Note: The following biography was taken directly from the Alternative Tentacles website. Please visit the website to indulge in Jello's creation: the Alternative Tentacles record label.
Biafra born and raised in Boulder, Colorado, six blocks from the JonBenet Ramsey murder site. So far, he has not been named as a suspect. |
JFK assassinated on a day Biafra remembers well. Biafra sees Oswald get shot live on the living room TV. (See last track, "Beyond the Valley of the Gift Police") |
Biafra hears rock and roll for the first time when his parents tune in a rock station by mistake. He is immediately hooked, and knows what he wants to be when he grows up. |
Biafra encounters his first rock star. Bob Demmon, leader of the surf-garage legends The Astronauts, shows the second grade class his Alaskan malamute dog. (Bob's mother worked in the school office)|
Biafra idolizes Batman villains while his classmates want to be baseball players, nurses and policemen. |
The Vietnam war, Chicago 7 trial, Kent State massacre and the Denver smog problem convince Biafra that corrupt, violent governments and corporations should be fought, not trusted. |
Fall of the Republic of Biafra. Ibo people's war for independence is crushed by the Nigerian army. With British and some American help, all Biafran food supplies had been cut off for months. Horrific, jarring images of skeletal Biafran children dying from hunger make "Biafra" the universal symbol of starvation and genocide until the Ethiopian famine 15 years later. |
Biafra sees the Ramones horrify an audience of the pre-yuppies he loathes at Ebbets Field night club in Denver. He decides there must be more to life than listening to Judas Priest and committing suicide.|
He roadies for the first Colorado punk band, The Ravers, who would later move to New York and become The Nails (of "88 lines About 44 Women" fame).
Biafra enrolls in University of California at Santa Cruz, where he studies acting and the history of Paraguay. After seeing very early gigs of The Saints and Wire, among others in London that summer, Biafra discovers that the early San Francisco punk scene (Avengers, Dils, Zeros, etc.) is far more raw and primal than anything he has seen so far. Its epicenter is Mabuhay Gardens, an all ages venue run by Dirk Dirksen. Biafra leaves school after one quarter. |
|February 28, 1978||
Biafra returns to San Francisco after saving money doing laundry in a nursing home in Boulder, Colorado. |
|July 19, 1978||
Dead Kennedys live debut performance after rehearsing for one week. After first calling himself "Occupant," Jello Biafra picks his name at random out of a notebook. Years later, he says he chose it because he "likes the way the two images collide in people's minds." |
Dead Kennedys release first single, California Uber Alles on their own label, Alternative Tentacles. An East Coast tour follows, almost unheard of in those days for a west coast underground band. Compared to the primal pogo frenzy of the West Coast, the scene there is almost comatose, largely due to the lack of all ages venues. Audiences expecting to sit quietly and clap find themselves showered with their own beer as their tables and chairs are knocked away. Max's Kansas City looks like a tornado went through it. At the Rat in Boston, MA, people line up as far away from the band as they can against the back wall but don't leave. This may be Biafra's favorite Dead Kennedys show of all time. |
Biafra runs for mayor of San Francisco. He finishes fourth out of ten candidates with 6,591 votes, 3 1/2% of the total; helping force a run-off. Mayor Dianne Feinstein's supporters are aghast. (For the full story, see Biafra's third spoken word album, I Blow Minds for a Living.) |
Biafra also performs nude before 3000 Clash fans and an infuriated Bill Graham. DK never play for Bill Graham Presents again.
California Uber Alles is re-released in England on the hot label-of-the-moment Fast Product (Gang of Four, Mekons, Human League). By sheer luck a band barely known in their own back yard is an overnight sensation in the U.K.
Riding the wave of follow-up smash single Holiday in Cambodia, Dead Kennedys release debut album Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables. They are the first non-major label U.S. punk band to successfully tour England and Europe. Many people Biafra meets are rabidly curious about what else lurks musically in the United States. The "punk is dead" media and the U.K. record labels don't care.|
Biafra records The Witch Trials improvisational EP with East Bay Ray, Christian Lunch and other friends in an apartment in London.
