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Jello Biafra: “..didn’t vote for Obama in ’08, no way I’m voting for him now”
Famed punk rocker Jello Biafra speaks on some of the politics behind his upcoming release with the Guantanamo School of Medicine, White People & The Damage Done. Photos by Elizabeth Sloan.
Two.One.Five Magazine: Talk a little bit about the new album with The Guantanamo School of Medicine, what can fans expect from “White People and the Damage Done?”
JB - [Laughs] I don’t academically analyze my own stuff like that. [Pauses] I mean you get the old family recipe, I haven’t forgotten how to write those kinda songs, I wrote most of the Dead Kennedys music as well as the words. And it is something of a loose concept album about the new depression; how preventable it is and how ridiculous it is, and how people are manipulated to not rise up and stop it, [but] maybe we should.
215 - This [question] might be a little self explanatory in that case, but could you tell me a little more about the title, “White People and the Damage Done,” maybe for all the Republicans out there?
JB - And how many of those people are going to read this for crying out loud? [Laughs] I mean I occasionally get name dropped by right-wingers and stuff but not real often. [Pause] But the title track is about this whole, y’know, cocksure swagger we have that caucasians, especially Americans, are better qualified to run every other country in the world besides our own. How could the Iraqis or the Afghans possibly do anything without us occupying them? There’s one example, but there’s worse ones. I barely touch on the mistreatment of Aboriginal/Native Americans, that’s a whole separate song I suppose, but I do link it up to things like … stoking, funding and starting the Mujahideen guerillas and sending them off on a religious jihad before the Soviets even invaded. Y’know, Jimmy Carter’s old national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski… bragged in an interview during the initial Afghan invasion by Bush, ‘Hey weren’t we cool, we got those people going and tricked the Soviets into invading, and then we wrecked their evil empire.’ What bullshit. Look at what’s blown back in everybody’s faces since, and of course the people that get hurt the worst are the Afghan people. Y’know, once they drove the Soviets out for us, do we come in with aid or rebuilding the country or anything? No, we just ignored them, which they call the Great Betrayal in that part of the world. Of course now we have the Great Betrayal II, same deal, again in Iraq. We go in there, and it’s vastly worse now than even before Saddam Hussein, who was horrible. An even worse example is now [that we're] right on the precipice of a war with Iran, even if Israel starts it instead of us. They say ‘Y’know, wanna make Iran more democratic, they need to cooperate more with Israel, we wanna take their oil away from them,’ and things like that, and yes, Iran is a horrible theocratic dictatorship and I’d love to see people there have more basic human rights and freedom, but how do we get that in the first place? Well, lets not forget Iran was a democracy in the early 1950′s, and who got rid of the democracy and … staged a coup and put the most hated person in the country, namely the Shah, back into power? It was us, as a favor to British-American oil companies. The elected prime minister Mohammad Mosaddegh was trying to nationalize the oil field, we couldn’t have that, now could we? And somehow we thought if we just put the Shah in there and gave him all the weapons and torture devices he wanted to repress his own people on a scale only the (Al-) Asaad family could appreciate. Then look what happened, finally people courageously rose up and overthrew him anyway, in spite of the advantage in weaponry he had. But it got replaced with a horrible religious theocratic dictatorship, who’ve been a huge thorn in our side ever since. I mean what on earth are people thinking that after loosing so badly in Iraq and Afghanistan, we should go in and try and conquer a much more powerful country, with way more people in it than Iraq who hate our f*cking guts way more because we were responsible for cursing them with the Shah, and to some degree cursing them with the religious dictatorship they have now as well, not to mention embracing Saddam Hussein as our new policeman for the Persian Gulf after the Shah fell, and goading him into starting an eight year war with Iran that killed a million people. They haven’t forgotten this, plus the tanks can’t just storm onto the land and roll into Tehran like the do into Baghdad; the land in Iraq was flat, but in Iran it’s mountainous, and … all they have to do to totally get us and the rest of the world in a crosshairs is drop a few mines across the narrow Strait of Hormuz at the end of the Persian Gulf, and then the Saudi, Kuwaiti, Eremite oil and the rest doesn’t flow anymore. All they have to do is threaten to take a few ships, and those ships will loose. How dumb can we be? We set ourselves up for this; White People and the Damage Done. Climate collapse, let’s not call it climate change, let’s call it what it is, and this whole attitude by corporations which I believe if I’m not mistaken include Monsanto, who think they can walk into third world countries, blow up the crops people have been growing for centuries and patten them and come back in and charge a royalty, or worse yet try to force them to grow their own genetically mutilated seeds that don’t reproduce.
