Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Interview: Jello Biafra: 'Obama owes Occupy big time'

from the Guardian (UK)

Hello Jello. How's it going?

I'm all right, thank you. I hope you're ready for my lovely conversational grammar, or lack thereof …

I'm sure we'll be fine. So you have a new band, the Guantanamo School Of Medicine – your first permanent group since Dead Kennedys. What happened?

I never thought I would wait so long between bands. It happened at a Stooges show in San Francisco for Iggy's 60th birthday party in 2007. It occurred to me while I was watching the Stooges that, holy shit, I turn 50 next year! I should put something together and if it is as half as good as the Stooges then I will declare victory.

Your new album, White People And the Damage Done, seems to have more of a Dead Kennedys vibe than anything you've done in decades.

No matter what I do, my songs come out in a certain style and if that sounds like Dead Kennedys then there's probably a reason for it. Don't forget I wrote most of those songs, music and lyrics. Of course, later on the other members claimed they wrote them all, which is kind of like a secretary who types up someone's novel claiming they wrote the book. It's not fun when guys you thought would be your brothers your whole life turn out to be an entire coven of Mitt Romneys. (1)

Dead Kennedys - Moral Majority on MUZU.TV.

How do you feel about the state of punk rock in 2013?

I do fear for the generations of people who came of age thinking that pop-punk is what punk is, and that all the rebellion you need is just to stick your tongue out in the mirror every once in a while. A lot of that stuff is just the Eagles with loud guitars. But I have no patience with people who mope around saying "Punk rock died when the Sex Pistols broke up" or whatever. Come on! Put down your drugs, get out of the apartment and go see something new.

It's depressing how conservative people can be despite supposedly belonging to a supposedly alternative subculture.

Any alternative culture that inspires a lot of passion and inspiration is also in danger of being set in its ways, almost from the moment it's born. That even included the Occupy movement in some ways. It was discussed whether or not to participate in the electoral side of the system at all, which I thought was a good idea. Why not run people for offices and knock off some of the tired old corporate puppets in the primaries, like those lovely people in the Tea Party have done with the Republicans? But other people chose not to do that.

You've been involved with the Occupy movement. (2) The initial media storm around it seems to have died down …

I think that anyone who declared that Occupy was a failure was very much mistaken. I knew it would have a ripple effect, like throwing a big piece of concrete into a lake and just watching the waves ripple. In a way, Obama owes Occupy big time for saving his ass in the 2012 election. Occupy brought the issue of inequality and Grand Theft Austerity, as I call it, right to the forefront.

You've beenoutspoken when it comes to Obama. Over here he is widely regarded as a force for good …

Well part of the reason you have that view is that Obama is a fantastic public speaker. He could be another Martin Luther King or Malcolm X or much, much more, but instead the echelons of the Democratic party iare dealmakers instead of leaders. Rather than trying to really initiate something important and push for it, it's more: "Oh, what kind of buck-passing can we do here to keep our backers and puppeteers happy?"

Are you optimistic about Obama's second term?

The key to how I feel about that is a song on our Shock-U-Py EP called Barackstar O'Bummer (3), and it basically details the Obama policies versus the Obama persona. You've got to have an ego as big as Mars to want to think that you, of all people, are better than anyone else to be president of the United States. People that vain, they want their place in history and they want to be able to control how much they'll be worshipped by future generations. What is Bill Clinton going to be remembered for, besides his dick? Obama is a much more electrifying speaker than Clinton. But what is his dream? What is his light at the end of the tunnel: "Oh, I cut deals and compromise on a bunch of stuff and now I'll go play golf"?

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What is it about American culture that is so terrified of leftwing ideas?

What you're basically asking with some of these questions is "Why are Americans so fucking stupid?" Let's face it, the good side of that is that I'll never run out of things to write songs about, as long as I live. But the fear you mentioned has become more ingrained since I was a kid. It was Nixon's loudmouth vice-president Spiro Agnew who first started labelling opponents of Republicans as [sneers] "radical liberals". Somehow if you were a liberal you were radical, and being radical is automatically bad because it might make you like the Black Panthers or, worse yet, your kids might have long hair and listen to that weird music. So slowly but surely "liberal" became a dirty word. Look at how averse Americans are to paying taxes. It pisses me off too, but I realise what taxes are for and most people don't because that connection has never been made, especially not in the school system. I remember, even in kindergarten, we were taught about the Boston Tea Party, where the rebel colonists threw the tea off the ship because they didn't want to pay taxes to the British authorities. Taxes are bad! Taxes are bad! People grow up with this drilled into them so you feel emotionally violated every time you write a cheque to the IRS.

How would you change things if you were in charge?

I've spoken often about my belief that there should be a maximum wage. I still totally believe there should be. I think a far worse addiction problem in this world than meth or crack or heroin is wealth addiction. And the only way you can cure people's wealth addiction is to put them in rehab. The problem with wealth addiction is that after you've made your first million, what's the point? You're so proud of yourself for making that money that you want to play the game again and win and then play it again and win. They act like a bunch of crack addicts.

Why do you think there is still so much voter apathy, despite the current economic nightmare?

People say: "People don't get involved, they don't vote because they're apathetic!" My counter is that they don't get off their asses because they're heartbroken and they're really scared. They've seen people all around them losing their jobs and losing their homes. I'd better be metaphorically armed to the teeth in order to preserve what's mine, my home and my family, and fuck everybody else because otherwise I'm going to be eaten alive. It isn't always motivated by greed, it's motivated by fear of Grand Theft Austerity because they don't want their home to be next for the bulldozers.

Is media bias as excruciatingly bad in the US as it seems to be?

Not all of your readers will be aware that there is no mainstream American media like the Guardian whatsoever. Go ahead and toot your own horn if you want. The media debate here is generally between the rightwing and the ultra rightwing. I came over to Europe to do a spoken-word tour about five days after September 11 and even Murdoch's papers offered so many more points of view on what had just happened. I came back to America months later armed with all these insights and facts, thinking people in America knew all this shit too, and they just looked at me dumbfounded.

How has social networkingaffected your ability to get your views across to people?

So much good has been brought in with the digital age, even though I'm not that big on it myself. But I recognise its power and its importance. The power of Twitter during protests and things like that is really good. But whether it makes it harder to actually communicate things of value long-term? I haven't decided yet. It depends whether each individual person is using the tool or if the tool is using them. If they allow themselves nothing more than a Twitter-sized attention span and assume that everything they see on the internet is true, then I've died more times than the average cat! I keep looking in the shower for the blood and the bullet holes but I can't find them, but the latest internet rumour says I'm dead so it must be true!

Do you have a Facebook page?

No, I don't. There are a few fake Jello Biafras out there, though. There is a side of that social networking that doesn't strike me as networking at all. It's more like having a trophy room full of virtual friends. It used to be that living in a world of imaginary friends was considered a mental illness. What do we have now, a mass epidemic of virtual mental illness? Or is it like-minded people finally finding someone that's like them and not feeling alone? That's the other side of it, I guess.

One of your new songs, Crapture, seems to be a fantasy about being left behind when all the religious nuts fly into the sky to be with Jesus. Is it scary to live in a country where Creationism gets taken seriously?

They're building theme parks in this country now. I haven't been able to go to one, but I can hardly wait! There's a creationist museum outside of San Diego too and I haven't been to that yet. (4) I've tried to go undercover to some of these places before. I went to Focus On the Family headquarters in Colorado Springs. I borrowed my dad's clothes trying to disguise myself as a respectable citizen, but they picked me out immediately and started following me around the gift shop! But it was still worthwhile. I hated giving money to these people but I had to get the video about how Beavis and Butthead made people burn down buildings and worship the Devil!

If you didn't laugh, you'd cry, right?

Of course. You have to be able to laugh at your enemy in order to fight them. I realise some areas of my humour have offended some people but sorry, that's part of who I am! Someone puts a halo too close to the top of my head, I find a way to get it removed. Even at the spoken-word shows, I've made a joke about when the Space Shuttle burned up on re-entry to the Earth and how there were astronaut fajitas on hot tiles all over Texas, and there would always be a few audible gasps. It's my way of reminding people that this isn't just a serious political activist event, you're dealing with punk rock here, people.


(1) Dead Kennedys released five albums, including their 1980 debut Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, a top 40 hit in the UK, before splitting in 1986. In 2001, the band reformed without Biafra, who has been in a legal dispute over royalties.

(2) Biafra is no stranger to politics, running for mayor of San Francisco in 1979 (he came fourth out of a field of 10 with 3.79% of the vote) and campaigning for serial presidential candidate Ralph Nader.

(3) LOLs!

(4) The Creation and Earth History Museum, "dedicated to the biblical account of science and history", might not be as much fun as it sounds, judging by the description of new exhibit The Age of the Earth Cave (which "presents rare minerals and data with explanations defending a young Earth view while dealing with today's common dating methods such as Carbon 14, Radio Isotopes, and Helium Argon processes").

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