[Today: Jello Biafra pokes the fat cats…]
“I don’t make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts,” was how social satirist Will Rogers summed up his line of work. Rogers was a master of one-line barbs that often called out the buffoons and clowns running America. In spite of his pointed criticisms of the country, Rogers was immensely popular during the first third of the 20th century, because he blunted his verbal daggers with an aw-shucks, homespun humor that was both brilliant and disarming.
Even though he’s a spiritual heir of Will Rogers, Dead Kennedys frontman Jello Biafra isn’t widely considered to be either a great American or a generational spokesman. He’s provoked violent reactions from both the left and the right, been stomped in public by punks in Berkeley, CA and successfully sued by the government for obscenity. That’s because, far from softening his witticisms like Will Rogers, he wrapped them in barbed wire and lit them on fire, writing songs that encouraged nuclear annihilation of the poor, compared the California government to Nazis, and advised the rich to vacation in war-torn, Khmer Rouge-infested Cambodia. Biafra took every opportunity to goose yuppies, hippies, bureaucrats, liberals, conservatives, and just about everyone else – and paid the price in jail time and broken bones.
But his inflammatory persona and intensely nasal vocal delivery distract too many people from one of the great American punk songbooks. Released in September of 1980, Dead Kennedys’ debut Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables is one of those rare albums that actually increases in stature as the years pass. While heads of state continue to get crazier with power and more bloated with greed, while the poor grow increasingly poor by the day, the words of Jello Biafra ring out louder than ever.
Listen: Holiday In Cambodia
Listen: Kill The Poor
Listen: California Über Alles
[Happy birthday to my brother, the biggest punk I know…]