Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine just released Tea Party Revenge Porn, a jacked-up album that might be their best LP yet. To that end, Punknews' John Gentile spoke with Jello Biafra about a whole bunch of things, including the LP, the upcoming election, and voter defense. It's a wide ranging conversation that we are breaking up into multiple parts.
Do you see the current election mirroring the '16 election? There are millions and millions of people that are still in the throes of PSTD from that night alone. We had just played a festival in Colombia. We get on the plane and changed planes in Panama city and people had just started voting. Hillary’s ahead and “ho hum well at least it’s not four years of Trump.” And then I’m explaining to a Panamanian flight attendant how all the monkey-ing with the votes that stole elections and how it might happen again- I told him about the electoral college and he just shook his head. “Here you are, lecturing us on how to be a democracy and you’re not even a democracy at all, are you!”
By the time we got off the plane, we found out trump had won and Hillary had conceded. That’s another thing that just burns inside me. A lot of those people knew about Cross-Check- and my reaction, at that time, was well, where’s Bernie Sanders now? Where’s Elizabeth warren now? Why aren’t they talking about Cross Check? Hillary had been trying to make herself president for twelve years, and here it gets stolen so blatantly? Where’s Hilary Clinton?! She just goes into the park and mopes. Why isn’t Cross Check front and center? The only person that had Palast on was Joy Reid. None of the rest would touch him. We have to remember that even Rachel Maddow has to answer to the heads of Comcast, who owns MSNBC. And the only reason it’s there is because it’s making them money. When MSNBC, it was supposed to be a direct competitor to Fox news, bu everyone on there was a right wing blowhard, and some of them even ended up on Fox news!
Let’s talk about you a little bit. There’s this track, “No more selfies.” Do you feel as though people de-humanize you because you are who you are? Well, that song is not just about me. I use a personal example to start the song, just like I do with “People with too much time on their hands” which is about people spreading things all over the Internet without thinking about of it’s true or not and making it that much more easier for people to fall for bullshit. We’ll talk about that song first.
It hasn’t happened for a while, but there were a few times where I died and it went viral. It was kind of comical to play back an Answering machine of people really distraught that all heard this at one Gilman street show. People calling me to ask if I’m dead has me scratching my head a little bit. Some were from AT, some were from our bands, and they were calling me, very distraught. I guess it was because nobody slammed on the breaks and thought, “is this even true?”
There were two cases where people posted extended shit talk, and I believe it was on Punknews! Klaus Fluoride lied about me barring him from a memorial concert for Dirk Dirksen. When really, it wasn’t me, it was the venue- both he and Ray were 86’ed from the venue because of how they treat other people. That had nothing to do with me, that was the venue. Klaus was “oh boo hoo hoo” and all these people started parroting him about what an asshole they thought I was, including people that I knew, and I went, “okay, nobody stopped to ask if this stuff was true, including the wild stuff that an ex-girlfriend posted that was completely not true, nobody stopped to ask if it was true.
Some people thought, “this really isn’t the place to complain about Jello.” But, really, this is a much, much, much lager problem than just me! Eventually it blows up to somebody getting someone fired from their job by putting something fake on the ‘net, and fucking with their employment records and stuff- or starting rumors about bands you don’t like just to see if you can hurt them.
Eventually, it blows up to parents of a six year old that was killed by a machine gun by a psycho in Sandy Hook, Connecticut get hounded by people on their doorsteps because Alex Jones told them Sandy Hook was a hoax- how do you think that felt? That is really out of hand. Or teen suicides because they got hounded or cyber bullied, or they got gang raped because they passed out a party and somebody put it up on the internet so they could show everybody at school the next day. That is where this shit has gone too fucking far. “Obama is a Muslim agent.” “Stoke the racial fires.” “Here comes this caravan of immigrants and we’re going to crash the United States and invade!” People are just too susceptible to this unless they wake up and say “the digital age has all these tools that can make us smarter, unless we let them make us dumber!”
