To quote Plato if we may, "The measure of a man is what he does with power." And no doubt, Jello is a man of power and influence in the punk rock/alt-scene (even though he may deny it himself.) And to that end, he has influenced countless, countless, countless musicians and artists over his FORTY YEAR mischief-filled career. So, to get a perspective of how far the guy reaches, as Jello Biafra week continues, we asked a bunch of bands, artists, and arty-type-people to relfect just a little bit on the Boss B. Check out those thoughts, below.
Jello image by Chris Urban .
"My first tour was in support of the Man…or Astroman? Clone Projects in 1998. At our San Francisco show at Bottom of the Hill, Jello was in the audience. I had the chutzpah to approach him and hand over one of the 200 CD-Rs we’d burned at 2x speed over a laborious week of tour prep. He stuck it in his waistband, and I assumed that was the last I’d hear about it. Lo and behold, a month later a postcard from Jello arrived in my mailbox describing his favorite songs, and telling me that my lyrics were very “bent.” I will never forget that kindness, and have since become buddies with him due to our mutual admiration of Voivod, Ludicra, and Magma."
Night Birds, Forward to Death
I guess it may come as no shock that Jello and his work in the Dead Kennedys is a big influence on myself and Night Birds. I'll never forget when Jesse Luscious casually emailed me while we were on tour a few years back to tell me Jello was planning on coming to our San Francisco show to check us out. When he got there I remember us all doing our best to play it cool and not punish him, but I'm pretty sure we failed at that. Even still, it was such a trip to hang with the guy and find out he was as cool and genuine in person as we'd hoped.
Way before that, I was in a band named after a DK's song, Forward to Death. One year for Halloween we wore button up white collared shirts and spray painted the black "S", then the black tie down the middle making the "$", and covered a full set of Dead Kennedys songs. Had I not already had immense respect for them as musicians at that point, I can damn well tell you I would have after having to learn a few of their songs.
Most of all what Jello Biafra means to me is hope. Hope that he and his words will continue to grab people and shake the hell out of em the same way it did me. In a time where I was raised to question nothing, his words taught me to question every god damned thing, and I hate to even imagine the shit show my life would have been had "Government Flu" not come crashing down on my head like a ton of bricks when I was 13. Thanks, Jello."
"I greatly admire Dead Kennedys for several reasons. Of course I respect their politics and willingness to say just about anything regardless of consequence. I think it’s easy to be outspoken today but think how edgy it was to speak out in this time period. It’s similar to how scary Black Sabbath must have been in the late 60s/early 70s. People must have been absolutely terrified. One thing I don’t think they get enough credit for is their musicianship. If you listen to live recordings, they could really play. They were a good band. And what a showman Jello is. I see bands on TV, especially on Saturday Night Live, and it’s so tame. I wonder if they’ve ever seen an exciting show. Jello would absolutely blow their minds. Lastly, I hold a special spot in my heart for “Moon Over Marin.” I live in the North Bay (above San Francisco) and I realize it’s making light of the area, but, it’s a good song, and it hits close to home."
The Up! Up! Ups!
"Jello Biafra evokes a sentimental reaction making me think of my high school youth. I can’t think of Jello without thinking of listening to Frankenchrist on the bus to summer school, replaying that CD until it literally wore out. I can’t think of the Dead Kennedys without remembering putting up a friend’s mohawk before a Polanka Park show as we blasted “Too Drunk To Fuck,” my first introduction to the concept of alcohol-induced impotence. Though today his words come across more as platitude than pioneer, when I hear his songs or read his words, I can’t help but be transported back to an angry, awkward, inspired kid who really believed I could be the link to break the chain. However far that got me, well, that’s debatable, but Jello made me open my eyes and I can never deny how valuable that is."
Melanie Kaye PR
Two things that come to my mind that strike me as funny Jello memories are when The Dead Kennedys were playing in Montreal (I think it was in 1985) Jello asked me if I would like to pick two of the opening bands and I suggested the two bands I was managing (of course…ha-ha).D-Ploy and Porcelain Forehead were the two bands and were both from Ottawa (where I was living at the time) so all the Montreal punks were pissed that two Ottawa bands got on the bill. Another one is when Jello did a spoken word performance at Lee’s Palace in Toronto. We didn’t go through a booking agent I just did the show myself. My friend and stepfather did the door, my husband ran and got Jello smoothies before he started the show (closest thing to me providing a rider ) and throughout the night I would go to the door and shove cash down my pants so it was “safe”.The next day we took a train to Montreal for his show there and I had a giant, yellow bubble envelope with all the cash in it we dumped it out, counted it together and “settled the show” together on the train. The other passengers were looking at us obviously wondering what the heck we were doing with all that money. I guess it looked a bit questionable but that’s ok because it was not sketchy at all.
