Thursday, April 17, 2003
Like his name, Jello Biafra is at once comical and very, very disturbing.
Biafra (born Eric Boucher, renaming himself after a Nigerian civil war that claimed more than a million lives, mostly women and children) is a master of mixing humor with a portentous political commentary seldom found in mainstream media.
His stage show - which he calls "info-tainment" - falls somewhere between Noam Chomsky and Jon Stewart. More light-hearted than Michael Moore, far more shocking than Bill Maher. Similar politics to all of the above.
Before turning prolific political iconoclast, Biafra built his name as the frontman for the seminal punk band, The Dead Kennedys. In 1987, the band was thrust into the role of First Amendment champion when its "Frankenchrist" album (specifically the album art by H.R. Giger entitled "Penis Landscape") was challenged in court as "distribution of harmful matter to minors." This, the first case where a musical recording faced such criminal charges, resulted in a hung jury but also a dissolved Dead Kennedys.
Biafra took the change in stride, initially by appearing on talk shows such as "Oprah" to discuss free speech opposite Tipper Gore, and eventually by releasing a dozen solo spoken-word albums. Over the years, he's spoken at Kansas University, at the Opera House (now Liberty Hall), as well as at the River City Reunion in 1987 alongside Allen Ginsberg, Keith Haring, Timothy Leary and William S. Burroughs.
- Friday, April 18, 2003, 7 p.m.
- Washburn University, 1700 S.W. College Ave., Topeka, KS
- All ages / $5
In talking with Biafra, it's clear he has at least some appreciation for Lawrence (he casually mentions The Love Garden and The Outhouse, for example), but he's decidedly short when asked to elaborate.
"Let's do some other questions, I'm not coming up with much here," he says, laughing.
Actually, Biafra just seems reluctant to offer anything quotable that's off-topic. But when asked about something on-topic, Biafra instantly taps a seemingly endless train of thought ...
Lawrence.com :: How are we doing in the war on terrorism?
Jello :: I think we're losing, and we're losing badly, because the worst terrorists in the world right now are our own government. And the rest of the world knows it. The so-called blow-back from this is going to haunt us for years to come. We've probably burned more bridges with our allies and friends over this than even during the Vietnam War.
You can't really win a war until you've secured the peace and in Afghanistan we didn't even bother. Bush's proposed budget for 2004 doesn't include a singe dollar for rebuilding Afghanistan. I'm sure that's lost among people in the know in the Middle East about what our real plans for Iraq are. The longer we stay in Iraq, the more likely it is to turn into a relationship similar to that between the Israelis and the Palestinians. I'm sure they're jublilant at getting rid of Saddam Hussein, but they don't really want us there either. And I doubt they have any plans for true democracy in Iraq because guess who'd get elected: Islamic fundamentalist parties who would mainly run on a platform of how much they hate Americans.
You know, what we're walking into is a situation where we're going to have more and more suicide bombers and more and more people enlisting in organizations like Al-Qaeda in other parts of the world and possibly our own soil again. We have planted the seeds for the next Osama bin Laden. And the next. And the next. That's what really terrifies me about how just flat out stupid the Bush administration is.
So do you think the Bush administration lied about rebuilding Iraq?
We WILL rebuild the oil infrastructure. And some of the people that have gotten quite a chunk of change from the goodie bowl is Dick Cheney's old firm, Haliburton, who also took over $28 billion directly from Saddam Hussein to put his oil infrastructure back together after the Gulf War. At the time they were happy to do business with Saddam their CEO was Dick Cheney.
As far as the Bush mob is concerned, this whole thing is a scam. They're not interested in liberating Iraq at all, they're just interested in putting up more military bases and drumming up more work for their corrupt corporate friends.
Phil Cauthon talks with Jello Biafra, 04.15.03
Why are we putting so many bases in Kuwait, Saudia Arabia, Iraq, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and up into Uzbekistan and beyond, when we only use a small portion of the Persian Gulf oil in our own country? It's because we want to have other country's oil supplies by the nuts so they can't -- you know, as a certain deputy defense secretary put it back in the first Gulf War -- so other countries don't "aspire to a greater regional or global role" than we have in mind for them. This was Paul Wolfowitz, who like Bush weaseled out of fighting in the Vietnam War. It's amazing that almost every single person running this war for the Bush mob is a chicken hawk ... Powell on the other hand has seen the real thing, but is involved in some very dirty aspects and apparently helped cover up the infamous Mei Lei massacre during the Vietnam War, the worst documented atrocity committed by American troops ...
The study that I was quoting earlier about the desire to achieve a status in the world where nobody else even aspires to have any say in how the world is run -- this was a study done at the behest of Bush's father in 1991, and even daddy Bush dismissed it as lunacy -- was written by Paul Wolfowitz and Louis Libby, another chicken hawk who is now Cheney's chief of staff. Even though Bush's father rolled his eyes at it and nobody took it much seriously at that time, then general Colin Powell did and defended it before a House committee, saying "I want to be the bully on the block."
Where do you find things like that? Surely it wasn't in the mainstream media?
They are printed in some media, just not our commercial-controlled media. Ever since the Reagan administration deregulated corporate take-over laws, our commercial mass media has slowly but surely merged into bigger and bigger corporate conglomerates often owned by very corrupt, lawless corporations that (the media) USED TO help police by reporting their misdeeds. For example, NBC is owned by General Electric, one of the world's largest arms manufacturers and nuclear power people. This gives General Electric executive editorial control over NBC news. At ABC people have to answer to Mickey Mouse. And let's not even get into Fox News.