Alternative Tentacles re-launched with Let Them Eat Jellybeans compilation album, designed to introduce Europe and the world at large to D.O.A. , Black Flag, Flipper, Bad Brains, Half Japanese and even Voice Farm, among many more. The European underground is never the same again. Hardcore punk breaks out and spreads throughout the industrialized world. |
Also released is the Too Drunk to Fuck single, featuring new drummer D.H. Peligro. The British tabloid press goes ballistic, some store owners are arrested. Industry fears rise that the single will reach the top 30 of the national charts and thus mandate a performance of the song on BBC-TV's "Top of the Pops". It peaks at #31.
...Jellybeans helps create the same effect in the United States. Black Flag and D.O.A. stitch together national tours, while the biggest splash is the east coast return of Dead Kennedys.
Jaded New York music press dismisses DKs all ages matinee at Bond's as a "cheap gimmick" . Several generations of artists later report that being at that show was the baptism that made them want to start a band. New York and the East Coast are never the same.
Dead Kennedys release In God We Trust, Inc. EP and Nazi Punks Fuck Off single. The music is faster and more extreme, reflecting the youthful hardcore energy coming out of California and Washington, D.C. Lyrics and packaging are gut-rage responses to the rise of the religious right, violence in the underground scene and the "election" of Ronald Reagan. Almost every "dire exaggeration" in the lyrics has since come true. |
More touring in Britain and Europe follows, with particularly wild shows in Italy and Finland. D.I.Y. hardcore EPs mushroom in these countries a few months later.
U.S. hardcore explosion in full swing. Legwork by Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, D.O.A. and Minor Threat establishes solid nationwide touring network through D.I.Y. underground promoters who completely avoid the still hostile music establishment. Harassment by police was an increasing problem. Denver cops try to confiscate the band's equipment, but give up when asked to carry the amps themselves. |
Alternative Tentacles continues to grow and penetrate with classic releases by D.O.A. , T.S.O.L. ; and in the U.K., 7 Seconds, Bad Brains and Husker Du.
Dead Kennedys release second full- length, Plastic Surgery Disasters to decidedly mixed reviews. For the third time in a row fans are confronted with different sounds than they expected. Another Euro-visit follows, this time concentrating on Germany. |
Places to go, people to annoy. U.S. touring for Plastic Surgery Disasters culminates in Rock Against Reagan on the capitol mall in D.C. one day before the infamous 4th of July James Watt concert (Beach Boys cancelled in favor of Wayne Newton). Under clear skies a U.S. government helicopter floodlights DKs audience and photographs them when their faces look up. Torrential rains the next day delay Wayne Newton concert for several hours. |
Dead Kennedys also crack open Australia, finding a much more diverse scene than narrow-minded macho U.S. hardcore audiences will allow. Most bizarre of all is Adelaide's Grong Grong whose singer screams at the audience wearing a baklava and a cowboy hat. Their album is later released on Alternative Tentacles. The Aussies take on Detroit/garage rock is at its peak, and Biafra absorbs their sounds accordingly, being possibly the first person to bring their records into the United States.
More live mayhem brings Dead Kennedys to guerrilla performances outside both the Democratic and Republican conventions. Republicans in Dallas are greeted by Biafra-led crowd chanting "Fuck off and die!" as they flee the hall for their hotel rooms. A mass die-in at Nieman-Marcus and the notorious Joey Johnson flag burning case that wound up in the Supreme Court add to the festivities.|
At the Democratic convention Dead Kennedys take the stage in Klansman hoods, then remove them to reveal Ronald Reagan masks underneath. A thousand people break away from the crowd to march on San Francisco City Hall, where they are beaten senseless by out-of-control police officers.
