Below is a recent interview I conducted with Jello Biafra, including portions not published by Houston Press last November. In addition, my interview with Mauro, iconic singer of Italian crossover punk veterans Raw Power, was just published by Maximum RocknRoll in their Jan. 2015 issue. Click here to order it! The photos and flyers from the layout were culled from my own photography (live shots I snapped last fall during their incredible tour) and flyer archives as well. Last, but not least, I hope the holidays find you in good spirits. I just finished editing a huge punk history book re-release/second edition for PM Press (top secret), and I am working with Gary Floyd on dates in Texas during Feb., so keep checking back to find out more details!
Jello Biafra: Punk Got Soul
All photos by David Ensminger, shot at the Continental, Houston, TX, Nov. 2014, except when noted.
For over three decades, Jello Biafra has remained the brassy-mouthed conscience of punk rock willing to knock down the sacred cows of politics and rock’n’roll. First honing his diatribes in the Dead Kennedys, next dabbling in film and spoken word, and ultimately joining forces with D.O.A., NoMeansNo, the Melvins, and Al Jourgensen for projects aplenty, he has remained ever-potent and enrapturing, a changeling that never quite sheds his skin. As a news junkie, edgy showman, political reformist, and punk shaman, he has continued to curate fabled label Alternative Tentacles, survived a bitter feud with former bandmates, and kept retirement far away while firing up Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine (G.S.M.), his vociferous psych-punk band with ex-members of Victim’s Family and Rollins Band. Plus, he has gigged twice, both notorious, with the New Orleans Raunch and Soul All Stars, a “done on a dare” band with Bill Davis from Dash Rip Rock and Fred LeBlanc from Cowboy Mouth.
Ensminger: Is your spirit today just as intense as when you played the Rock Against Reagan Tour gigs?
Biafra: Oh, very much so. At some point, I hope I finally finish my song “They Saved Reagan’s Asshole.” I just visualize the Fantastic Voyage scenario, being part of the camera that went up his ass during his colonoscopy looking for all the polyps and there’s the Reagan cancer everywhere to be seen. I mean if you look at the way we have been treated in this country, now every single national leader that has been pressed in front of us, every single President dressed in front of us on the TV set, has been one more flavor of Reagan. And that very much includes Obama. I now realize, compared to a lot of people that listen to my stuff, I am so damn old I actually have visual, tangible memories of when there were actual differences between the Democratic and Republican parties. I have actual memories of when even the big three TV networks took real pride in their news departments and attempted to out-scoop and out-muckrake each other because they hadn’t all been swallowed by global corporations who then decreed that the news must make a profit.
That’s one of the main Reagan entrails that has really poisoned our society, and look no further than Texas for the very idea that there should not be any idea of a community whatsoever. It should be about everybody for themselves: they don’t need to do anything about, well, I’m not going to call it climate change, let’s call it climate collapse, but the reply is, no, the markets might not like that. Instead of Islamic fundamentalism or even Christian fundamentalism, I think maybe market fundamentalism is fucking up this country and this world even more. We can’t put any of these bankers in jail. They’re too big to fail. The market might not like that. Fuck the market, put the fucking markets in jail. How many decades has it been now since I took up the cause in the California Green Party platform of enacting a maximum wage? These market fundamentalists are basically like crack addicts. Only instead of crack addicts they are money addicts. They are wealth addicts. I mean how much more money do you need if you’ve made your first million? You can live really well off that for the rest of your life. But no, these addicts are like, “Now that I’ve made this, I’ve gotta make more, more, more” and start shaking like they need their needle of whatever, more, more, more, and more. So, I think the maximum wage would send the clowns into rehab. Sorry, Ron Paul, I am very pro-tax. I just think the people with money should be paying it. Our payback, of course, would be a free education for all, free medical care for all, clean transportation, including airfare. You could have some high-speed rail built and hop on the train and go from Houston to Austin in an hour. Sure, Europeans pay way more in taxes, but you can see the benefits all over the place.