"I was ten or eleven when I first heard Police Truck. I really dug the eerie-ness of it all, but had yet to really grasp it's depth. Doing what kids used to do (back in my day), I walked to a local record store to see if I could find an album. I was fortunate enough to have picked up an album that would forever change the way I thought about punk, music, and the whole damn world; Plastic surgery disasters/In God We Trust Inc. My mind was literally blown out of my head and replaced with this album. Every lyric, every chord, every bit of album art. I was obsessed. The more I dug into their discogrophy, the more i fell in love. A perfectly orchestrated mix of everything I was hoping to find in a band. Captivating melodies, thought provoking concepts, crippling darkness and sarcastic hilarity. A line in the sand that separates the cavemen of the scene from the real weirdos. I will always be entranced by Dead Kennedys and their impact on my life has been indescribable. Something truly perfect in an imperfect world. I guess this is my way of thanking them for ruining my life."
"As a skater kid in California in the '80s, no form of energy resonated with me more explosively than the blistering indictments I found on these duped Maxells. Ray’s solo on "Buzzbomb From Pasadena" will always remind me how it feels to soar over the hissing, summer-baked golden hills of my home state with a heart full of infinity and noble anger. "Cesspools" is the soundtrack to the filthy end of man’s earth. Moon Over Marin is the spirit of every late-night mile I ever wandered, hungry for those first edges of visceral experience. As an artist, I thank them for staying pure, doing the hard work, and awakening the latent independent soul in me. They are Monet, Renoir, Degas – birds up high to the salon, creating their own institution."
Crazy & the Brains
"The first time I heard Dead Kennedys was on New Years Eve 2002. I was a new punk. I was very familiar with the band's logo and it was intimidating to me. Dead Kennedys seemed super serious. I was under the impression they were some sort of gang or cult only suitable for advanced punks. My friend came over wearing her DK shirt, the same shirt she wore every weekend. She asked me to give her a Mohawk. After being exposed so much to the hype I finally decided i needed to hear this band. We put on Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables while i shaved her head. This music was thrilling. It gave me the feeling like i was in a dramatic build up to the climax of a movie. Listening to the record is like being in a car chase or trying to escape from a vile murderer but having a really good time while doing it.
The singers voice was horrible. I loved it. The more i dug deeper into the band the further I in love i fell. I took the PATH train to NYC one day to buy my cousin a birthday gift and made a stop at Generation Records. I came home with Dead Kennedys The Early Years Live DVD and no birthday gift. I became obsessed with finding out who the character was behind these bizarre sounds.
Jello had such a powerful presence.He still does. In those early live performances he stretched around stage like he was made of rubber. He reminded me of Jack Nicholson in The Shinning. He was like a living breathing cartoon. He was wearing one green glove. Some of his faces and moves made it seem like he was desperately trying to not shit his pants. My boy ran for mayor of San Fransisco and lost. He also attempted to run for president. This has gotta be one of the most punk moves that has ever been made.
Dead Kennedys artwork was potent and on point. While so many punk bands did the political and gruesome collage art thing no one mastered it quite like they did in my opinion. Jello was taken to court in LA for distributing "harmful material to minors" on the album Frankenchrist. I think the band deserve an MVP award for this.
Almost 40 years later Jello is still here doing his thing and has continued to stay true to himself , honest and interesting. Continuously evolving throughout his career there is not many 60 year old OG punks out there that remain inspiring. He is definitely one of them dudes.
Punk bands will never stop covering Holiday in Cambodia. It's usually the best part of the set. That's cool."
Manchild, Davidians, Double Negative
"Jello Biafra was for sure, a very important person when I was a kid and started to hear all of these crazy punk rock records. There of course, has to be a period where you are exposed to new ideas and concepts that seem positively shocking and almost frightening. But yet at the same time somehow…also sort of funny and sarcastic. And that is the territory that the Dead Kennedys and Jello Biafra did very well. A mixture of terror and hilarity. Just for the first two albums and the EP in between alone…so many good songs that would for sure shock your mother or at least make someone very uncomfortable. And even more interesting, his lyrics would feature words and phrases that you would have to look up if you wanted to understand just what the heck he was talking about. Yup, Jello was a very important person in my development.
He is as weird and as quirky a guy as any I have met. He is very human too. I sort of have gotten to know him a little bit over the years because of my working for the Melvins. You see, my bosses also recorded a few collaboration albums and toured with Jello a little bit, so they know him pretty well. He still shows up at every gig in San Fran if he is in town. We even did a collaborative t shirt together. When you meet him, it’s cool. He is whip smart and has the memory of an elephant. He remembers everything. He still goes out and still likes music. Then, he will probably say something that he thinks of from the top of his head, because he has no filter. And then he will stand in your way as you are trying to close up a merch table, oblivious to the fact that maybe you might want to leave. That is Jello right there, ha ha. But somehow, you don’t mind. At least, I don’t. And if you catch him on a good night telling you some story, pull up a chair, get some popcorn and sit back and enjoy it. It is fun."