215 – This mentality of ‘Oh we need to be the ones to help the Afghans,’ or ‘we need to be the ones to help the Iraqi people-’
JB – [Interjects] Oh, ‘help’ never entered the equation. Control. How dare someone else besides our own spooks control the Afghan drug trade, another example.
215 – Do you think that mentality of control, presented to the U.S. people as help, do you think that mentality is growing, lessening, staying the same, moving in a different direction?
JB - I would say all at the same time. The things I’ve already talked about, they’re all ongoing. The clear-cutting of the rainforest in Southeast Asia, so that Ikea and Home Despot have enough wood to make their disposable furniture out of and sell it to us, that’s another one. The whole way the drug trade has wrecked country after country in Latin America, and now Mexico, there’s another one.
215 – Any of these events that you’ve just mentioned or anything in the current political climate always has much deeper roots than is revealed to the public. Do you find that at this point in your career, with dozens of releases under your belt, do you find that not just the U.S. but the general political climate of the globe constantly offering you new material to write about?
JB – I will never run out of stuff to write about as long as so many people act so stupid. It’s not always totally their own fault, but again, we could go on for an hour about that. There’s another song on the album called “Hollywood Goof Disease,” about people all caught up in celebrity gossip. That’s a great way of steering society away from being more worried about other things that affect their daily lives. You can always unleash the armies of right-wing pun-ditoids [sic] and talk show nazis … saying ‘hey, it isn’t Wall Street’s problem that you don’t have a job and you’re loosing your home, it must be Mexican, it must be brown people, go get ‘em.’
215 – Particularly around the time current president, Barack Obama was elected, people kind of use that as the cure all, ‘oh now all this intense prejudice against all peoples of color throughout the nation, and the nation’s international doings [are behind us].’
JB - [Interjects] Well, they’re only kidding themselves, I’ve heard that one before. If it weren’t for some serious visceral, lingering racism in this country, there wouldn’t be the anti-immigrant backlash, there wouldn’t even be a Tea Party. When I say “White People and the Damage Done,” I include powerful movers and shakers of color that stick to the same agenda of clamping down on human rights and pushing for more corporate feudalism in the interest of being able to further loot the planet for the few, for those who already have so much money they don’t know what to do with it all. That’s another song on the album, “Werewolves of Wall Street.” The album’s probably not coming out until next year, although the Shock-You-Py EP drops in October, but we’ll be playing a lot of these songs in Philly. Especially because we’ve already played in Philly, and we don’t wanna play the same songs twice. We’ll play a few of the same ones, but we’ll play some other ones that people didn’t hear last time.
215 – When you [and the band] stop in at a city, be it any city, but since you mention Philadelphia, do you try to gear songs [and speeches] towards the goings-on in that city. For instance, Philadelphia had a pretty strong Occupy movement… do you find yourself speaking [to cities individually], or is it more of a blur on the road?