The worst form of censorship in this country now is not Tipper Gore or Jerry Falwell or John Ashcroft or even the recently deposed Kansas State Board of Education. It's the deliberate omission of important, facts and issues from the mass media (that) most people believe is telling them the truth. Forget Fox News, CNN and NPR might as well be stenographers for the Pentagon at this point. Maybe we should give them cheerleading uniforms.
It's important that people develop their own media literacy and get their information from other places ...
Jello's recommended reading (alternative media)
- The Nation
- The Progressive
- Mother Jones
- Multinational Monitor
(This British paper's American reporter Greg Palast wrote one of Biafra's most highly recommended books, "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy." Says Jello :: "They won't publish him over here because the stuff he digs up is not deemed fit for the Survivor-addled American public ... If you really want the deep dirt on how Bush stole the Florida election and the business motives behind terrorism incorporated check that book out."
For Jello's full list, check alternativetentacles.com
What did you think of the reaction to Michael Moore's performance at the Oscars?
I never watch the Oscars, I mean, why bother? But I was staying with some friends in Los Angeles and there was Michael Moore on the stage and I thought, O.K. Michael, don't let us down. And he sure didn't! That was the greatest thing to happen to the Oscars possibly ever.
I applaud people who use rare opportunities in the corporate controlled mass media to break through the party line and the corporate agenda like that.
Michael Moore has recently sent out a letter claiming that interest in "Bowling for Columbine" and his book "Stupid White Men" -- which everyone should read -- has actually gone up significantly after he spoke out on the Oscars.
It's also been alleged that the boo-ing going was actually from people on the upper balcony and then people down below boo-ed them; and that CNN actually turned UP the boo's when they mixed the sound for their own news cast on the matter. He also claims that sales of Dixie Chicks albums have gone up, too.
Maybe it's just that the bad publicity is better than no news at all?
Well, however you want to slant things. Right now they're trying to slant it so that anyone who questions the Bush administration for any reason at all is automatically unpatriotic. That's the same McCarthy-ite bullying (that) they used to ram through the Patriot Act, which did to The Constitution what those terrorists did to the World Trade Center.
And now, when was the last time you saw anything on CNN or MSNBC about Patriot Act 2 that's floating around Congress now? Ashcroft has written up a new one that calls for rounding up and expelling from the country American citizens who criticize the Bush administration and support organizations that the government doesn't like ...
They may hide behind the Bible and the dollar sign, but these guys are out-and-out Nazis and it's about time somebody in the mainstream media pointed that out ...
Questioning and opposing our government's policies is not unpatriotic. Right now it's the most patriotic thing an American can do.
My attitude towards the biased news coverage is -- don't hate the media, become the media, even if it means going one-on-one with people you know at home, at work, at school, in your family, explaining why the world is wrong. If we don't do it, who will? The easiest way to get through even to someone with a big flag on their SUV, is just to point out that the war on terrorism is poor military strategy. As I said earlier, all we're accomplishing every time we blow people up in the Middle East is planting the seeds for the next Osama bin Laden, more Al-Qaedas, more suicide bombers, thus making our own country and our own lives less and less and less safe.
Actually I've presented just that point to (many people) and their response is that they hate us anyway so we've got to do something about it.
Will killing people get people in other countries to hate us LESS? I don't think so! Exhibit A: our big kick-ass victory in Bush's daddy's Gulf War was directly responsible for Sept. 11th. Osama bin Laden has said that that event and the fact that we used Saudi soil to kill other Muslims led him to refocus Al-Qaeda to target Americans more than Israelis or the Saudi royal family.
That was our end reward for Gulf War No. 1 was all those innocent people killed on Sept. 11th. It may not happen again right away but it's sure as hell gonna happen unless we rethink our policies and stop treating the rest of the world as our own little slave plantation to make sure we don't have to pay too much money for oil or running shoes.
It's obvious that you think about these things all the time. How do you keep it from just totally depressing you?
I would get more depressed but I'm very grateful that I'm able to channel my feelings on this into my performances. I have an outlet for my feelings and views and it helps bring other people together and realize that there's hundreds of people in the same room that hate Bush as much as they do.
Do you attempt to organize people to put their thoughts into action?
I'm not the world's greatest organizer. What I do is provide what I guess you'd call 'info-tainment.' I try to let my sick sense of humor be up front so people don't get bored after awhile. Even if people already agree with what I have to say, I give them more brain food and ammunition. And hopefully inspire people in their own personal way to get off their butts and start fighting corporate dictatorship. You know, the ongoing corporate coup that's shredding our Constitution in this country ...
Some of the best ways to fight back against corporate power is something people can do individually without having to go to a bunch of meetings and getting their head cracked at demonstrations. Just take a long, hard look at how much of your money is going to these corporations. DON'T GIVE YOUR MONEY TO CHAIN STORES! Don't give your money to chain restaurants. Put your money back into the places that actually are part of the community instead.
Who's going to have a better selection of music: Wal-Mart or Love Garden? Think of all the benefits of supporting community businesses. It's so easy to pull your money away from these corporate thugs as an individual. For Christ's sake! Does Coca-Cola taste half as good as it did when you were a kid? Doubtful.
What do you think of Ozzy Osbourne these days? He used to be right there with the Dead Kennedys as Tipper's cited example for why some censorship is necessary.
I guess what's left of Ozzy's mind is laughing all the way to the bank right now. I still have to thank him and respect him for those early classic Black Sabbath albums ... it helped pave the way for a lot of my favorite music today. Although I don't think it's too cool that a lot of the lesser known bands on the second stage of Ozzfest apparently don't get paid a dime. That ain't cool.