Interview: A Year’s Supply of Jello Biafra

Non-audio-related work, have you ever considered any ideas to write a book?

I hate writing.

You were working on a book of poetry that never happened.

It was mostly transcripts of spoken word stuff, annotated and everything, And then the ex-Dead Kennedys filed their nasty greed-mongering lawsuit and basically shattered my life for a period of several years, so that one just got derailed and I haven’t had time to get back to it, unfortunately. There is only so much time in the day.

So you don’t have that much interest in text, in terms of writing it?

No. I’ve thought of all kinds of things if I had time and I could turn them into all kinds of cool books, but to write the proper Biafra autobiography would take a lot of drudgery and concentration, and I don’t think I could get to that until I ran out of songs.

But you did pen an awfully long open letter to Obama. You called John McCain the adult version of the baby from Eraserhead.

(laughs) I had forgotten I actually put that in there. I really did?

Yeah. [He actually did not put it in the letter itself, but instead in the introduction to the full letter he posted online at—Ed.]

That’s the kind of Biafra humor that I tried to keep out of that just in case someone high up in the Obama regime actually read it. The reason I did it in the first place is a good friend of mine who was a political director of Punk Voter and then went back into the trenches to do activist work instead of going back to running congressional campaigns for the Democrats. He then went back out of activist work early on before Iowa to work for Obama because he believed in him and plus, I asked him why he was working for Obama and the three words out of his mouth were, ‘I hate Hillary.’ But basically he became one of Obama’s internet wizards but did not move onto a White House job, and he’s gone back into the trenches. But anyway, I called him up after the elections and said, ‘Hey, you won. Congratulations. When do I get to talk to Obama?’ And he just laughed and said, ‘Well, I think he’s busy right now, but if you want to get through at all you need to send your ideas to’ So I did.

And what comes back in the blogosphere but little two-cent remarks from people who wouldn’t even use their own names saying things like ‘Won’t that guy shut up?’ and ‘He’s too old’ and stuff like that, including someone who worked at Lumberjack Mordam who was supposed to be selling my albums. That part was a little alarming, and that guy’s not very young either. It just got my brain spinning all over again about what kind of a boneheaded world we may wind up in if print media outlets go under and people rely on volunteer bloggers to get their information and the volunteers have to work a straight job and don’t have enough time to do the actual muckraking. Plus, I finally decided, ‘Okay, I’ve had an ex-girlfriend and Klaus Floride both try to wreck my whole livelihood with nasty little blogs.’ And then all these people were chiming in, ‘Oh yeah, what an asshole Jello is,’ without stopping to think if this other person is lying. This is really dangerous. This isn’t just like that Our Town play, this is like Salem back in the 1600s. I’ve known people who get very, very upset and very, very concerned if some anonymous little critter on the Internet bashes them on some posting or some blog. I figure, ‘Hey wait a minute, I know who I am, I’m comfortable with who I am, I don’t give a fuck what these people think. Especially if they’re too chickenshit to sign their own names or look me in the eye.’ Why should I care what they think?

Civility is bad online.

Of course! It’s what you can get away with when nobody can find you. The KGB and the Gestapo were very effective with these tactics too, remember? Especially in scaring the shit out of their own populace. You never knew where was a Stasi agent in East Germany who would tell on you. It might even be your lover or your child. Therefore, even your most private moments, ‘Smile, you’re on Candid Camera.’ Of course, now it’s switched around to people who want to be on Candid Camera all the time. ‘Tweet tweet tweet, I think I’m really neat. Tweet tweet tweet, Here’s what I had to eat.’

‘Why don’t you go on Twitter Jello?’ Well, because I don’t want to. And I don’t want to be Twittered by anybody else either. Is every single thought I have every day really that important. No. Maybe you should come up with your own thoughts instead.

The part that scares me the most, and I’ve talked about this with people I know who are parents of teenagers who I go way back with, and they too are concerned with what happens to a developing human being’s mind and outlook when they’re so conscious about their Facebook profile and I guess MySpace is kind of withering away now, but you know what I mean. Where you are how you advertise yourself, and you always have to worry about your public persona as though you were some celebrity who is constantly getting torn down on cable news. I don’t think that’s a way for a kid to grow up, do you? I must package myself this way or I can’t love my own mind or let alone my own body.

Well, it also seems like a waste of resources. I can’t imagine keeping up with them on my phone all the time.