Dead Kennedys reaffirm their place at the front of the musical vanguard of underground music with the release of the Frankenchrist album (possibly Biafra's favorite). Again, not what people expected. A poster insert by Swiss surrealist master H.R. Giger will soon prove very controversial. |
Infamous Senate anti-music hearings are staged by Senator Al Gore and his cohorts as a favor to his wife Tipper and her openly bigoted fundamentalist friends calling themselves the Parent's Music Resource Center (PMRC). Among the PMRC's demands were the censorship through a labeling system of warning stickers, the "Reassessment of contracts" of artists whose lyrics are, "sexually explicit", "anti-Christian" or mention suicide or homosexuality. "Expert witnesses" called by the Washington Wives blame rock music for gang violence, suicide, murder, devil worship and sexual perversion. Frank Zappa stands virtually alone in opposing the PMRC and sensing their significance. The music industry above and below ground keeps their head in the sand, preferring to sleep through the hearings. |
Frankenchrist helps propel Dead Kennedys to their most successful U.S. Tour ever. But it is not without problems: Some concerts suffer last-minute cancellations due to pressure from unnamed sources on city and university officials. Local religious right operatives of the PMRC may or may not be involved. The Boise show winds up being at a biker bar. |
Meanwhile, a new generation of Alternative Tentacles releases includes Butthole Surfers, The Crucifucks, The Dicks, and M.I.A.
At the urgings of friend Harvey Kubernik, Biafra makes his first spoken word appearance at Kerckhoff Hall at UCLA in Los Angeles, with poet Michelle T. Clinton. Listeners respond most to Biafra's humor and the suppressed information on current events. The L.A. music press, dismisses his warnings about the PMRC as the ravings of a paranoid lunatic. However... |
|April 15, 1986||
Two weeks after Dead Kennedys are publicly targeted by Susan Baker of the PMRC, Biafra's house in San Francisco is raided and torn apart by a squad of Los Angeles and San Francisco police officers. Cops even ransack the cat-box hoping to find - well… ask them. "Frankenchrist" albums and Giger posters are taken from the house and the Alternative Tentacles/Mordam offices. |
Biafra and four others are charged in Los Angeles with one count each of "Distribution of Harmful Matter to Minors". They are the first people in American history to face criminal charges over a record; three years before the attack on 2 Live Crew. Biafra and other supporters form No More Censorship Defense Fund to cover the money to fight the charges. Defendants face a possible one year in jail and a $2,000 fine. The law had never been used before. |
The L.A. City Attorney's office admits to L.A. Weekly reporter Don Bolles that they kept files on several other PMRC-targeted musicians, but chose Biafra because it was, "a cost effective way of sending a message". The prosecuting attorney later says one of his goals was to destroy Alternative Tentacles. Fund-raising and the ensuing media circus delay the completion of the follow-up album to Frankenchrist, the appropriately titled Bedtime for Democracy.
Dead Kennedys' break up is announced around the time of the release of Bedtime for Democracy. Black Flag and Crass announce their demise in the same two week period. Interest in Biafra's spoken word activities continues to grow. |
Biafra releases first spoken word album, No More Cocoons. Tracks include "Names for Bands" and "Message From Our Sponsor"; which is sampled by Ice-T for the opening to his Freedom of Speech-Just Watch What You Say album. |
Also released is Dead Kennedys' Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death, a semi-"Greatest Hits" package of non-LP singles and rare compilation tracks.
Charges against Biafra and the other defendants are dismissed after a three-week criminal trial in Los Angeles. Even though Frankenchrist was not found to be obscene; Biafra, Dead Kennedys and Alternative Tentacles records are subsequently banned from a multitude of chain stores nationwide. This is exactly the type of de-facto censorship Tipper Gore and the PMRC had in mind. |
By this time, controversy has vaulted Biafra's spoken word performances from coffeehouses to the college lecture circuit, where he is brought in to "lecture" on censorship. For the first time the media is more interested in Biafra's political views than music-industry shoptalk on his latest music album. His documentation of Tipper Gore and the PMRC's ties to fundamentalist Christian extremists is no longer dismissed as lunatic. He also appears as an FBI agent in the Tim Robbins-John Cusack film, Tape Heads, wearing the same blue pin-stripe suit he wore at the trial.
