As you read this, the National Security Agency has probably been monitoring your phone calls, while the Department of Homeland Security peruses your e-mail, and agents from the Central Intelligence Agency torture detainees in the War on Terror.
A decade ago, long before 9/11, terrifyingly Orwellian-style occurrences such as these weren't part of our modern milieu and could be found in one of two places: the minds of crackpot conspiracy theorists or the mouth of Jello Biafra. For most of his life, the 48-year-old punker pundit and provocateur has used his trademark nasally shrill voice to spew hyperbolic paranoid tirades about Big Brother-like government tactics, greedy corporate interests, and human ugliness, whether serving as the front man for '80s underground punk legends Dead Kennedys or as a spoken-word artist.
But while his Chicken Little act seems to have proven mostly true, Biafra tells New Times his job provoking the people into fighting the Man (be it the Dubya administration or corporations like Wal-Mart or Halliburton) hasn't gotten any easier.
Marquee Theatre in Tempe
Scheduled to appear at Stinkweeds in Phoenix, and to perform at Marquee Theatre in Tempe, on Tuesday, November 14.
"I'd say in some ways it's gotten harder, because one of the most effective tools a fascist state has is when people give up hope," says Biafra (né Eric Boucher). "And a lot of people are so depressed and dejected about things, especially when corporate democrats renew the Patriot Act and vote to legalize torture and secret arrests, which really scares the shit out of me."
The original version of the Dead Kennedys disbanded following an infamous trial in 1986, in which the band was brought to court for including H.R. Giger's Landscape XX (which featured rows of penises engaged in sex acts) in the art for its Frankenchrist album. Since then, Biafra has been using his numerous spoken-word albums (including his latest, In the Grip of Official Treason) and collaborations with bands like The Melvins to dissect disinformation, dole out optimism, and disseminate ways of taking action.
Such agitprop activities include getting involved with the Green Party, shopping at independently owned outlets versus big chain stores, or getting involved with local elections and ballot measures. "It's just a matter of networking and finding ways in our own daily lives to be less a part of the problem and sabotage corporate rule at the same time," Biafra says.
While he admits he's usually preaching to the choir the tattooed-and-pierced crowd and other left-leaning types who've packed his gigs he says his mission of late is to "light a fire under the choir and mobilize them while at the same time adding liberal doses of sick humor."
"I'm very grateful that anyone would come to any of my shows when I've been at it this long, but it also brings with it a pressure to make sure I come up with something that's worth going to see," Biafra says. "There's no point in being a walking fossil or a tourist attraction, whether it's with music or talking, which means that somehow I've blundered into a position where I can survive off my big mouth and bad attitude, instead of being the crank at the stool at the end of the bar that no one wants to listen to."
Although Biafra can usually be found interacting with fans and signing autographs after gigs, he's wary of fans who know him simply for his Dead Kennedys work and nothing else. "Admittedly, I get annoyed when somebody comes up to me and tells me how much they like Dead Kennedys and then doesn't even want to know about all the other stuff I've done. I tell them about it and they look me right in the eye and tell me they're not interested," Biafra says. "I mean, that's exactly the opposite of what the band was supposed to inspire in the people who heard the music. I want people to be intelligent and to be curious and not be afraid of their own brain power."
Instead, he's more into fans whom he's inspired in their own creative efforts. "I like it when people seek me out and hand me their weird CDs of their weird music or something they've written or tell me that they were inspired by some of the stuff I was laying down," Biafra says. "I grew up near Rocky Flats [a nuclear weapons plant near his hometown of Boulder, Colorado], one of the most toxic Superfund sites in the world, and I think it helped make me this mutated germ for spreading positive disease."
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.