JB – Oh, it depends. If I find out something interesting that’s worth talking about on stage, and feel I at least have some grasp of it … I’ll find a way to say something. I don’t take measurements of these things, I couldn’t graph [how often I do that] for you, it just happens. Sometimes I’ll come up with something really good and then wish I could remember I did that and then never remember it. Something of a tangent to the Occupy movement, it may even have another name by next year, but the spirit lives on. It’s the same anti-corporate movement we saw with the Spirit of Seattle, then kinda got derailed for the better part of a decade by Bush’s wars and runaway torture and secret arrest policies. Corruption hit a whole new level; the president didn’t even believe in evolution let alone climate collapse. I’m not sure he believed anything actually [Laughs]. [Bush voice] ’I don’t need anybody to tell me what I believe, but I need somebody to tell me what Kosovo is.’ Yet another lovely quote from that guy. The latest thing I picked up from Philly really related to occupying the voting booth. [Some people] have said voting is pointless because of the cartoon corporate puppets we get chosen for us for national office, they’re not elected, they’re selected, I agree with that. And I suspect they’re gonna give Obama a second term just to prevent mass insurrection over the collapse of the economy and so many people they’ve left out in the cold. The final shattering of the American dream. But the main reason to vote is local elections; anybody in the greater Philly area knows full well that matters who’s mayor, who’s on the city council, who’s the sheriff, who’s on the school board. You gotta pay attention to the school board or the Santorum Taliban will grab another seat and start censoring what kids are exposed to. That’s a rabid part of the religious right’s agenda… and of course there’s referendums, ballot initiatives, whatever you call them in Pennsylvania, we have the chance unlike Canada and European countries, we get to vote up and down ourselves; rent control, public money for sports stadiums, medical marijuana, we gotta show up and pay attention to this stuff. When people do show up and vote smart, we have a far better chance at getting cool people elected and good laws passed. And when we don’t show up we get things like Proposition 13, which gutted the property tax collection in California and defunded the schools to the point of near collapse. Just north of you [Philadelphia], there’s two ways to stop Chris Christie; poke him with a needle so he explodes like a balloon or vote his agenda down, and get better people into the legislature that won’t let him wreak any more havoc. And let’s not forget that there are other people running for president. Right now I’m leaning towards voting Green Party again. Even though hardly anybody has heard of Jill Stein, and she hasn’t been a mover and shaker and dirt money-inhaler from inside the beltway system, I think she’d be a far better decision than what we’ve got now, and her vice presidential candidate is none other than Cheri Honkala from Philadelphia. I can’t remember the name of her advocacy group [Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign], I know I ran into them [before].
215 – Do you find yourself ever frustrated with the people when they do not show up, or fall short of the cause?
JB - Sometimes it does feel like one set forward, two steps back, but we better keep stepping forward or we’re really f*cked. I mean, I’m very grateful that I have an outlet for my feelings about these things instead of being the cranky drunk at the end of the bar that nobody pays attention to. I’m grateful at my age that anybody is even still interested in me, and show up and hear what I say and let me rock ‘em with my tunes. I’m very grateful. It also creates a positive kind of pressure on me, if I’m gonna show up with new stuff or even play some of the old stuff, it better be good. And as far as letting the depressing situation of the big picture and what’s going on with our planet to get me down, it helps to have a really twisted sense of humor… If I wasn’t able to let out a thick laugh at the sheer perversity of some of this outright evil in some cases, I would’ve pulled a Kurt Cobain two decades ago. You kinda have to revel in the trenches and enjoy being where you are.
215 – In one of your songs, “John Dillinger,” on the album you say “Give the public Johnny, Bonnie, Babyface & Clyde/So just like now, Wall Street gets a free ride.” Who [do you believe] are some of the current day Bonnie and Clyde’s that big businesses try to pass off to the public as a diversion?
JB – They don’t have to look very far, Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda have been handy for years. There is the one guy you can pin everything on, Bernie Madoff, without really wanting to open the door to the hundreds if not thousands of other Bernie Madoff’s who’ve done even more damage. Even Bush’s father’s administration saw more people go to jail in the late ’80′s than in the ‘BarackStar’ years. The feds haven’t gone after anybody, they’re happy to make a showcase trial over Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, two sports stars who took a bunch of steroids at a time when it was legal, even the governor of California had gobbled some down obviously…they could be going after hardcore, white collar crime, most of which has gotten a total free pass under the BarackStar administration, I suspect that was the only reason they were allowed to take power. A friend of mine [from] the early punk rock scene in San Francisco who runs a big DC news blog now, called Firedoglake, told me over dinner, after wow-ing them at the 2004 convention, the BarackStar started going door to door up and down K Street … to lobbyists offices [saying] ‘Hi, I’m your guy. That explains why when the economy collapsed as badly as it did, he didn’t bring in a bunch of watch dogs and people who kick ass and clean up, he put some of the same people in from the Clinton years, who were responsible for gutting the Glass-Steagall Act in the first place, allowing our banks to use our own money in a big ol’ casino and loose it all. Instead of going to prison the banks just got bigger, more consolidated, and the people at the top are running off with even more money. I didn’t vote for Obama in 2008, and my conscience is clear, and no way am I voting for him this time. I’d rather vote or work for something I want and not get it than work or vote for something I don’t want and get it.