that Biafra simply sing the parts he was envisioning to the band. This, along with Biafra's varied and voluminous musical influences, would lead to his own songs, during and after the existence of Dead Kennedys, to be some of the most memorable in rock music.

Biafra's first song to become popular was the first single by the Dead Kennedys, "California Über Alles". The song, which criticized California governor Jerry Brown, would be the first of many political songs by the group and Biafra. Not long afterward, the Dead Kennedys made a second and possibly bigger hit with "Holiday in Cambodia", a song about the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, from their debut album Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables. Minor hits from the album included "Kill the Poor" (about potential abuse of the then-new neutron bomb) and a satirical cover of Elvis Presley's "Viva Las Vegas".

The Dead Kennedys received some controversy in the spring of 1981 over the single "Too Drunk to Fuck". The song became a big hit in Britain, and the BBC feared that it would manage to be a big enough hit to appear among the top 30 songs on the national charts, requiring them to play a performance of the song on Top of the Pops. However, the single's popularity was slightly less than what was required, peaking at the 31st position.Template:Ref

Later albums would also contain memorable songs, but with less popularity than the earlier ones. The EP album In God We Trust, Inc. contained the song "Nazi Punks Fuck Off" as well as "We've Got A Bigger Problem Now", a rewritten version of "California Über Alles" about Ronald Reagan. The band's most controversial album, Frankenchrist, brought with it the song "MTV Get Off the Air", which accused MTV of promoting poor quality music and sedating the public.

After the disbandment of the Dead Kennedys, Biafra's new songs would be recorded with other bands, releasing only spoken word albums as solo projects. These collaborations were met with less popularity. However, his song "That's Progress", originally recorded with D.O.A. for the album Last Scream Of The Missing Neighbors, would receive considerable exposure when it appeared on the album Rock Against Bush, Vol. 1.

Political beliefs

Biafra claims to be an anarchist in his personal dealings with people, though does not advocate the replacement of current governments with an anarchic system. He claims that mankind is not yet ready for anarchy, and still needs government to control the order of human life for the safety and progression of human events.Template:Ref In speeches, he has advised people to partake in civil disobedience, political pranks, and hacktivism. Some such acts that he has advocated include hacking corporate owned websites and planting marijuana seeds in public areas.Template:Ref

Biafra was a swift critic of the Parents Music Resource Center during the 1980s, and has constantly criticized co-founder Tipper Gore, as well as the Tipper Sticker, a warning placed on records indicating explicit content. Biafra confronted her twice on episodes of The Oprah Winfrey Show. Many of the songs he wrote for the Dead Kennedys during the 80s showed opposition to the religious right and Ronald Reagan. In the 1990s, Biafra's opposition to the right continued with his opposition to George H. W. Bush and the Gulf War, though he also was opposed to some practices of Democratic president Bill Clinton. Most notable among these are Biafra's opposition to the United States' involvement with NAFTA, GATT, and the World Trade Organization.

Biafra advocates what he refers to as the "maximum wage": increasing taxes for the wealthy and eliminating taxes for those in the lower and middle class. On top of this, the maximum wage would close tax loopholes for both large corporations and religious organizations. He has advocated using these taxes to provide the public with several free services, including free health care, free education (including amnesty on student loans), and free transportation. Taxes would also be used to give subsidies for the arts, organic farms, hemp and kanaf farms, urban squatters, and renewable energy sources.

Biafra has been an advocate for ending the death penalty in the United States. In his address to the Green Party, he chose Death Row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal (whom anti-death penalty activists believe to be wrongly accused of murder) as his vice presidential candidate to help point out his stance on the issue as well as attract attention to Abu-Jamal's situation.Template:Ref Because of his support of Abu-Jamal, which includes releasing spoken word albums by him on Alternative Tentacles, Biafra is now on a Fraternal Order Of Police boycott list.Template:Ref He has also proposed ending police brutality by making officers stand for public election every four years.

Biafra believes in ending the war on drugs by legalizing marijuana and other narcotics. He believes drug addicts should be treated instead of jailed and should be given legal outlets to get drugs from, thus eliminating illegal drug sales. He also advocates ending jail sentences for minor, non-violent, drug related offenses. In drug education for public schools, Biafra advocates educating students on drugs by using demonstrations of drug use in classes and allowing experimentation in controlled environments to help reduce the possibility of addiction. These, he believes, would provide an alternative to anti-drug advertising, which he believes does not work. He also advocates ending drug testing of employees and students.

Other subjects that Biafra advocates include anti-gentrification, election reform, increasing the amount of low-income housing, gay rights, eliminating sport utility vehicles from urban areas, labeling of genetically modified food, and withdrawal from NAFTA and the World Trade Organization. He also claims to be a supporter of the Green Party's Ten Key Values.Template:Ref Interestingly, he also supports the use of sky marshalls on commercial flights, highlighting the fact that Biafra's beliefs challenge both liberal and conservative politics. (Noted Biafra: "I'd rather have a cop on an airplane than wind up dead, thank you very much.")

Though Biafra takes on serious issues, he uses sarcasm and humor to get his opinions across. Thus, some of his claims as to what he advocates are not always taken seriously by the public. Some of the ideas he proposes, such as forcing polluters to swim in the pollution they caused until they clean it, are obvious jokes. Other joke propositions are not always taken as humor, and thus turn off some people from his ideas. Still, supporters of Biafra see his comedic approach as a useful way of getting the public to pay attention to the issues.

Discography

Spoken word:

Collaborations:

Compilations:

See also the Discographies of the Dead Kennedys, Lard, and The No WTO Combo for more albums featuring Jello Biafra.

References

  • Template:NoteBiafra, Jello. "H2K Keynote Speech". New York City. July 15, 2000.
  • Biafra, Jello. "H2K2 State of the World Address". New York City. July 13, 2002.
  • Template:NoteBiafra, Jello. "Platform for 2000 Green Party Presidential Primary". March 7, 2000.
  • Template:Note"Biography of Jello Biafra (http://www.alternativetentacles.com/bandinfo.php?band=jello&sd=oJ@Cs0l-mWqsp@enOeg)" (2001). Alternative Tentacles. Retrieved Feb 19, 2005.
  • Template:NoteHuey, Steve. "Jello Biafra (http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&searchlink=JELLO+BIAFRA&uid=CAW010502202029&sql=11:4srv288c054a~T0)". All Music Guide. Retrieved Feb 20, 2005.
  • Template:NoteTemplate:Imdb name. Retrieved March 14, 2005.

External links

Template:Wikiquote

fr:Jello Biafra

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