Jello Biafra: Rant-Man

Jello Biafra has railed against the US administration for almost four decades now, from his formative years as Dead Kennedys’ original frontman, a politically-charged spoken word artist, his industrial side-project Lard or his new band, The Guantanamo School Of Medicine.

We caught up with Jello to discuss his take on the world in 2015 and what he’d like to do to Presidential candidate Donald Trump’s hair…

Do you think the world is a more politically active place now thanks to social media?
Jello: “I’m not sure it’s more politically active because of social media, I think some political uprising type actions have been more successful because of social media. So it’s yet another tool. It depends on: are you using the tool? Or is the tool using you? Number one: if it takes up too much of your time and you’re not getting more important things done, shut it off. And number two: we have more access to more information than ever before – the problem is, now we’re being bombarded with it. That was always the favourite way of our corporate government overlords of keeping everybody in line. Instead of the old Soviet bloc telling everybody to keep up with the State, we just told everybody to keep up with the Joneses.”

Is that still happening?
“We’ve had government by trend, government by fad and government by consumer envy. That hasn’t changed. Now, more than ever, with the avalanche of information, it’s just a matter of what information you seek out and what you decide to do with it. It also makes it that much more important for everyone to grow better bullshit detectors. Have those antennae out at all times.”

What’s the best way to develop a solid bullshit detector?
“It was easy when I was growing up, just watching my father either rant and rave at the commercials on TV, or just laugh at them. And finally, he turned to me one day and said ‘You know, Eric, that woman on TV jumping up and down is not that excited about detergent. She’s just an actress hired to sell you detergent that might not even be good.’”

How old were you when that happened?
“Oh, I don’t know – grade school or middle school. But it was one of those ‘Ah-ha!’ moments, which I then turned around, applied to school and right back at my own parents – and then the trouble really began!”

In 1979, Jello Biafra ran for the Mayor of San Francisco. He was fourth out of 10 candidates.

How able do you think this generation is to navigate the information avalanche?
“I don’t think anyone should be able to graduate from High School until they can pass a class on media literacy. Since they deliberately don’t teach media literacy, we have to do it ourselves. It’s especially important for younger people in an age when there is this digital peer pressure to have the right friends and the right profile and be shown having fun in the right places. I don’t think any kids should be put through something like that. Nor should adults put themselves through that either. It’s especially important for young girls. Their peers and sometimes even their parents instill this idea that it doesn’t matter how intelligent or talented you are – if you’re not a Barbie doll clone, you’re too fat and you’re ugly and you’re not popular and it’s the end of the world. With a strong bullshit detector, they’re more inclined to say ‘I don’t need that. I’d rather be myself, thank you very much. Bye!’”

Do you find a lot of solidarity meeting other people on tour who deal with things the same way?
“Yeah – especially overseas where people are better educated and have a stronger grasp of reality and how things work. They’re often more articulate as well. That was one of the cool things about spoken word; I was brought in to talk to a lot of schools and I’d be always hanging out with these younger people who weren’t apathetic, and who were really fired up. If you look at the big picture, it’s pretty damn depressing. When people break off a piece of the puzzle – the smaller, local, winnable battles – and concentrate on that, they start winning and we start getting somewhere.”

With the Dead Kennedys in 1980 and right, on stage with The Guantanamo School Of Medicine

With the Dead Kennedys in 1980 and right, on stage with The Guantanamo School Of Medicine (Image credit: Anne Fishbein / Marc Broussely / Getty)

I think if we’re talking about choosing battles, climate change has to be at the forefront of concerns for younger people.
“Even the dumbing down of the term ‘climate change’, because too many people were scared to buy SUVs when they called it ‘global warming’ – that’s a deliberate dumbing down of what’s going on. We’re way behind on trying to fight the thing, but it’s a hell of a lot better than giving up. A lot of people reading this are going to be very much alive when the shit really starts hitting the fan.”

We’ve got, what? Twenty years before it gets really apocalyptic?
“Well, people are saying that, but it was supposed to be 20 to 100 before things like Hurricane Sandy hit, and for the wildfires to be on the level that they are, but that’s happening right now. The glacial melt that’s happening… A lot of people are saying that the Himalayan glaciers are going to disappear altogether in our lifetime – and if they dry up, what happens to things like the Ganges River in India? If you think we’ve got refugees now, just wait until climate collapse really kicks in.”

How much of the next Guantanamo School of Medicine record do you have written?
“Not enough. The ideas are mapped out and there’s tons of them, but it’s a question of getting them all boiled down and getting them to work as a three-minute rock song. Even early on, the problem wasn’t filling up a song with enough words, it was trying to figure out what to take out, which can be a real mind fuck sometimes – especially if the idea has been sitting there for years.”

When the Guantanamo School of Medicine performs live, you still do some Dead Kennedys material, right?
“Yeah. I was hoping with Guantanamo School of Medicine that we’d never have to play Nazi Punks Fuck Off again – we didn’t even learn it. But then the more we got into countries in South America or Eastern Europe where people had fresh memories of fighting real honest-to-God fascist dictatorships, the song had a much different meaning to them than just about being violent at shows inside the punk scene. It was more of a rebel anthem, letting them know they weren’t alone in the world, so we brought it back. I might even change it to Nazi Trumps Fuck Off!”

Ah yes, Donald Trump…
“I’ve been tempted to put up one of my What Would Jello Do? YouTube rants, offering $10,000 that I don’t have to the first person who could mess up Trump’s hair, but a lawyer friend red-flagged that idea. The last thing I need is to get sued by people even nastier than the ones who sued me the last time!”

For more information on Jello Biafra & The Guantanamo School of Medicine, visit their Facebook page.