It has only been three years since I first heard Jello Biafra speak on one of his political spoken word albums. He is a political activist whose message touches and inspires many to get involved and take action, including Canadians. He has spoken at the University of Regina, Saskatchewan a few years ago, where I am currently a student. At 49 years of age, Jello has come a long way since the start of his musical career, and his political career as the lead singer of the 1978-1986 punk band, the Dead Kennedys. He has stayed involved in the music scene by collaborating with many talented artists and bands. Jello is founder and owner of perhaps the longest running underground record label that is still active, Alternative Tentacles. Since 1986, he has released many political spoken word albums. His latest album In The Grip Of Official Treason, released in 2006, goes in depth about Iraq, the New Orleans flood, voter fraud and so much more. Jello Biafra reminds me as a Canadian that in the current day corrupt U.S.A., there are still many Americans who are unwilling to tolerate what is becoming of their home and unwilling to give up the fight for ultimate justice. His message on corporations is also quite relevant in Canada where many of our retail outlets are mass conglomerates and are often owned by Americans.
Jello Biafra was born in Boulder, Colorado. His real name is Eric Boucher. When he was five, J.F.K. was assassinated and Jello saw Lee Harvey Oswald shot live on T.V. The Vietnam War was amongst other events that convinced him to fight against corrupt governments and corporations during 1969-1972. His stage name came from the Jell-O brand name and the country of Biafra which existed for less than three years before failing its attempt to secede from Nigeria in 1970. His stage name represents the brand of mass produced food products with little nutritional value and how hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of people died of starvation when Nigeria blocked supplies from entering Biafra.
In the fall of 1979 at the age of 21, Jello ran for mayor of San Fransisco. He finished fourth out of ten candidates with 3.5% of the vote. His platform included both prank-like points such as forcing businessmen to wear clown suits, and serious points such as having police officers run for re-election with voters being residents in the neighbourhoods they patrol. He wore T-shirts to campaign in from a competing candidate's previous election. His supporters rallied with two memorable signs that said"If he doesn't win I'll kill myself" and "What if he does win?". In the 2002 DVD Dead Kennedys: The Early Years, Jello makes the following statement about his campaign for mayor of San Francisco, "For those of them who have seen my candidacy as a publicity stunt or a joke, they should keep in mind that it is no more of a joke, and no less of a joke, than anyone else they care to name." With Saskatchewan on the verge of an election call, Jello carries an important message about the issues that are focused on during an election and the publicity stunts involved in campaigning.
His political career has included many challenges. He was on trial in 1986 for "distributing harmful matter" due to complaints by the Parents Music Resource Center for including a poster by Swiss surreal artist H.R. Giger entitled Landscape #XX (or Penis Landscape) with the Dead Kennedys album Frankenchrist. The case was not about the lyrics of the album. The focus was a poster that they deemed "harmful matter". The case ended in a mistrial. Jello believes the ordeal was politically motivated and that he was used as a warning to other musicians about offensive content.
While at a club in Berkeley, California in 1994, Jello was almost beaten to death by people who believed he was a sell out. The man who initially started the incident shouted, "Sellout rockstar, kick him." He spent much time in a hospital recovering. His plans for a Canadian spoken word tour and album had to be cancelled.
In 1998, Jello was sued by fellow former members of the Dead Kennedys for refusing to allow perhaps their most well known song, "Holiday in Cambodia", to be used in a Levi's Dockers commercial. He strongly disagreed with the sweatshop labour and corrupt ways of doing business of the Levi's corporation. Staying committed to his values cost him $200,000 which his other band-members took without shame.
However, the obstacles along the way seemed to have only strengthened his fight in the political world. In 2000, Jello Biafra was drafted for the Green Party presidential nomination. He lost to Ralph Nader, who will be speaking at the University of Regina on September 19, 2007 in the Education Auditorium at 7:00 pm (tickets are $15 and available at the Conexus Arts Centre). Jello has continued to be a member of the Green Party and encourages people to use their right to vote. He focuses on real issues and spreads the truth. He encourages us not to hate the media, but to become the media.
Jello Biafra is an excellent mentor for anyone interested in political activism. It has not been an easy path for him, nor is it for anyone. I hope there are others out there who will justify his injustices in the fight against corrupt governments and corporations by taking action of their own. This world would be a much better place if we had more Jellos.