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Archive for Thursday, May 7, 1998

JELLO BIAFRA SPEAKS HIS MIND ABOUT CENSORSHIP

May 7, 1998

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The punk pioneer will address censorship issues for Culture Under Fire IX.

Reports of Jello Biafra's death -- artistic or otherwise -- are greatly exaggerated.

Musically, the former lead singer of seminal punk rockers Dead Kennedys has kept busy since the band's 1987 breakup, recording albums with Mojo Nixon, D.O.A., Tumor Circus and others. His most recent release, Lard's "Pure Chewing Satisfaction," is the latest in an ongoing collaboration with members of Ministry.

In his role as an anti-authority figure, the outspoken free-speech advocate and political gadfly has also released four spoken word albums and given dozens of spoken word performances in the past decade.

Onstage and on record, his rants against corporate greed, government folly and media censorship attack everything from Nike's "swooshtika" to the judicial system.

And otherwise?

"At this very moment people are debating my recent shooting death on the Net," Biafra said during a telephone interview. "Last time I examined my body in the shower, I still couldn't find the bullet holes."

Biafra, who will coming to town next week to participate in the ninth annual Culture Under Fire series sponsored by the Kansas City Coalition Against Censorship, was pondering whether the Internet might be useful in his ongoing crusade for free speech.

"The Net comes with a price," he says. "I think there should be absolute freedom of speech on the Net, but that means people who gain their knowledge from the Net have to shop smart. If a story sounds too wild or too good to be true, it probably is."

Despite the outlandish tales of his demise, Biafra sees the Internet as an "important element," but one that "falls under the umbrella of the underground `zine, of people becoming their own news agencies."

"I think the independent and underground magazine and news network may be punk rock's most important contribution to society, even more than the music," he says.

No one who followed Dead Kennedys should be surprised by that comment, or by their former frontman's turn toward spoken word to deliver his opinions.

From the release of their first album in 1980, "Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables," to their last, "Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death," the Kennedys were as much about making noise politically as sonically.

In 1986, they got their chance. Los Angeles police raided Biafra's apartment and confiscated copies of the band's 1985 album "Frankenchrist." The object of their ire? A reproduction of Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger's "Penis Landscape." A poster of the painting, which depicts disembodied sex organs, was included with every copy of the album.

Biafra was charged with distributing indecent material to minors. During a two-week trial that ended in a hung jury, prosecutors tried to widen the issue by examining the album's lyrics, which dealt with political corruption, unemployment, racism and poverty.

It's just that sort of government meddling in the arts that Biafra plans to address during his spoken word performance May 15 at Liberty Hall and in a panel discussion on culture May 16 at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

"It will be free-ranging because it's about censorship," Biafra says of his Lawrence show. "Almost all relevant news that really affects people's lives is deliberately omitted from corporate commercial media. You'd think Monica Lewinski and Princess Diana were more important than the gutting of the welfare system and the school system, and the export of jobs out of the country so rich people can make more money."

He expects an even mix of music fans, political activists and "people who have nothing else to do that night." Biafra, who titled one spoken word album "I Blow Minds For A Living," says the latter group is the one he's most interested in.

-- The Mag's phone message number is 832-7146. Send e-mail to jbiles@ljworld.com.

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