Jello Biafra

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Jello Biafra and Frank Zappa, 1985.

Jello Biafra (June 17, 1958) is an American punk singer, best known as the frontman of the controversial and politically motivated punk group Dead Kennedys.

Meeting Zappa

In 1985, the album Frankenchrist became a target for censorship by the PMRC, because of its cover: a painting by H.R. Giger, featuring self-sodomizing penises. Frank Zappa supported Dead Kennedys in their legal battle against this censorship[1].

"At the time, he [Zappa] was very involved with the Dead Kennedys thing because they had gotten censored. So he wanted to make a tape [Blood On The Canvas] that basically had to be censored. In fact, no one ever played it on the radio. It was censored in every radio station except for Boston. We had a deal with the Museum of Modern Art in LA that they could only make 10,000 copies. So these 10,000 copies were made and that was it. It was very extreme. It has these little bits of music in it, and these funny characters that talk about all these innuendo sexual experiences." — (Eric Bogosian quoted from: Say Anything: Eric Bogosian Comes Clean by Richard Linklater, The Austin Chronicle, November 1995.)

Biafra later declared:"Meeting Frank Zappa was one of the few silver linings to come out of the trial. He got a hold of me and the helpers of the No More Censorship Defense Fund rather than us having to find him. He gave me some very valuable advice very early on; something that anybody subjected to that kind of harassment should remember: You are the victim. You have to constantly frame yourself that way in the mass media so you don't get branded some kind of outlaw simply because of your beliefs and the way you express your art. The outlaws are the police. I got to visit Frank two or three more times at his house in Los Angeles and those were very special times. He showed me a hilarious Christian aerobics video. The women were in their skintight leotards doing jumping jacks. 'One-two, two-two, three-two, praise the Lord!' And of course the bustiest one was in a striped spandex suit dead ront center of the screen!" (Quoted from: Jello Biafra, Punk Politics, Alternative Tentacles, 2004.)

Quotes by Jello Biafra about Zappa

"Frank Zappa's first impact on me was in ninth grade. We'd go to a friend's house near school during lunch hour, and roll on the floor laughing at the Mothermania LP on Verve. The all-too-true satire in the grooves gave us strength--it wasn't just OK to be a mutant, it was damn good fun. Terrorizing normal classmates with my very existence was something to be proud of. In high school, I joined the radio club that broadcast music into the cafeteria during lunch hour. Crushed when people didn't dig the obscure sounds we were trying to turn them on to, we started playing music designed to make them mad. Big band records dug out of the store room got a reaction, but not as much as the jocks storming the barred studio windows over Brown Shoes Don't Make It. By then the Zappa fans (we all knew each other) had memorized every word on his albums. For drama class, I directed a stage adaptation of "Billy The Mountain." Due in no small part to Frank, my musical horizons expanded too: the avant-electronics on Freak Out!, jazz and fusion on Hot Rats and Weasels Ripped My Flesh, symphonic forays on Lumpy Gravy and Uncle Meat, and seamless ventures into funk and progressive by the time of Roxy & Elsewhere. All crowned by Frank's fountain of humor. Those album covers! Those titles! When most rock trailblazers were running out of ideas, Frank had more and more. Without touching drugs, no less. In 200 Motels, he called his work "comedy music," but we knew better. I didn't truly grasp what a brilliant production wizard Frank was in the studio until Dead Kennedys' drummer D.H. Peligro played "Apostrophe'" in the van late one night as we crossed the Canadian Rockies in a snowstorm. Here was Frank changing sound and atmospheres every 30 seconds and somehow making it all work-- Phil Spector one minute, Roy Thomas Baker the next. I was floored. When Tipper Gore and her Religious Right pals sat across from their husbands and lied at the '85 Senate anti-music hearings, I couldn't believe it. No one fought back. When Frank finally took them on with his wit and fire and intelligence, it truly showed how out-of-it and spineless the rest of the commercial music industry is to this day. Everything Frank predicted about half-hearted '60s idealists in "We're Only In It For The Money" had come true. People thought I was crazy when I said Tipper and the Washington Stepford Wives were a Trojan Horse for the religious right and were out to bust people. Within weeks, it happened to me. Frank called my house (not the other way around) offering friendship and some very valuable advice, 'Remember: You are the victim. When you fight back, do it with dignity.' About the only silver lining from Dead Kennedys' Frankenchrist album obscenity trial was getting to meet Frank and come to his--well, let's call it a lab. Straight from the "True Cheepnis" monster movies he loved, there were loose wires and bits of equipment in the den, creeping out from under the couch. The Xerox machine was in the shower. A piece of metal collage from the Burnt Weeny Sandwich cover hung from a wall. My generation has not produced anyone the caliber of Frank Zappa. I see no one on the horizon even interested in mastering rock, jazz, classical, studio production, and above all intelligence and humor the way Frank did. Unlike most entertainment icons, he wasn't afraid to keep growing. When Czechoslovakia's Velvet Revolution came, Frank was energized. When he announced his candidacy for president to wake up our country, no one claimed it was to further his own career. Could he have been our Václav Havel? We need something like that in the worst kind of way. More likely it will take all of us, and a few thousand more, if we ever hope to fill Frank's shoes." (Quoted from: Jello Biafra in 1997, A Grammy Salute to Music Legends, 2017, pp 184-5.)

"I don't think my generation has produced anybody the caliber of a Frank Zappa or Jim Morrison and part of the reason for that, per capita there weren’t as many young people, it's post baby boom, also, it was the Reagan era. The best and the brightest of the young minds, instead of going into music or resistance leadership, go into making money. Nobody seems to ask themselves 'Will this wealth, this distribution, suddenly seeing my name in crappy mall record stores, make me happy?' If the Dead Kennedys had gotten one tenth the size of Nirvana, I would've jumped off the Golden Gate bridge from pressure alone. Any creative, hard working person can't be bled of their talents forever and not be given any love in return — or they turn into either suicides or monsters." — Jello Biafra, quoted from: Positive Cultural Terrorism, interview by Joshua Berger, Plazm #8, 1995.

"Humor can be very effective both to inspire, and as a weapon. Just ask Frank Zappa and Charlie Chaplin." (Quoted from Jello Biafra Interview by Jodi Vander Molen, The Progressive, February 2002.)


See also