Being taken seriously has its ups and downs as hopes for a new band and music tours fall by the wayside in favor of more Spoken Word and anti-censorship work. Second Spoken Word album- High Priest of Harmful Matter is an 88 minute monologue detailing the Frankenchrist trial and the PMRC and censorship advocates' corporate and religious right connections; with Biafra acting out the voices of the entire cast of characters. Biafra now realizes he is not a poet so much as an anti-pundit/commentator; breaking new ground in the increasingly important medium of infotainment.|
In his second Oprah Winfrey appearance Biafra catches Tipper Gore lying on live national television. Oprah quickly cuts to a commercial. During the next few years, Biafra appears on Donahue, Crossfire, the never-aired pilot of Jesse Jackson's talk show and even at a Religious Right broadcaster's convention. Jackson is the first and only person to object to Biafra's name. These adventures are recounted on his fourth spoken-word album, Beyond the Valley of the Gift Police.
Meanwhile Alternative Tentacles is sprouting another generation of bands led by Nomeansno, Alice Donut, The Beatnigs (pre-Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy and Spearhead), Tragic Mulatto, Victims Family and Hungarian space-shamans Vagtazo Halottkemek (aka Galloping Coroners or VHK) .
While mixing Christian Lunch's Unreliable Sources EP for Alternative Tentacles, Biafra and Ministry's Al Jourgenson hatch the idea for a project of their own. The first name that pops into Biafra's head is Lard. Al falls on the floor laughing and Lard is born. The Power of Lard EP is released that fall. |
Terminal City Ricochet brings Biafra to Vancouver for a substantial film role and more collaborative recording. He hooks up with D.O.A. and Nomeansno for one soundtrack song apiece; the soundtrack is subsequently released on Alternative Tentacles. Sessions go so well, they each lay the groundwork for an entire album. The Biafra/D.O.A. album Last Scream of the Missing Neighbors is finished first; complete with "Full Metal Jackoff," a side-long power dirge that many consider the definitive expression of horror at the onset of Bush America. It is also the only high-profile track besides Ice-T's to point out the Bush-CIA connection with America's exploding crack epidemic. A new round of PMRC attacks on Ice-T, Public Enemy and, yes, Biafra, begins. |
After its initial release, squabbling breaks out among Terminal City Ricochet's backers and the film remains in limbo to this day. Though its take on tabloid media as an instrument of oppression and control should be shown before every American election, it has still not been released on video.
The Power of Lard EP is so well received that Biafra, Al, Paul Barker and Jeff Ward go back in the studio in Chicago for more. The result is the first Lard full-length album, The Last Temptation of Reid. |
Later Biafra returns to Vancouver to complete the album with Nomeansno , The Sky is Falling and I Want My Mommy. Lyrics are among Biafra's strongest, with a second version of "Falling Space Junk" as a semi-sequel to the first version from the Terminal City Ricochet soundtrack.
One of the world's most warped guitarists, Charlie Tolnay of Grong Grong, surfaces in America with his next band, King Snake Roost. Seizing the moment, Biafra and Charlie enter the studio with all three members of Steel Pole Bathtub. The result is the Tumor Circus album and two singles. |
No two Biafra music albums have ever sounded alike; and this one tries his listeners patience more than anything since The Witch Trials. Some punks find themselves mimicking their parents, "Turn that off. It's just a bunch of noise..." Arguably an overlooked noise-guitar masterpiece, it remains one of Biafra's favorite projects.
America erupts as George Bush blows a billion taxpayer dollars a day on the Gulf War. Biafra's Die for Oil, Sucker, a spoken word track with no music, is the largest-selling Alternative Tentacles single since Dead Kennedys. |
A third spoken word album, I Blow Minds for a Living is released that fall, expanding on Die for Oil... and its aftermath. The censorship portion of the album also widens to include buried facts on the increasingly violent Bush-era police state under the guise of the Drug War, the attempted assassination of Earth First! activists Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney, and more. Also included are hemp legalization pseudo-anthem "Grow More Pot" and a full recount of Biafra's 1979 Mayor Campaign.
