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Rude Fans at Oderus Urungus Memorial Inspire Jello Biafra Song

Jello Biafra performs with his band Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine.
Jello Biafra performs with his band Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine.
Matthew Kadi.

Jello Biafra stood by a Richmond, Virginia, lake during a 2014 public memorial service for his friend Dave Brockie, best known as Oderus Urungus from GWAR. Friends had placed Brockie’s demonic costume into a boat, and former GWAR member Danielle Stampe, dressed as a Valkyrie for the occasion, shot a flaming arrow into it so the fallen rock star could have a proper Viking sendoff.

Stampe, also known as Slymenstra Hymen, broke down crying and collapsed into the arms of Biafra, who was also in tears. The two embraced and consoled one another during the intensely emotional but beautiful farewell to a talented man whose life was tragically cut short at the age of fifty.

And then this happened:

"What do people do but start tapping on both our shoulders again and again and again, demanding selfies,” Biafra recalls bitterly. “It was at that point I thought, ‘Fuck this shit. I’m writing this song after all.’”

The unpleasant encounters resulted in “No More Selfies,” one of ten tracks on Tea Party Revenge Porn, the third album from Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine, which premiered digitally on October 16.

For the record, Biafra is usually happy to take a photo with a fan and does it all the time. But there is a time and place — and he’s got some real horror stories. Folks have grabbed him while he’s walking on stage to play a set. Others, since the COVID-19 pandemic started, demanded he take his mask off because they insisted no one would know it was actually Jello Biafra. People have challenged him to fights because he wouldn't drop what he was doing to take a photo. A guy in Australia grabbed Biafra around his neck in a chokehold-like grip, making the singer ball up a fist because he thought he was getting attacked.

Then he saw the guy's phone.

“Did he get a selfie? No,” Biafra says. “I would have done one later when things were more chill, but that was just so fucking uncool, and more to the point, it was so thoughtless.”

“No More Selfies” comes across as a highly personal song for Biafra, who has spent most of the past four-and-some-change decades railing against right-wing religious hypocrites and corporate-controlled politicians and media in his music. The same goes for “People With Too Much Time on Their Hands,” in which he addresses Internet rumors that sprang up around him, including that he drives around with weapons in his car in case he crosses paths with his estranged Dead Kennedys bandmates. (No, he's still not talking with said former bandmates, who sued him over royalties and re-formed without him about twenty years ago. They communicate through lawyers these days about Dead Kennedys music. The remaining members are releasing a remixed version of Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables. Biafra hates the way it sounds, in case you were wondering.)

If it seems like a change of pace for the singer, Biafra says he's long used personal experiences to write his lyrics. He did it, though less overtly, in Dead Kennedys songs like “Terminal Preppie” and “Holiday in Cambodia,” both inspired by his time delivering pizzas to University of Colorado students in his home town of Boulder.

“I don’t plan things that way,” he says. “I learned with a spoken-word show years ago that sometimes the best way to drive home a point is to be able to illustrate it by saying, ‘Yeah, this even happened to me.'”

He considers “No More Selfies” and “People With Too Much Time on Their Hands” to be his opening shots against what he considers the dark side of the digital age. Both songs go beyond his own personal experience with fake stories posted about him online. We find ourselves in an era of false information that spreads rapidly online, and new technology that allows for things like deep fake videos; it's not always easy to work out the truth of a situation. Biafra says it’s a problem that should be addressed early, with media literacy being taught in schools. Barring that, he says, people need to educate one another.

Preaching the virtues of media literacy is nothing new for him. During his spoken-word tours, he often said, "Don't hate the media, become the media."

“Build better bullshit detectors," he explains. "You have somebody with you who’s a little more easily led, and you spot something that’s obviously fake or photoshopped or whatever — point it out to them, show them how it was done, and get them to laugh about it."

That’s not to say that Tea Party Revenge Porn eschews Biafra’s favorite targets. The opening track, “Satan's Combover,” takes aim at the hatred that fuels much of the modern conservative movement and the powerful people that benefit from it. (By the way, it was written before Trump was elected president. So was the title track, for that matter.) “We Created Putin” posits that the way the United States handled the end of the Cold War led to the rise of a kleptocrat like Vladimir Putin, his sway over the current president and how oligarchs in Russia aren't too different from the ones here at home.

“The Ghost of Vince Lombardi,” a diatribe against the win-at-all-costs mentality, feels at first listen like a spiritual sequel of sorts to “Jock-O-Rama,” from Dead Kennedys' third album, 1985’s Frankenchrist, and Biafra says it touches on some of the same ideas. The music dates at least as far back as Frankenchrist, but he never fleshed out the song.

“It bothered me even as a twelve-year-old when Lombardi was celebrated for his whole ‘Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing’ mentality, which was then adopted by cruel PE teachers at the junior high and high school I went to,” he says. “It doesn’t even matter if you enjoy the game and you’re just a kid playing baseball. You gotta win. I thought that was really toxic.”

He sees that mentality frequently playing out in American politics, usually to destructive ends. He says Donald Trump, for example, doesn’t really want to be president, but won’t quit because he'll feel like a loser if he does. In the meantime, everyone suffers.

"When the ghost of Vince Lombardi is the tapeworm in your brain, there’s no way to gracefully step down and say, ‘Okay, mission accomplished. I’m old enough now. I can retire and play golf’ — and walk away with that blowfish head of his held high,” he says.

The new record sits comfortably in the punk-rock realm in which Biafra has operated for decades, but it takes the occasional diversion into dub reggae, and other genre-hopping asides. Inspiration comes from strange places. The intro to "No More Selfies," for example, was inspired by an episode of the old Batman TV show in which the Caped Crusader has to have a surfing contest with the Joker. Biafra is still not sure where they found such great waves near Gotham City.

Asked about how the sound has progressed over the course of three Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine albums, Biafra says he isn't concerned about progression and focuses on widening the base of punk rock and his personal musical and artistic pyramid. He never set out to make Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables over and over again, and he says so far he feels that he's accomplished that goal.

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“I’m very proud that no two Dead Kennedys albums sound alike,” he says. “The Lard albums don’t even sound alike. The two with the Melvins don’t sound alike, and they came from the same session."

That said, he still struggles with creeping self-doubt whenever he’s recording new music.

“I always get insecure as the songs are developing, with ‘This isn’t going to be as good as what came before,’” he says. “But by the time it’s done, it turns out to be something I’m pretty proud of.”

Tea Party Revenge Porn is now available to stream on all platforms; physical copies, which are scheduled for release in January, are available to pre-order at alternativetentacles.com.

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