And we have to police ourselves like that. I don’t think anybody should be able to graduate high school unless they pass a class on media literacy. I’ve been saying this for two decades now at spoken word shows. More than two decades. Because there are no classes on media literacy, and that may be by design, we have to teach it to ourselves once in a while. If you see something that is obviously fake, obviously wrong, point it out, preferably in a way that seems funny- and that’s what shatters the looking glass. People start going “maybe what I’m hearing on these wild radio shows aren’t true. Maybe there’s another side to this wacky blog post…” We all gotta start somewhere and we all gotta keep doing it. So, that’s what that one is about.
What’s been done about me on that just pales in comparison to that massacre in Florida and the kids speaking out and going to Washington and showing an incredible amount of smarts and savvy and guts when they challenge the NRA. And then here comes these clowns that they are actually hired actors and the whole thing was faked. What are you supposed to do? The first thing is contain your own anger and not punch them in the face on the spot.
I like you suggestion to dispel disinformation with comedy to get people on your side. Boots Riley has stated that it’s also important to have fun in the midst of protest or radical change, because otherwise you can get bogged down by all the negativity and life becomes a misery. So, it’s important to have fun and party either while you do that or maybe in addition- Well, I do believe that insurrection should be fun and be a celebration. But, it’s not going to be all fun games. It’s hard. It’s fuckin’ scary. I hope John Lewis did have moments where he was able to laugh. I saw a documentary about James Brown a while back. I think it was the second march to reclaim the Edmund Pettus bridge and then they had an even bigger march for voting rights and they talked James Brown into flying out with his band and playing for the protestors at the end. And there were people for SNCC, and Dr. Martin Luther King, and John Lewis, they were arguing over the next move and they had to be very serious because it was serious times and guess who eventually said, “Ok, you guys talk, argue, plan whatever you want to do, I’m going to go watch James Brown.” And that was Martin Luther King. I thought that was pretty fuckin’ cool.
So, I do go both ways on this question. Sometimes I deliberately edge my humor just far enough to offend my own people so they don’t put too big a halo on my head that doesn’t belong there. That’s getting harder to do when people are getting more sand more hardcore about, “oh you need to have trigger warnings because that might offend me.”
And, that’s a touchy one. It’s also a major reason why I haven’t gotten a college campus offer to do a spoken word show in ten years or so. All the way up to comedians like Chris Rock, you have them saying they won’t do college shows anymore because “we need a transcript of everything that you’re going to say in advance. You can’t say this because it might offend this group. You can’t say that because that might offend that group.” I’m a fucking punk rock, for crying out loud, what do you expect from me?! Chamomile tea? Mental Pepto Bismol? Sorry .
Even though I think there are a lot of strong points to be made about safe spaces, and combating rape culture, and combating institutional racism, and I probably have as much to learn as everybody else does- but, when people take it to far it can be a real tight rope. Shawna of War on Women wrote a whole book about this coming somewhat from the other side called Making Spaces Safer and she’s pretty hardcore about that, to the point where I had a long phone call with her about what happens to humor- “and you know what I’m like Shawna, you know I’m not going to stop!”
But, that doesn’t mean that I can’t be more sensitive about it and smarter about it. But, at the same time, I think of when I got dragged into court over the Frankenchrist album. It was originally five defendants- not just me. They were moneky-ing with the law, seeing who they could convict. The argument was that it was ”distribution of harmful matter to minors”, a law that had never been used before and might not have been used ever after that.
As my lawyer put it, “look, you convict my client, that means all music and literature and film, people have tow ash its mouth out with soap in advance to make sure it doesn’t offend or go over the heads of small children, and you can’t have a society like that!”
So then, fast forward, Bill Clinton is running for President and as his vice president, of all people, he picks Al Gore. Journalist Adolph Reed Jr. immediately named them “the confederate twins” and I’ve never been able to forget that one, it was so true. It also meant that Tipper Gore was a heartbeat away from being first lady, and that was pretty scary- especially if Hillary decided to take up Tipper’s cause, which thankfully, she didn’t. But, they had already gotten their pound of flesh with the Tipper sticker anyways.