An ever more extreme generation of Alternative Tentacles bands begins to rise led by Neurosis, Grotüs, Tribe 8, and Zeni Geva. Work also begins on a "Greatest Hits" album for yet another artist no one at the time would touch- the most incredibly strange savant-savant of all, Wesley Willis.
As punk becomes increasingly retro, commercialized, and just plain boring' Biafra responds with the most punk gesture of all: shock. Prairie Home Invasion an authentic roots and country album is recorded in Austin, Texas, with fellow madman Mojo Nixon and his band the Toadliquors. Those who get it, love it; those who don't are aghast. |
Alternative Tentacles is banned from being advertised or reviewed in self-professed punk "bible" Maximum Rock n' Roll for not "being punk". Biafra gives this mentality a name, "punk fundamentalism", pointing out how similar the born-again hardliners are to their cousins, the religious right.
The album includes what may be the first anti-NAFTA song "Burgers of Wrath", and a cover of Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney's parody of country standard "Will the Circle be Unbroken," titled "Will the Fetus be Aborted."
Biafra releases a fourth spoken word album on Alternative Tentacles, Beyond the Valley of the Gift Police. As America kicks back and breathes a sigh of relief that Bush is out of office, Biafra points out how the Clinton gang is potentially worse; not because of molehills like Whitewater but because of their hostility to civil liberties and environmental laws, and the NAFTA and GATT treaties. |
Included is an unusually more personal track on how Biafra and his angle on the world evolved ("Eric Meets the Moose Diarrhea Salesman") and he moves beyond the complaining stage with some serious and satirical solutions to the problems that he brings to light.
After finally isolating himself to wrestle with song and lyric ideas piled up since before, Plastic Surgery Disasters, adventure beckons Biafra once more. Al Jourgenson phones, wanting to resurrect and finish the second Lard album. Some tracks are old, some tracks are new. Lyrics are fine-tuned for the here, now, and future. |
A still-newer crop of Alternative Tentacles artists marks a return to the extreme and esoteric sides of punk with Dead and Gone, Logical Nonsense, Buzzkill, Man is the Bastard, Facepuller, and the Fixtures. The full-on heavy noise side is bolstered with the addition of Thrall (ex-God Bullies), Ultra Bidé, Pachinko, Zen Guerrilla, and the uniquely medieval folk-influenced Czech group, Life After Life (ex-Plastic People of the Universe). Also on board after a courtship dating back to Let Them Eat Jellybeans is Half Japanese, with their newest album, Bone Head.
Lard's new full-length album, Pure Chewing Satisfaction is released on Alternative Tentacles. An EP of other songs will follow some time in the future… A second "Greatest Hits" compilation of Wesley Willis material threatens to materialize as well. |
Prosecutor Michael Guarino reflects on the Biafra Frankenchrist trial in the May, 1997 Washington Post, with regret.
"The whole thing was a comedy of errors," said Guarino, who now is assistant dean at John F. Kennedy University's law school in Walnut Creek, California.
"About midway through the trial we realized that the lyrics of the album were in many ways socially responsible, very anti-drug and pro-individual. We were a couple of young prima-donna prosecutors."
...To this day, Guarino gets a lot of guff about his leading role in the trial, from both his students and his family. "My son adores Jello and plays his music all the time, so my punishment is that I have to listen night after night to everything that Biafra has ever performed." - Washington Post (excerpt)
Biafra's fifth spoken word album, If Evolution Is Outlawed, Only Outlaws Will Evolve, is released just in time for the elections. |
With the demise of label-affiliates Allied Recordings looming on the horizon, Alternative Tentacles joins forces with AK Press Audio to release new spoken word recordings by Mumia Abu-Jamal and Noam Chomsky, with future plans to include Howard Zinn and others.
Biafra completes work on Burning Down The Magic Kingdom, his first book, which chronicles the written work which gave birth to his spoken word performances. It will be released in early 1999 by AK Press.