The British media calls it Crackberry syndrome. People leave their Blackberries on right by their pillow and if it buzzes them at two in the morning, ‘Oh my god, I better answer this right away,’ and then they go back to sleep. There’s also a study that’s been done—I wish I could cite the source on this, I cut it out but I gotta relook at it—it basically concluded that all these constant emails, tweets and texts are costing corporate America billions of gazillions of dollars in lost productivity because every time somebody stops to check an email—and they get emails an average of every 11 minutes—it takes them another 25 minutes to completely focus back on the task they were supposed to be doing in the first place.

I know that happens to me when I’m trying to do something tough like write a song or write that Obama essay, which I basically had to bleed out of myself. I don’t have the gift that journalists do to sit down and then the sentences come right out of my head and I’m done. I just don’t have that gift. It also means, ‘Okay I’m finally getting going—oh, God, I’ve really got to take a leak.’ So, go downstairs, take a leak, come back, wander around the house, ‘Oh, there goes the phone,’ ‘Maybe i’m hungry now,’ ‘Oh, haven’t looked at this record in a while, wish I had time to listen to it.’ Then finally, a half an hour later I’m back up trying to get to work again.

So no book, then, or no likely book?

Not right now. I can only do so many things at once. Also, would you rather read about me in the distant past or get something new?

Well, you’re very anti-nostalgia and anti-past in general.

Also, if I have to choose between trying to get something done for the band or properly packaging my own past on a MySpace or a Facebook or a proper website just for me, it’s like, ‘Man, I’m sick of going over and over my own past, that’s the past, man.’ I realize its value in advertising the current me, but the current me has to take priority or it just makes me fucking miserable.

Alternative Tentacles, you’re still making physical CDs. Is this going to change?

As long as people want ‘em, we’ll make ‘em for ‘em. There are still many, many underground punk and independent bands who come through town and they’re only selling CDs at their merch booth, or even CD-Rs. Why? Because they’re a lot cheaper to make them and there are still a lot of people out there who want a physical product and don’t want to just be told to go to the Internet when they may not have time to go there.

Much easier to put something in someone’s hand.

Yeah. The short attention span generation hasn’t figured that out yet, but sometimes it is easier to pay the artist for the physical product. I guess you have to upload it anyway in order to put it in your iPod, so maybe that doesn’t save any time. Some bands are selling vinyl and download cards and separate download cards for people who don’t want vinyl, but they aren’t selling separate CDs. I’m happy to go in that direction if that’s what people want.

We only did vinyl on Cross Stitched Eyes, cause some of those songs were available on CDs anyway, even if the CDs were somewhat unobtainable in this country. But there’s the free download card there if people are happy with that. The guy I was working with on Cross Stitched Eyes, when I told him we’re going to need digital rights too, he went, ‘My God, I never even thought of that. We’ve never put anything up. People really buy music that way?’ And I’m going ‘Yeah, they do.’

Although it’s only a quarter to a third of our sales. And whether that’s the distributors being lame in the digital realm or whether people who buy Alternative Tentacles stuff would rather have physical product, I don’t know yet. But as long as the bands want us to make CDs cause that’s what they can sell on the road, yeah.

We’re getting more requests for vinyl, which is in some ways a pain in the ass, because we’re running on fumes these days. A lot of labels I thought were more successful than ours have quit because it’s so hard to keep it going.

The only reason I don’t quit and keep shoveling my own money into the label to keep it going is because I can’t bear to quit. I’d rather put my money into the community if I have any left than sit and watch it grow or lose in the bank account and slowly turn into a mentally dubious greed-monger like some of the former members of the Dead Kennedys have.

They set a very negative example for me, who was ten years younger than them, of how to live life after being in a known band. I think that’s part of the reason it’s kept me vibrant and alive and helped my outlook because I’m always running into cool new people, instead of sitting in my room and pouting ‘Punk died when Darby died.’ Or the more common, ‘God, I can’t believe the youth of today, they’re so apathetic.’

What kind of generation gap is that? It’s the same as the ones we grew up under, because they’re not actually talking to a lot of young people. Maybe I’m just spoiled because I tend to run into the really cool ones. The ones that have more get up and go and raw courage than I do in many cases. Inspire me to keep on fighting.

The Audacity Of Hype is out now. Jello Biafra And The Guantanamo School Of Medicine perform at Brooklyn Club Europa on March 25 and the Trocadero in Philadelphia on March 26.