CMJ was coming up- and we actually went to those things then, and SxSW- unlike now, where the corporations take over, and the money dries up, and there are lines around the block to get into any show- what’s the point? Basically, they decided, we have to have yet another panel discussion about music censorship. I was approached by Howie Klein, and old friend from here that went to 415 records and then eventually Sire records- we have him to thank for signing Ice-T and letting the Body Count album out of the bag, as well as signing Ministry and then going to bat against Warner executives to get Land of Rape and Honey out even though it didn’t sound like the Twitch style dance music Sire thought they were getting when they signed Al. So as maligned as Howie Klein is, I think we have a lot to thank him for.
This was his panel- I told Howie, “look, you know me, I will not do a music panel for a bunch of music people unless there is a right winger on there too because otherwise when I talk about what the religious right wants, no one will believe me. ‘ Look, there goes Jello with his wild conspiracy theories again!’ You have to have the real thing on there.” So, he got a guy called L. Brent Bozell, little did I know that he was second generation from the one that bashed up abortion clinics. When Bozell got to talk, he reads some lyrics that some of us are kind of amused with, “As a catholic, this offends me.” That was his entire basis. All of our music should be tailored so it doesn’t offend his kind of Catholicism. Like, hey wait a minute dude, Catholicism offends me! The way it treats women! The way you can’t terminate a pregnancy. You can’t even masturbate! And then all those priests attacking children! Dude! That offends me! Does that means that the rest of the Catholics can’t practice Catholicism?! No! But, I’m not going to tailor my speech because it offends you, especially when your practice offends me!
And now this is getting all the way to the Supreme court. There’s the Hobby Lobby ruling about birth control for their employees violating their religious beliefs and their health insurance. And they got away with it. Now, you have Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito putting out little paper to get Barrett on the Supreme court and she’s an especially wacky version of a Catholic- even more insane than William Barr. Even Barr and Rick Santorum are saying they want to ban all contraceptives – not just abortion, not just birth control, but condoms!
Alito and Thomas put out paper that said we need to revisit laws that protect the equality of LGBTQ people. “We can’t allow that because it violates our religious belief of homophobia and therefore it’s religious discrimination.” That’s what we are looking at now. William Barr put out an article in 1995 in Catholic Lawyer, just lays this whole thing out- it’s absolutely horrifying and Barrett is worse. She wasn’t just a member of the wacky Catholic cult that speaks in tongues, but she believes everything in the law is subservient to God, that’s their purpose in life, and the minute sperm leaves the penis it’s already human life, and if you do anything with it aside from make a baby, that’s murder… this is right when Ireland has public votes for LGBTQ rights and decriminalizes abortions, you name it, here we are going the other way. They don’t want to just drag us back to the 1950s, or even the 1850s, but now they want the 1450s!
So, back to the modern youth of trigger warnings and the a new darker version of political correctness- part of me, I have to cut people some slack. Every generation is going to find themselves really, really angry the more they see how fucked up things are, and they’re going to go after them, and the give and take and the democracy begins.
At the same time, I’m trigger warning you right now- you’re dealing with punk rock and you’re with me. Even without the band behind me, you’re dealing with punk fucking rock. It was designed from the beginning to freak out people, to touch raw nerves, and hopefully in a way that they wind up liking it, either in the humor or in the music itself… and we’re not going to stop.
BUT… that doesn’t mean women should have their asses grabbed at Gilman street. NO! It does mean that it’s going to be harder and harder to stay clever about it- and I haven’t figured out how I’m going to take on the whole Trigger Warning versus what Bozzell, Barr, and Barrett wants in a song. I think somebody that has been sexually assaulted o molested as a child and it triggers some really bad PTSD, if there’s a way to avoid that, for crying out loud, avoid it in your art.
I mean my own girlfriend had PTSD where was curled up in fetal position on her bed, just sweating and shaking and crying, just watching Christine Ford’s testimony against Brett Kavanaugh. It was too real. She still has PTSD just thinking about Kavanaugh and she’s not alone.
To be continued…