Jello Biafra

London Astoria Theatre October 22 1998

One of my regrets, is that I was never into the Dead Kennedys while they existed. I never got the chance to see them live. I think that nowadays, if there was band I wish I’d seen, or had the opportunity to see, it would’ve been them in their heyday. But it’s not to be. And so I never thought I’d see the day I’d get my first chance to see Biafra perform, in whatever capacity. This was spoken word. So it’s slightly harder to describe, slightly different to the norm covered in YAZ. And so important as far as I’m concerned, you won’t begin to understand. And so, the drive down begins ... One upturned caravan and a knocked down pedestrian later, and it’s London town (I didn’t do those things though honest. I only passed them)

Don’t know where you start with this really, so how’s about, me being me, some complaints. Not so much complaints, as observations. 3 hours is a long time to sit through stuff which is at times political, and aimed at Americans, despite Biafra’s best attempts to draw parallels with the UK. Also, a lot of the material, such as message to the president, Why I’m Glad The Space Shuttle Blew Up and more already appears on the numerous spoken word albums. But, I mean, even for this guy, there’s only a certain amount of topics that can be covered, and given that it’s his first appearance here in some 15 years or more, then it’s not like many people have had the chance to see him perform it. And anyway, it still applies. It’s still as cutting as ever.

At one stage, discussing music censorship, Biafra states how he would like to be Marilyn Manson at the moment, “can you imagine having all these people stop what they’re doing to discuss you and whether or not to allow you play. The power of that”. But in many respects, Biafra is much more dangerous than Manson. He points out problems. He researches it, and sometimes the most scary bit, is that he proposes solutions. Some are radical. Some make sense. “Let’s get rid of the homeless, give them a home. Legalise squatting.” “There’s a minimum wage, let’s have a maximum wage.”

There’s the tale, associated with the Space Shuttle, of a mission containing 72lbs of Plutonium orbiting the Earth, which is to make, in his words, “a fly by” on August 16 next year. Apparently one speck is enough to give you cancer.

Or the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a respected journalist and broadcaster on death row, who undertook a series of radio interviews, which were conveniently banned prior to their broadcast. They’re now available on Alternative Tentacles. Or the West Memphis Three, convicted of murder on the evidence, as Biafra puts it, “that they wore black and listened to Heavy Metal.”

Regarding music, there’s the tales of all the people who are in power in the States who control things. Companies taking over chain-stores and censoring what is sold, or in one instance, banning all rock records (read into that punk, metal, garage, whatever) on the grounds that they are Satanic. The Tipper sticker, you know the one, parental advisory. Well, they apparently want to apply them to gigs as well “how can you do that? You don’t know when Iggy Pop is going to decide to dance naked”.

Tales of control, and of one guy who writes to him from a cell, where he is doing eight (8) years for being found with some dope on campus.

It comes to an end, with the tale of the court case of East Bay Ray and the rest of the DKs against Biafra and Alternative Tentacles. The man is visibly pissed off at this. Now, I don’t know the other side of the story, and we should always hear two sides to a story, but it is a sad case and situation. Let’s hope that one resolves itself soon.

There’s way too much gone on here to mention. How about the punk that got on stage to try to get to him, was pushed off, and walked up and spat on him. “Don’t kick him out, let him stay” urges Biafra to the security. I don’t know why the punk did it. Was he disagreeing with something Biafra said, in which case he’s probably a Christian fundamentalist in an unusual dress sense. Or maybe, as appears to have been the case in recent years, he just feels Biafra has sold out. A point touched on towards the end, when, as Biafra says, you don’t have to go “full on” in one direction. Because people find they can’t handle that and slingshot totally the other way. I may have been accused of not being totally full on, and as a result get accused of being a sell out and beaten up” he says, in reference to having both his legs broken a few years ago by some punks, and with a stare in the direction of where the guy from earlier might have been.

How about elections. “I remember when they actually discussed policies in the run up to an election” he says, holding a copy of Time magazine from the last US election with the headline Miss X Vs Miss Y, who’ll make the better first wife”. A fair point.

Really, there is too much. I’m not a political person. I dislike politics because I dislike politicians. I don’t trust them and I don’t care for them. This gig isn’t going to suddenly make me go out and become some political activist, despite my applauding much of what was said. And yes, I do know that some people can say that we were blindly accepting what he says in just the same manner as the people that he vents against. But, I listen to his stuff to hear a different point of view to that which we are often told. I read some stuff occasionally, just to try and keep an open mind. It’s good to be reminded of things, because although I might not do anything, it maybe, just maybe, helps me to avoid some degree of complacency. Maybe that’s enough. Maybe not.

I strongly recommend checking out at least one of his spoken word sets. Valley of The Gift Police, at 3 CDs is long, but it is humourous. It is scary. It is, possibly, paranoid and conspiracy theory. But if it makes you just think occasionally about some of these things, then, maybe like me, that’s enough.

If you read the front of this issue, then you’ll know I’ve been having major reservations about carrying on with this. There’s a few things that have maybe pointed me towards carrying on, and a few voices of encouragement. And also, Biafra pointed out, one of the best things to come out of punk wasn’t the music. But the DIY, the zines. He’ll never read this. This zine is pretty much totally music oriented, whereas many zines do have political aspirations and tendencies. Like I said, that’s not me. But this is a zine, it is DIY, and, without trying to be overly important, it’s good enough reason maybe for me to keep doing it.

Yes, there is an element of preaching to the converted. Yes, there is an element that it’s simply expressing thoughts and knowledge that people already know. But, it’s highly likely that in 3 hours, he’ll cover something that people are not aware of. Certainly was the case for me. And yes, there are things with which I disagree. But see, don’t believe everything you read or are told. Even if it does come from someone you respect. Question everything. If you can be arsed.

A thought provoking evening. And, I only saw one wallet chain all evening, and that was attached to a Deftones t-shirt.