>   JELLO BIAFRA                            
< Relator of V        

> "I was fascinated by Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters because the text predicted
the worldwide Lockheed scandal one or two years before the mainstream press!"

It may come as quite a surprise to find
Jello Biafra's name more than just once on the
Robert Calvert site
But apart from the one meeting and it's consequences that Jello Biafra wrote about for this site, there are many more connections between the strategies and subjects that can be found in the works of Robert Calvert and Jello Biafra
XXX save the Queen Jello Biafra's rapid rise - that let him become the leading figure of US - Hardcore and Punk rock - which he still is - began -of course- in the earliest days of the UK - Punk movement hitting the States. The Damned (also later collaborators of Robert Calvert) had toured the States in early '77 - the Sex Pistols followed at the end of the year - and split up at the end of this tour, with Jello Biafra being a witness of this....

DK-icon The influence of these groups on Biafra is obvious - in early 1978 he founded the band that was to become - and remain the spearheading band of US Punkrock: The Dead Kennedys, who played their first gig in July 1978.

But the first strange coincidence - and another major influence happened several months before.
In March 1978 Jello Biafra visited a Hawkwind concert in San Francisco - mainly to see and get in touch with Robert Calvert.
Calvert's solo work had left a particular impression on him (see above) - and with Calvert and Hawkwind being one of the earliest inventors of proto-type punk-rock this was definitely a concert not to be missed. However, more of a tragic coincidence was, that like the Sex Pistols also the current Hawkwind line-up disbanded after the gig(s) in San Francisco...

The Dead Kennedy ca. 1980 - only in it for...?
> The Dead Kennedys in their infamous moneyshirts - that's how they appeard on one of those ludicrous Award Shows, announcing, that from now on they are no longer a punk- but a 'New Wave'-band...going into a hilarious "cover"-version of 'My Sharona'... converting the lyrics into "Drool, drool, drool... My Payola..." - and in a wonderful twist of those rotten rock'n'roll routines asking the audience: "Is my cock big enough, is my brain small enough, for you to make me a star?" Rarely has the "rock'n'roll" BIZ been so brilliantly exposed... - [This performance entitled 'Pull My Strings' can be found on the DK best-and-rarities compilation 'Give me Convenience or give me Death] <

The importance of these experiences and meetings can't be missed in Jello Biafra's work.

Jello - live in the DK days

Calvert's and Hawkwind's raw energy has been quoted by various punk bands as a seminal influence - listen to Urban Guerilla [one of the definite proto-punk-songs, both in terms of sound and certainly the lyrics] or Orgone Accumulator. Songs like these could have easily been the hymns of Punk-rock bands - had they been released 5 years later....

Jello LIVE But not only the musical style had influenced a lot of Punk musicians. Jello Biafra has pointed out in his text how much Calvert's working strategy - the way he worked on the subjects of his interest and got hold of hidden and obscure information - had influenced his own work - especially in his later career.

Biafra's crash-course of provocation and 100% outspoken-ess is already apparent in the name of the band. Consequently, from the minute they started, the band became a love-to-hate target of the right-wing-self-acclaimed-moral-majority part of the US. Their gigs were constantly under the sign of aggressive police presence - which targeted the band and its audiences alike.
Another result of the 'dangerous' bandname was, that no record company would touch them.
Tentacles Consequently, Biafra founded his own label: Alternative Tentacles - on which all DK albums and the following solo-works have been released ever since.

Jello Biafra's outspoken and explicit lyrics - whose main concerns have always been all branches of politics and their social consequences - only helped to raise the attention of the conservative / fascist parts of the US society and political system.

Biafra's election campaign
Biafra and Politics a dream-marriage made in the nightmare heaven of all American Republicans... - one of the 'funniest' episodes of this ongoing and inextricable combination is Biafra's campaign become the Mayor of San Francisco in 1979.
What started out as a hilarious humourous semi-political prank became quite a big campaign - despite or probably BECAUSE of Biafra's outlined political programme - which said a. o. things that local police-men had to be elected by their neighbourhood by voting "yes" or "no confidence" and that all downtown businessmen had to wear clown-suits between 9am and 5pm.
Are you surprised that the candidate Biafra came in fourth by collecting 3% of the total vote?

