Jello Biafra has played politically charged punk for more than forty years, a stretch of time that has seen the rise and fall of MTV and enough music videos posted online to keep a viewer busy until the end of the universe. Throughout that landslide of visual media, however, Biafra has never formally sanctioned a video for one of his own songs...until this summer.
Now, he’s finally caved.
“I know you kind of need this stuff in this day and age, especially with COVID-19,” Biafra says. “I’m not going to be playing in Denver or doing any deejaying at the [Lion's] Lair or showing any movies at the Alamo Drafthouse again anytime soon.”
The videos — “Taliban USA” and “The Last Big Gulp” — premiered in advance of the as-yet-unreleased Tea Party Revenge Porn, the third full-length album from Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine. Tea Party marks the band's first release since 2013's White People and the Damage Done; the album promises song titles such as “Satan’s Combover,” and the title track is dedicated to idiotic QAnon conspiracy theories like Pizzagate and Tea Party wet dreams like guns in schools, churches and everywhere else. Biafra notes that there are so many of them, a lot ended up on the cutting-room floor.
“I don’t even need to comment on them,” he says. “I just lay them out and go from there.”
Why such a long wait for music videos? The push to make them came up during Biafra’s time as frontman of venerable punk four-piece Dead Kennedys in the early 1980s. He already had a low opinion of lip-synching, but the economic realities of being a scrappy band made it impossible to shoot a music video.
“I got pressured to do MTV early," Biafra recalls. "‘You really, really need to do this. You should do "Moon Over Marin," and it will only cost you $11,000 to make it.’ And I’m like, ‘Hey, where do you think a little punk-rock band that tours in a little van is going to get $11,000?’”
Biafra says he’s been bummed out over the years that he never ran into a videographer analogous to Winston Smith, the artist who made much of the weird collage art that graces Dead Kennedys albums. Then he saw a found-footage video by musician Ani Kyd, who's on Biafra's Alternative Tentacles label, and asked her to make him a video.
“‘Ani, would you make one for me, pretty please with a fly on top?’” he remembers asking her. “‘I thought you’d never ask,' was the response, and then she really went to town and made about five of them in a ten-day period or so.”
The result is the kind of visual treatment one would expect to accompany a Biafra song: rapidly cut images of environmental degradation coupled with right-wing politicians, religious figures, and enough photos of the Trump family and the coronavirus to make the whole affair timely for the train wreck that is 2020.
“The Last Big Gulp” concerns the “Trumpzis” and MAGA-hat crowd — as well as those fundamentalist Christians who don’t openly subscribe to Trumpism — who are entirely disinterested in conserving resources in any way, shape or form, says Biafra. He calls it his “climate collapse song,” because he disagrees with what he sees as the watering down of something as serious as the destruction of the environment. (For the record, he also despises the term “alt-right,” because he says it makes fascists and white supremacists out to be pop stars. He unfavorably compares it to the musical genre alt-country.)
“I don’t call it climate change,” he says. “That’s another corporate-media dumb-down. They used to call it global warming, but it was scaring too many people into not buying SUVs. ‘So we’ve got to find a new name for that. It's not warming. It’s just kind of changing.’”
“Taliban USA” offers an indictment of extreme Christians in the United States — a common theme in Biafra’s music throughout the years. He points out that many violent organizations in other parts of the world are described as "Islamist," and he contends that the U.S. has a problem with "Christianists" or Christian supremacists. They’d like to see Old Testament law rule the land — a reality that wouldn't be much different from the Sharia law that the right is so spooked by.
“It means executions for witchcraft, executions for being gay, even executions for unruly children — or, for that matter, uppity wives,” he says. “When they're with their own people, they believe this shit, and that’s what they're trying to move us toward.”
The two songs released so far offer Biafra’s characteristic sonically aggressive instrumentals and manic falsetto vocals coupled with his disdain for right-wingers, corporate overlords and Christian whack jobs. It’s been his trademark for four decades, and truth be told, listening to Jello Biafra music in the age of Trump feels, in a word, intense. When this take on the new songs is offered, he admits that he is an intense person and likes it that way.
He adds that when he formed the Guantanamo School of Medicine in 2008, the members all agreed that they didn’t want it to be an “old-guy punk band” that mainly covered old Dead Kennedys songs. (They do play some of the band's songs, but focus primarily on new material during live sets...back when they played live sets.)
“Considering how good the Stooges were when they played again and the Sonics...Radio Birdman was the one who first planted it in me,” Biafra says. “You know, if I ever do a band again, it has to be this good or there is no point. I want to rip people’s heads off instead of doing ‘Sweatin’ to the Oldies’ without the sweat.”
Tea Party Revenge Porn is the first release by Biafra since the live album Walk on Jindal’s Splinters, by Jello Biafra and the New Orleans Raunch and Soul All-Stars. Look for it on the Alternative Tentacles website. The videos are available on YouTube.
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