Biafra's rise to his notorious nationwide fame was finally secured, when after the release of the Dead Kennedys album Frankenchrist all hell seem to break loose over him:
A troup of cops came rampaging into his home and busted him on obscenity charges.
The reason was a poster that came with the Frankenchrist record. Entitled "Penis Landscape" and designed by the Swiss painter and later Oscar-winner H.R. Giger, it showed in detail 3 rows of copulating genitalia. What followed was a classical witch-hunt & scapegoat scenario.
In the following trial, the prosecutor termed the inclusion of the poster as "absolutely irresponsible." He even compared Giger to Richard Ramirez, the suspected "night stalker" serial killer.

...an EYE for an EYE...

Jello Biafra and his partner of Alternative Tentacles were charged with "Distributing Harmful Matter to Minors" - the police and jugdes undertook a huge effort sniffing through all of Biafra's former activities, lyrics etc. and added a number of other "nuisance" lawsuits.
If convicted, Biafra would have faced a year in jail plus a $2000 fine.
The Witch Hunt was on and the system gave Biafra a long hard time.

The District Attorney's office stated that this trial would be:
"...a cost effective way to send a message to the music industry."
The message was surely understood by a good few of the major companies - but the trial was - 2 years after the initial release of Frankenchrist - WON by BIAFRA.
Following the dismissal of the charges, Biafra let out a scream of joy, then autographed copies of the poster and album for the jurors.

Jello distributing 'Harmful Matter'... BIAFRA: "I've been wearing Lenny Bruce's shoes for over a year, and I don't think they fit very well." he said, referring to the late comedian, who died after his career had been crushed due to several obscenity charges and arrests.

However, the 'casualties' along this long and wearing affair were high. Not only had Biafra's leagal fees piled up to a total of more than $55,000.... - under the accumulating pressure - both in financial and mental terms -
The Dead Kennedys finally folded - and Biafra's marriage broke up as well.
It also has to be said that Biafra and the Dead Kennedys received shamefully little support by other musicians and artists. Frank Zappa, Steve Van Zandt and Paul Kantner were the only high-profile rock artists to contribute to his defense fund.
...trust THIS man to guarantee your freedom of speech?? Van Zandt described the entire Biafra trial as
"despicable" and said record companies are contributing to a repressive atmosphere. "Young artists are being pressured not to be so controversial. Although the controversy suposedly has to do with sex or drugs or Satanism, it extends to political issues. The Jim Morrisons or the Jimi Hendrix's of the world, maybe they wouldn't be signed now."

This trial is actually another relation to Calvert - who had to undergo a similar but not THAT severe type of running-the-gauntlet after the release of the single Urban Guerilla in 1972.

Robert Calvert: "It didn't surprise me that it was banned by the BBC at all. In fact I expected it to cause a lot of controversy - it made front pages of the newspapers. I was heavily taken to task - I had to give interviews which were quite embarrasing."

But who had thought that Mr. Biafra's back was broken and his big mouth finally shut after all this ... couldn't have been more wrong.

Jello speaks Ever since Jello Biafra's activities have spread into more and more different areas. One of the most important of them are his spoken words performances - which, since a few years, he is also releasing regularly on records.

"With encouragement from his friends he took up the art of ranting on stage about anything he liked - preferably vehement government bashing conspiracy ridden anecdotes on everything from drug legalization to Bush and the Iran-Contra scandal to the old Dead Kennedys days.
And he was good, very good."

And yet again - the work in the field of spoken words performances is another strong connection between Calvert's and Biafra's work. Another interesting coincidence is, that they both started to dive into it, after a major break in their career. Biafra after his trial and the end of the DK, Calvert after his final departure from Hawkwind.

For Calvert, however, it was more like going back to his roots when he was performing with the street theatre group Street DaDa Nihilismus. But after the split from Hawkwind, he took the spoken word / performance concept much further. These works were highlighted in the early 80's with his Krankschaft Cabaret show and The Kid from Silicon Gulch - Calvert's "Electronic Musical for the Cybernetic Age".

With the Krankschaft Cabaret Calvert set-up a highly entertaining and many-sided performance collage, featuring a selection of songs, poems and sketches - all held together by his virtuoso stand-up comedian / conferencier act. His ability to bring all these different elements together in one act, allowed him to touch a wide variety of subjects to be performed in as much different styles. The shows offered the chance to display his manifold talents and inspirations: His biting satirical wit, his sharp political consciousness, his songwriter/performer abilities and the poetical side of his work.

This latter quality and the wider variety of Calvert's subjects and performance styles are the greatest differences to Jello Biafra's work in this field.

Jello Biafra on his work in the spoken word area:

"If you look at the material you will see that it is different. Some of it expands on ideas that have turned up earlier in songs, and some of it is an expansion of actual song lyrics themselves.
The spoken word performances have taken off in a different direction once I realized I wasn't much of a poet and what people were really responding to was both the humor and the suppressed information.

get your f/act(s) together

So I decided to focus on regurgitating suppressed information to a wider audience. In these days, when 80% or more of all mass media in the Western world is in the hands of a dozen, or less, multinational corporations, artists should use their power and position to get the news out, so people can know what's going on."

This statement shows both the similarities and differences of Calvert and Biafra in this area. Whereas Biafra realized "that I wasn't much of a poet, Calvert considered himself first and foremost a poet - an almost lifelong problem, as most of the rest of the world primarily regarded and knew him as 'just' a musician' - but that's another story...

spoken Jello words recordCalvert's and Biafra's meeting point is the HUMOUR. Though Calvert's stage acts featured all different kinds of performance-modes and moods, the dominating tone was a humourous one - according to his nature and the delight he always took in corresponding with his audience in the style of a stand-up comedian.

FREQ The political engagement is another obvious similarity between Calvert and Biafra. This becomes very apparent with Calvert's solo record FREQ from 1984. The album deals mainly with the condition of workers in the machine age - an age where machines and computers are rapidly taking over all kinds of work- and living spaces.
It was 'inspired' by the currently ongoing great miner strikes in Britain which caused a heavy controversy amongst the British public - and its outcome was eventually utilized by Margaret Thatcher to smash the worker's unions to pieces. Calvert and various other musicians (Billy Bragg, The Redskins a.o.) took sides with the worker's and played benefit gigs.
Interspersed between the songs are various speeches and original recordings of some demonstrations and talks amongst the workers.
One of those actually features Calvert in conversation with them - describing Margaret Thatcher nice, briefly and rather accurate as
"Hitler without a moustache".

A remark for which Biafra would have probably faced another charge...
The social engagement that Calvert and Biafra have in common shows up strongly in both their works and most evidently in their lyrics. Have a look at Calvert's All the Machines are Quiet or Ned Ludd - they show the same concern as for instance the Dead Kennedys song Soup is good Food from the Frankenchrist album.

But the spoken words performances is by far not the only way for Jello Biafra to let off artistic steam. MUSIC still takes up a good part of his activities. Not having founded another new band of his own, he is collaborating with a great number of other musicians.

The last years have seen collaborative releases of Jello Biafra with the bands D.O.A. / No Means No and Tumor Circus.
The most fruitful and and ongoing collaborations are with Al Jourgensen and Paul Barker of Ministry - the whole crew appears under the bandname LARD and has recently released their new album Pure Chewing Satisfaction. Another collaborator is Mojo Nixon.

Mr. Biafra's distinctive voice hasn't lost an ounce of his force - still cutting like a scourge - and the power of the recent LARD albums is amazing.

But that is STILL not all... - ACTING is taking up a bit of Jello Biafra's time as well. Jello showed up in several cameo-roles - in Tapeheads as an FBI agent, a corporate-junkie power-mad head of the Secret Police (as well as getting the soundtrack rights and doing the actual soundtrack with D.O.A. and NoMeansNo) in the Vancouver-produced Terminal City Ricochet, and more recently as the arch-villain in GWAR's new movie Mr. Skulhed.

Mr. Turner The latest Calvert-Biafra connection can be heard on the recent album of Calvert's old friend and collaborator Nik Turner.
Jello Biafra turned up at the recent gigs of Nik Turner and his band in San Fracisco and he can be heard joining Turner on vocals for the Calvert & Hawkwind classic Silver Machine.

Personally, I wish he'd taken the lead vocals... - but his background vocals alone give this song another splendid extra-kick.
Let's hope for more....

If, after all this, you wonder what keeps Jello Biafra on his toes and in the - for him sometimes quite uncomfortable - land of Freedom and free enterprise - here's his answer:
"Australian interviewers have been asking if America's so horrible, why don't you leave. But hey, this is my home, home is where the disease is.
As long as I stay in America, I'll never run out of subjects for songs."

Jello Biafra doing a spoken words performance

How to end this text on Mr. Biafra? I guess the best way is to finish with one of my favourite Biafra replies to silly-questions:
"Is there a spiritual base attached to your songs?"
I hope not.

LINKS - More on Jello Biafra: