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Young, loud, snotty: Famous punks just hanging out

Jello Biafra at Mabuhay Gardens, SF 1978 by Jim Jocoy
Jello Biafra at Mabuhay Gardens, SF 1978
 
Jim Jocoy and his family left their home in South Korea and arrived in the town of Sunnyvale, California, when Jocoy was only 17. He enrolled at UC Santa Cruz, but later dropped out once he discovered the burgeoning punk scene that was exploding all around him. Jocoy got a gig at a Xerox store, hung out at punk clubs by night and started up a punk zine with his friends called Widows and Orphans. That’s when Jocoy decided to pick up a camera and started shooting photos of his friends and bands whenever he happened to find himself someplace interesting. Jocoy found himself in lots of interesting places.
 

Olga de Volga of the San Francisco band VS. Geary Street Theatre, SF 1980 Jim Jocoy
Olga de Volga of the San Francisco band VS., Geary Street Theatre, SF 1980
 
Jocoy’s remarkable photos ended up in a book in 2002 called We’re Desperate. I reached out to Jocoy in an email, and the photographer graciously agreed to answer a few of my questions about his days growing up as a young punk in California.
 
Sid Vicious. San Francisco, January 14th, 1978 by Jim Jocoy
Sid Vicious, San Francisco, January 14th, 1978
 
Tell me about your now infamous photo of Sid Vicious.

Jim Jocoy: The photo of Sid was taken after the last Sex Pistols show in SF. They performed at Winterland on Jan. 14, 1978. He took a cab to my friend Lamar St John’s apartment in the Haight-Ashbury district. I was outside as the cab pulled up. He was alone and got out and pissed in the middle of the street before going into the apartment. I ran into him in the hallway and asked if I could take a Polaroid photo. He nodded yes and that was it. He spent most of the evening in the bathroom with a couple of “fans”.
 
William Burrough's at his 70th birthday party in SF, 1984 Jim Jocoy
William Burroughs at his 70th birthday party in San Francisco, 1984

I understand that you presented a slide show of your photos to William Burroughs in honor of his 70th birthday. How did that go?

Jim Jocoy: The party was held at a warehouse in the Mission district belonging to the artist Mark McCloud. He was known for his (real) LSD postage stamp art. Burroughs allowed me to take a photo of him that evening. He wore an nice blue suit and had his briefcase in hand.

What’s your favorite memory of a show you saw back in the day that really blew your mind?

Jim Jocoy: I would have to say it was the first Ramones’ show in SF at the Savoy Tivoli on August 19th, 1976. It lasted about 30 minutes without a break, only “one, two, three, four!” between songs by Dee Dee. It was such a sonic boom of pure rock energy as I had never heard before. It was in the tiny back room of the bar/restaurant. It was like ground zero for launching the punk rock scene in San Francisco. A few weeks later, many of the seminal SF punk bands started performing regularly at the Mabuhay Gardens, the first main punk rock venue in the city.
 
Punk girl in leather SF 1978 Jim Jocoy
Punk girl in leather skirt, SF 1978
 
Jocoy’s photos were only shown in public twice (one of those times was at Burroughs’ birthday party), and then were stored away for almost two-decades before seeing the light of day once again between the covers of We’re Desperate. So here’s a glimpse of what punk rock looked like back in the late 70s and early 80s, through the lens of a simple 35mm camera with an oversized flash taken by a guy who happened to be in the right place at the right time. Many thanks to Jim Jocoy for the use of his photos and captions (written by Jim) in this post.
 
John Waters at the Deaf Club in SF, 1980 by Jim Jocoy
John Waters at the Deaf Club in SF, 1980
 
Regi Mentle Geary Street Theatre SF, 1980 Jim Jocoy
Regi Mentle, Geary Street Theatre in SF, 1980
 
Poison Ivy of the Cramps in the dressing room of the Mabuhay Gardens, SF 1979 Jim Jocoy
Poison Ivy of the Cramps in the dressing room of Mabuhay Gardens, SF 1979
 
More young punks after the jump…

Posted by Cherrybomb | Leave a comment
Jello Biafra meets the UFO cult: The Lost Footage found!


 
This is an update of something that I posted here two weeks ago, so if it looks familiar, there’s a good reason for that.

I’m reposting it because the event that I was/am describing below—the presumed lost video footage, I mean—has been located. When Cinefamily in Los Angeles recently hosted Jodi Wille’s mega-amazing weekend-long celebration of the Unarius Academy of Science’s er… visionary cable access programs, Jello Biafra made it down from San Francisco and he brought with him DVDs containing over two hours of footage sourced from VHS copies made of just the interview segments of a video shoot that we had done at the Unarian Brotherhood center in 1992 for a Showtime pilot. (There was plenty of B-roll footage of a sparsely attended parking lot ceremony, shots around the center and an amusing moment where Biafra raided the costume room and got each of the Unarians to put on their outlandish intergalactic clobber. This is still lost. All of the camera originals and several dozen tapes of the Unarius cable access program were stolen. The only copies of anything were the tapes Biafra had.)

The footage, dubs of the camera originals, basically, were lightly edited by Biafra’s friend Erleen Nada, a graphic designer and musician who lives in Los Angeles who also happens to be a big Unarius buff herself. She also digitally blew the picture up to hide the timecode. Although it’s two hours long, it is, for the most part, highly entertaining. It’s not a documentary per se, but as a document of the several hours that an extremely quick-witted punk rock legend spent in the company of a goofy SoCal UFO cult over twenty years ago, you can’t really beat it.

Here’s what Erleen sent me in an email today:

My favorite part of this whole thing is watching him trying to hold back the laughter after every question, and his slight glances at the camera as if to say “Did you get a load of that question I just asked?”  Haha. 

I’ve probably watched the video about 50 times now, and his expressions still make me laugh every time. 

He has such a great way of asking potentially offensive questions, in a non-offensive way, and it’s complemented by the Unarians easygoing attitude about the whole thing. They were really good sports, laughing along with everything that Jello asked, they had a beautiful sense of humility about the whole thing that makes them seem that much more awesome.

I had gotten about as far as making a snarky twenty minute rough cut that incorporated a lot of footage from the Unarius TV shows, soundtrack music from Kramer’s three album set The Guilt Trip, and a voice-over narration that Biafra recorded about six weeks after we shot this in El Cajon. That’s lost and will never be found—all the tapes were stolen from the trunk of a car parked in the Playboy building in Beverly Hills. I’m sure that guy was disappointed!—but it might be that this is an even better way to watch this material. Seeing this for the first time in 22 years there were chunks of it that I could still recall from memory having edited the rough cut myself and hearing it so many times.
 

 
The original article, slightly edited for clarity:

At some point in the fall of 1992 Jello Biafra and I travelled to El Cajon, California with a small camera crew to shoot a short documentary about the Unarius Academy of Science for a Showtime pilot I was directing. The Unarius Academy of Science is a colorful (and quite harmless, no hint of a Heaven’s Gate vibe) UFO cult with their own cable access show, and was at that time housed across the street from both a center for recovering drug addicts/methadone clinic and a sleazy plasma center where you could sell your blood for cash. A Foster’s Freeze was a block or two away. There wasn’t much of anything else going on there. Just a bunch of empty parking lots and an occasional unoccupied building, some threadbare thrift stores and a funeral home. Not to say it was a ghost town, but minus the Unarians, and the junkies, in this part of town, there seemed to be almost no one else around.

To a certain extent, that might be the reason that people joined the cult in the first place: because there is next to nothing to do in El Cajon which isn’t related to gang activities, drug dealing, burglaries, car theft and crime in general. El Cajon’s crime rate is three times the national average. There are very few legitimate jobs for the people who live there, even at the best of times. Maybe some of the town’s residents looking for a little solace from a cruel universe that dealt them the shitty hand of ending up in El Cajon, might be an explanation for the goofy cult’s local appeal.

But then again, maybe nothing can adequately explain it. If you think of the Unarians as characters straight out of a Daniel Clowes comic, it might make a little more sense?
 

 
The Unarius Academy of Science was formed by Ernest and Ruth Norman, a couple of dotty New Agers, in the mid-1950s. Unarius is an acronym which stands for UNiversal ARticulate Interdimensional Understanding of Science. The story I heard was that Norman was a traveling psychic medium who put grieving WWII widows in touch with their dead husbands and Ruth was one of his clients. One of his wealthier clients, whose dead husband had left her a restaurant chain or so the story went…

The two met and were married within weeks. Soon Ernest would start self-publishing channeled books and they began having public meetings in Glendale, CA, ultimately publishing over 100 books and garnering several hundred followers. After Ernest’s death in 1971, Ruth Norman moved Unarius to the San Diego suburb of El Cajon, where she also bought up several parcels of now valuable real estate so that a landing strip could be built for the “Space Brothers” of whom Archangel Uriel (as Ruth Norman now called herself) was their emissary on Earth.

The Unarian cosmology predicted that 33 planets would simultaneously send ambassadors in spacecraft that would lock together and form a futuristic city. Uriel taught that beings outside of our direct experience and comprehension exist—she was one of them!—and that one day the Space Brothers will help us silly humans evolve, turn deserts into vegetable fields, stop wars and improve our architecture. 
 

 
In the late 1970s, “The Arrival,” an elaborate, seemingly high budget film about the Space Brothers showing up in the year 2001 was produced by the group, allegedly with the help of someone who worked for George Lucas doing special effects on the Star Wars films. Creatively fulfilled by this experience, by the early 80s, certain members of the cult began to take an interest in making a cable access television program promoting the group’s beliefs: “Everything is energy.” “You, as a form of indestructible energy, possess a soul that has recorded data from past lives.” “All happenings to you currently have their origins in past lives and past actions.” “Negative acts must be compensated for by positive acts.” And best of all, Asians are Martians and vice versa (Unarians are not racists, this is seen as a good thing, i.e. proof that the aliens have been here for millennia!). The “star” of these programs, naturally was Uriel/Ruth Norman, who took to wearing clothing that would make Liberace blush, often made with Christmas tree lights that needed to be plugged in, thereby awkwardly limiting her mobility!

Some of the shows would just be Uriel talking to her followers and others would be like super low budget “psychodramas”—think Kuchar Brothers, early John Waters, Andy Milligan, etc.
 

 
These “psychodramas” were unfuckingbelievable, featuring full outer space costumes, zany make-up and and batshit crazy scenarios. For instance, Uriel might decide that a certain Unarian had been a murderous space captain or an evil sea serpent in a past life. So the group would do these semi-improvised and somewhat elaborate plays, that were designed to “drastically relive” these past lives, so that the Unarian follower would be freed from their karma (more or less). In the one with the sea serpent, they literally videotaped it next to a swimming pool and several people got into a crappy aquatic dragon suit fashioned from floating pool furniture and inner tubes and swam around as the rest of them held a trial and passed judgement on the “creature.” A lot of their psychodramas had a “trial by jury” aspect to them. Holy shit were they tweaked. These programs made it as far as New York’s cable access weirdo home, Channel J.
 

 
The morning we got there and before Biafra arrived, we shot their Interplanetary Confederation Day, where far fewer than 33 Unarians marched around in a circle with far fewer than 33 banners representing the (hilariously named) 33 planets who were supposed to supply all 33,000 of the Space Brothers who would arrive here in 2001. A tin spaceship contained 33 doves who were supposed to spill out into the sky at the ceremony’s climax, but they didn’t figure on it being as hot as it was on the day and most of the birds could barely dribble out of the thing. Some probably fried inside as the fully-costumed Unarians marched around their parking lot to the amusement of the folks, like myself, who were there to gawk at them in amazement. Spectacular it wasn’t, but you had to admire their commitment in the face of mainly disinterest, secondarily people driving by and shouting insulting things at them the whole time and that it was boiling hot that day and they were all in their layered interplanetary garb.
 

The meaning of this painting gets explained in the video…
 
Biafra and I never did get to meet the then 93-year-old Ruth Norman herself, her health didn’t permit it, but he did speak to her on camera via a speakerphone as seen in the video. Frankly, I’m just amazed that twenty years after Ruth Norman’s death that the cult still exists. But they do. And even with their leader long gone, her prophecies that didn’t even remotely come close to passing and the sheer pointlessness of the whole thing, the Unarians persist, although the ones who we met 22 years ago are a bit longer in the tooth now (aren’t we all?) What’s weird is that they never grew out of their quirky belief systems even after the Space Brothers failed to arrive—the WHOLE THING that their belief system hinged on—in 2001. Like Jesus on Easter Sunday, Uriel herself was supposed to return then, too. She didn’t even send them a text!
 

 
Here’s the trailer for the recent Cinefamily event. If you aren’t familiar with Unarius, this is a good two minute crash course before you watch the Biafra footage…
 

 

 
After the jump, Erleen Nada’s Unarius-inspired “Psychedelic Spaceship” video

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Anarchism in America


 
As the title promises, Steven Fischler and Joel Sucher’s Anarchism in America is a documentary survey of anarchism in the United States. The film presents an overview of the movement’s history, such as the Spanish Civil War, the 1917 Revolution, Emma Goldman, and the deaths of Sacco and Vanzetti, and takes these as the points of departure for what were then (1983) contemporary observations from the outside looking in on Ronald Reagan’s America. Whether viewed as a time capsule or as an able introduction to the various forms of anarchism, the film makes for fascinating viewing and has held up well after 31 years.

What’s perfectly obvious is how much of a libertarian or individualistic route the American strain of anarchism takes—let’s call it “free market anarchism”—in stark contrast to European-style communal living experiments (such as squatters’ groups or farm co-ops). They’re just not quite the same school of thought, although if you were to draw a Venn diagram of what they do have in common, it would be significant but also… probably equally incompatible for the things which they lack in simpatico. Does anyone in Anarchism in America have any hopes for a revolution? Seemingly not in their lifetimes. (Many of them were right, of course. I’ve read that the filmmakers are planning a sequel, so I’d suspect that post-Occupy, post-Piketty, there would be more positive prognostications to be found along those lines today.)
 

Emma Goldman will not attend your revolution if she can’t dance….

The film also offers anarchist or anarchist-leaning thinkers uninterrupted camera time to make their points. Like Murray Bookchin, who says this:
 

I had entered the communist children’s movement, an organization called the Young Pioneers of America, in 1930 in New York City; I was only nine years of age. And I’d gone through the entire ’30s as a—Stalinist—initially, and then increasingly as someone who was more and more sympathetic to Trotskyism. And by 1939, after having seen Hitler rise to power, the Austrian workers’ revolt of 1934 (an almost completely forgotten episode in labor history), the Spanish revolution, by which I mean the so-called Spanish civil war—I finally became utterly disillusioned with Stalinism, and drifted increasingly toward Trotskyism. And by 1945, I, finally, also became disillusioned with Trotskyism; and I would say, now, increasingly with Marxism and Leninism.

And I began to try to explore what were movements and ideologies, if you like, that really were liberatory, that really freed people of this hierarchical mentality, of this authoritarian outlook, of this complete assimilation by the work ethic. And I now began to turn, very consciously, toward anarchist views, because anarchism posed a question, not simply of a struggle between classes based upon economic exploitation—anarchism really was posing a much broader historical question that even goes beyond our industrial civilization—not just classes, but hierarchy—hierarchy as it exists in the family, hierarchy as it exists in the school, hierarchy as it exists in sexual relationships, hierarchy as it exists between ethnic groups. Not only class divisions, based upon economic exploitation. And it was concerned not only with economic exploitation, it was concerned with domination, domination which may not even have any economic meaning at all: the domination of women by men in which women are not economically exploited; the domination of ordinary people by bureaucrats, in which you may even have welfare, so-called socialist type of state; domination as it exists today in China, even when you’re supposed to have a classless society; domination even as it exists in Russia, where you are supposed to have a classless society, you see.

So these are the things I noted in anarchism, and increasingly I came to the conclusion that if we were to avoid—or if we are to avoid—the mistakes in over one hundred years of proletarian socialism, if we are to really achieve a liberatory movement, not simply in terms of economic questions but in terms of every aspect of life, we would have to turn to anarchism because it alone posed the problem, not merely of class domination but hierarchical domination, and it alone posed the question, not simply of economic exploitation, but exploitation in every sphere of life. And it was that growing awareness, that we had to go beyond classism into hierarchy, and beyond exploitation into domination, that led me into anarchism, and to a commitment to an anarchist outlook.

 
Worth noting that Bookchin left anarchism behind, too, due to what he saw as the antisocial element to American style anarchist thought.

There’s one particularly amazing piece of footage (among several included in the film) that I wanted to call to your attention. It’s the demonstration of how a policeman’s truncheon fares against various food items such as an egg, squash, and an eggplant before moving on to a Yippie’s head. That clip comes from an “answer” film made by the Yippies in the aftermath of the Chicago riots that was played on television there due to the “equal-time” rule specifies that U.S. radio and television broadcast stations must provide an equivalent opportunity to any opposing political parties who request it. When Mayor Richard Daley got to tell the city’s side of the story in something called “What Trees Did They Plant?” the Yippies got to tell their side in an extremely whacked-out short film scripted by Paul Krassner. That starts at 30:50 but if you want to see the entire thing, click over to archive.org, they’ve got it. (The guy with the truncheon is Chicago-based lefty humorist and radio broadcaster Marshall Efron, who played one of the prisoners in George Lucas’ THX 1138. He was also the voice of “Smelly Smurf” and works as a voice actor in animated films to this day.)

Toward the end of Anarchism in America, Jello Biafra and Dead Kennedys are seen onstage performing “We’ve Got a Bigger Problem Now,” while in the interview segment a level-headed young Biafra suggests that anarchy, or some sort of revolution in the USA, is probably a long, long way off. If they do make the sequel, he’s one of the first people they ought to interview for it. I’d be curious if he still feels that way. I would suspect that he’s much more optimistic these days.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
‘No Slam Dancing’: Black Flag, Dead Kennedys and… Jon Stewart?


Henry Rollins and Greg Ginn during a Black Flag show
 
I’ve read an absolutely embarrassing amount of books on pop music for someone who’s never read Dostoyevsky, and over the years I’ve learned to make my recommendations with care. I’ve found out the hard way that not everyone is as interested in Ronnie Spector’s autobiography as I am (ingrates), and that it’s difficult to convince someone that you don’t have to be a metal fan to enjoy a book on the history of heavy metal. However, I’m completely serious when I say everyone will enjoy No Slam Dancing, No Stage Diving, No Spikes: An Oral History of the Legendary City Gardens—it’s just that universal.

To give you some background, City Gardens was a music venue in the most unlikely of places, Trenton, New Jersey, a city that’s been on the rapid decline for decades. After the assassination of Martin Luther King, riots ravaged the downtown, and even the cops were looting (for welding masks and catcher’s helmets to protect their faces from flying debris). Insurance companies began to drop businesses’ claims, deindustrialization exacerbated unemployment, and suburban flight grew in droves—Trenton, NJ remains a pretty dismal place, economically.

However, where there is a void, there is also opportunity, and a giant warehouse in a rough part of town became the site of a musical oasis, all through the tireless efforts of a few committed fans and staff. The actual City Gardens building had been re-purposed many times before, from a grocery store to a car dealership, but when it was reopened as a disco in 1980, local DJ Randy Now approached the owner, hoping to find a venue receptive to his New Wave tastes. What began as a few weekly dance nights quickly paved the way to booking some of the best bands in underground music.
 

The Descendents in front of their perilous tour bus
 
Before you write off City Gardens as just another scummy punk venue, realize two things. First, the Trenton neighborhood it called home was volatile. While slam-dancing can certainly incur some injuries, to say City Gardens was merely “violent” is an understatement. It saw a lawsuit in 1981, not a year after it began booking bands, when a woman was brutally beaten with a pool cue in inside the venue. And this is to say nothing of the skinhead riot that occurred later. The late Dave Brockie, better knows as GWAR singer Oderus Orungus, said City Gardens was so bad, they’d never go there as fans. Second, when I say “some of the best bands in underground music,” I think City Gardens’ booking philosophy is best summed up in Mickey Ween’s forward when he said, “they did not cater to the audience.”

This was not just a punk or hard rock club. For every Black Flag and Danzig (who had their very first show there), there was a Bo Diddley, Sinead O’Connor, Lydia Lunch, Iggy Pop, DEVO, Bauhaus, The Ramones (who played numerous times), Ricky Nelson, The Violent Femmes, RIcky Nelson, or Toots and the Maytals! The Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart was bartending during a Butthole Surfers set with a topless dancer and some careless DIY pyrotechnics! The Beastie Boys almost didn’t play and got their tires slashed, presumably for being late! Someone threatened to break down the dressing room door to stab Jello Biafra! The chaos and sheer wildness of City Gardens is what truly made it unique, and it even hosted all ages shows!
 

Al Jourgensen of Ministry
 
Co-Author Amy Yates Wuelfing pinpoints the preposterous success of it all:

City Gardens was in the middle of nowhere. Not Philly, not New York, but it was still a big club.  That fact that it was so close, and in the middle this dead zone, made the community of people who went there stronger and tighter. It was almost like college, you saw the same people all the time so they became your friends. That was the main thing for me. And unlike the clubs in Philly and New York, the pretentious element wasn’t really there.

What’s truly captivating about No Slam Dancing is the story-telling—it’s a complete oral history, meticulously collected from the memories and reflections of bands, employees, regulars, and all manner of City Gardens alumni. Over a hundred interviews were conducted to create an amazing compendium of anecdotes, and they don’t pull punches. Not everyone comes off well, and sometimes everything goes wrong, but the spirit of the moment is exciting and ambitious, and it’s all the more inspiring when you realize the entire fourteen year musical renaissance of Trenton, New Jersey was built from the ground up by Randy Now, the hobbyist DJ with a day job as a mailman. It’s an insane story, and I highly suggest you pick it up.

Below, Jon Stewart, Ian Mackaye and others talk about City Gardens in a trailer for Riot on the Dance Floor: The story of Randy Now and City Gardens.
 

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
Jello Biafra on his days as a newbie punk

biafra
 
It seems unlikely that anyone even slightly familiar with American punk would need an introduction to the legendary iconoclast Jello Biafra. From his days as the brains, conscience and leader of the notorious and incendiary leftist punks Dead Kennedys, to his lengthy string of superb collaborative albums, to his politically charged spoken word performances, to his most recent work with The Guantanamo School of Medicine, Biafra (born Eric Boucher) has left a bigger stain on American counterculture than most. Unrepentantly opinionated (and to my reckoning, usually dead-on correct), Biafra can typically be heard issuing proclamations in a strident cadence that rings of Fred Schneider trying to imitate Mark E. Smith. Which was why it was actually quite refreshing to see this interview in Denver’s alt-weekly WestWord, wherein Biafra’s focus isn’t on politics, but rather a remembrance of his youth as a new initiate into the punk scene in his hometown of Boulder, CO. His journey to venerated counterculture elder statesman began with a stint as a hanger-on and later roadie for a The Ravers - a little-remembered band that later found much wider recognition under the name The Nails - which led to his ultimate Saul-on-the-road-to-Damascus moment: seeing the Ramones in concert.

As far as I know, [The Ravers were] Colorado’s first punk band and one of the very first anywhere. It was more rooted in ‘60s garage than it was in Ramones or Sex Pistols and still an important part of my life and many other people’s. I’d been reading Marc Campbell’s reviews in the Colorado Daily, and he was much more brash and up front about what he liked and didn’t like.

So he was memorable instantly. Later, I found out he was the singer in the Ravers. They kind of centered around the old basement location on Broadway of Trade A Tape and Records in Boulder where I got a lot of my vinyl. They rehearsed in a back room and Rick Scott, one of the clerks there, was their manager.

Word got around, probably through Rick, that the Ramones were gonna come through Denver and play at Ebbets Field, opening for a major-label attemped flavor-of-the-month called Nite City. Ironically, it had to have Ray Manzarek and a pre-Blondie Nigel Harrison in it, among other people. It was an attempt at an instant FM rock hit, and the opening band was the Ramones.

So the handful of us who kind of knew who the Ramones were in the front row. Ebbets Field was a small, intimate place where everyone was expected to sit down. That’s what people did at concerts; everybody was supposed to sit down. Bill Graham would throw you out for dancing in San Francisco, and so would Barry Fey and Feyline security.

You undoubtedly know Rocky Mountain Low; Joseph Pope was one of the people in the front row with me. At the time, I didn’t really take the Ramones that seriously. I knew they rocked, but I would sit around playing the Ramones with my friends, and we would giggle at the lack of guitar solos and these boneheaded lyrics like “beat on the brat with a baseball bat” and “now I wanna sniff some glue.”

It had an impact enough to go down and see them. And out come these four, kinda degenerate looking guys in leather jackets—which is something you didn’t see very often then. One chord on Jonny’s guitar, and we knew it was going to be a louder than anyone of us were prepared for. We braced ourselves and instead of being goofy, the Ramones were one of the most powerful experiences of my entire life.

We were three feet from the stage and forced to sit down, of course. Not only were they really, really good, but half the fun was turning around and watching the Ebbets Field, country-rock glitterati, the guys with the neatly trimmed beards, Kenny Loggins-feathered hair and corduroy jackets, with patches on the elbows, as well as the cocaine cowboys and their women, with their 1920s suits with flowers, because that’s what Joni Mitchell was wearing at the time—they looked horrified. They had nowhere to go. Because Ebbets Field was so small, you couldn’t go hang out in the lobby because there wasn’t one. They just had to endure the Ramones.

It never would have occurred to me to try to go back stage and talk to the band. I didn’t know you could talk to rock bands. I was a wide-eyed teenager used to going to see arena rock at the Denver Coliseum or McNichols. At any rate, Joseph came back at one point and said, “Oh yeah, I was just back talking to The Ramones.” “What?! You can talk to the Ramones?”

That was the punk rock thing—we’re all from the same place. And that was the beauty of the live shows, too—my god, they’re so powerful, they’re so simple, anyone could do this. Shit, I could do this. Maybe I should. And that’s how it affected a lot of people in the room. The Ramones stayed an extra night and Ebbets Field let them headline, and the Ravers were going to open the show. Luckily, The Ravers needed what was then called “roadies.” So I me, Joe, Sam Spinner, and, I think, John Trujillo, were anointed “the roadies” on the spot.

Suddenly I thought, “All you people who thought I was a loser in school, now I’m somebody. I’m a roadie for the Ravers!” That meant many good times at other Ravers shows like playing with the Nerves and the big one playing on the top floor of the ex-elementary school at 9th and Arapahoe. Which was Driver which became The Nightflames and the Front.

By the way, if you’re curious about that Ray Manzarek/Nigel Harrison band Biafra mentions, I don’t recommend you trouble yourself with finding it, it’s horrible, horrible stuff.

Regular readers of this blog may have recognized that the Marc Campbell mentioned in the interview is Dangerous Minds’ own. I actually didn’t - DM‘s poo-bah Richard Metzger pointed it out to me. This, young aspiring writers, is why we have editors. Marc had this to add to Jello’s reminiscences:

The Ramones were traveling with a woman (Johnny’s girlfriend I think). She was dressed in fish nets and leather mini-skirt and reading a Nazi torture porn novel something like “Ilsa, She Wolf Of The SS.” Totally silent. Dee Dee kept talking about how scary it was flying so close to the Rocky Mountains. An animated goofball full of manic energy. Joey, Johnny and Tommy didn’t talk much. They were intimidating. All theater, seamless and perfect.

The Ramones’ show at Ebbet’s Field was a religious experience for me. Perhaps the most important rock show of my life in that it solidly re-connected me to what I loved about the music and made me want to continue playing it. Months later, The Ravers were on their way to Manhattan and CBGB and Max’s. Eric helped load up the van and saw us off. He was too young to make the trip with us, or at least his parents thought so. I think I remember him waving bye as we sped toward our destiny. But that may be the movie version. Jello will have to correct me if I’m wrong.

For a look at what that Colorado kid evolved into, enjoy “Sing Along with the Dead Kennedys,” a bonus feature from the Dead Kennedys - The Early Years Live DVD.
 

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Leave a comment
In God We Trust, Inc: Amazing footage of Dead Kennedys in the studio, 1981
12.04.2013
11:05 am

Topics:
Music
Punk

Tags:
Jello Biafra
Dead Kennedys


 
When Dead Kennedys went into the studio in 1981 to record In God We Trust, Inc., their “tribute” EP to the faster, thrashier “hardcore” musical style associated with the Washington, DC punk scene (think Minor Threat) the first sessions were laid down on defective tape stock, so they had to go back to the studio to record it again a few months later.

In 2003, videotapes of the band working out the arrangements and recording the songs during that initial session (taped for a documentary on punk rock) were released as The Lost Tapes on DVD. A raw mix was fed directly into the line inputs of the camera, so the audio is immediate and powerful. Using techniques that did not exist in 1981, five of the eight songs recorded during the first In God We Trust, Inc. session were eventually restored.

For In God We Trust, Inc., the group updated their anti-Jerry Brown screed, “California Über Alles” as a cocktail jazz redux inserting-newly inaugurated President Ronald Reagan’s name in for the young governor who had succeeded him. (Brown was re-elected California’s governor in 2010.) Jello Biafra and the rest of the band, of course, don’t see eye to eye today, but the band captured during that ill-fated studio session was absolutely raw and on fire. Drummer D.H. Peligro had just joined the group at this time and he brought a lot to the DK’s sound.

I bought In God We Trust, Inc. on a music cassette. The b-side was blank and the label bore the words “Home taping is killing record industry profits! We left this side blank so you can help.” LISTEN TO THIS LOUD!

 

 
Thank you kindly, Mr. Clam!

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
The Art of Punk: Great new short documentary on Winston Smith and Dead Kennedys


 
The third and final installment of “The Art of Punk,” MOCA-TV‘s great web series that looks at the increasingly historically important graphic design of the punk era. This time around, Jello Biafra and Winston Smith talk about the “look” of Dead Kennedys’ posters, handbills and record covers and explain how the logo came about.

There’s a wonderful moment here when Biafra—generously giving credit where it’s historically due—explains his “aha!” moment, when he realized that collaborating creatively with Smith would allow him to present foldouts, posters and booklets ala Crass, but funny.

I thought that was really interesting. Another fun fact: The cover for In God We Trust, Inc. came before the EP did.

Previous installments of Bryan Ray Turcotte and Bo Bushnell’s production have concentrated on Raymond Pettibon’s distinctive pen and ink work on behalf of Black Flag and Dave King’s logo and Gee Vaucher’s militant collages that defined Crass visually. Three fun short docs totally worth your time. As a viewer, I really appreciated that they went out of their way to tell stories that you haven’t already heard ten million times before…
 

 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Music History in GIFs


 

2007.  Les Savy Fav releases Let’s Stay Friends. Not only does Les Savy Fav treat you to sweaty, powerful performances with plenty of partial nudity and plenty of beard, they also treat you to some of the finest songs ever written.

Music History in GIFs is exactly what the title says. The 8-bit animations are by Brooklyn-based guitarist Joshua Carrafa who’s in the band Old Monk.

Below each GIF is a caption written by Carrafa.



 

1986.  Jello Biafra and Alternative Tentacles are dragged in to court and charged with “distributing harmful matter to minors” over the visual and lyrical content of the Dead Kennedys album Frankenchrist.  After the police raid Biafra’s house and lawyers probe through the album, they remember there is some law or something that says you can’t censor that kind of stuff.

 

 

1979.  Frank Zappa releases Sheik Yerbouti. He masters the combination of humor and music, and it becomes his most successful album.  His song titles are dead serious though, like “I Have Been In You,” “Broken Hearts Are for Assholes,” and “Jewish Princess.”

Via Post Punk Tumblr

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
PARENTAL ADVISORY EXPLICIT CONTENT: Jello Biafra vs Tipper Gore on Oprah, 1990


 
The whole PMRC music censorship flap of the 80s and 90s is a rare—BUT NO LESS DEFINITIVE—example of Democrats being just as bad, if not far worse, than Republicans can be.

The PMRC (“Parent Music Resource Group”) was headed by Al Gore’s then wife, Tipper Gore and Susan Baker, wife of Bush I’s then Treasury Secretary, James Baker, two bored Washington socialite busy-bodies who wanted to “make a difference” and get on tee-vee and stuff. Although the PRMC was nominally non-partisan, I blame the Democrats for supporting it more than I blame the Republicans (they didn’t call those Parental Advisory warnings “Tipper Stickers” for nuthin’).

The whole thing made it impossible for me to vote for Bill Clinton, with Gore as his running mate (both elections) and I didn’t vote for Gore in 2000, either. Clearly at one point in his public career, Al Gore backed censorship and thought crime as a winning political stance—he supported his wife’s efforts all the way—and frankly I didn’t need to know that much more about him. Gore might have rehabilitated himself somewhat with his environmental advocacy in recent years, but I still suspect that underneath he’s a total dickhead, nevertheless…

In 1990, The Oprah Winfrey Show hosted former Dead Kennedy Jello Biafra, Tipper Gore, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, future Fox News pundit, Juan Williams, Ice-T and Nelson George to discuss the PMRC issue.

For those of you too young to have lived through this, here a succinct bit of background from Biafra’s Wikipedia entry that will fill you in:

In April 1986, police officers raided his house in response to complaints by the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC). In June 1986, L.A. deputy city attorney Michael Guarino, working under City Attorney James Hahn, brought Biafra to trial in Los Angeles for distributing “harmful material to minors” in the Dead Kennedys album Frankenchrist. In actuality, the dispute was about neither the music nor the lyrics from the album, but rather the print of the H. R. Giger poster Landscape XX (Penis Landscape) [NSFW link] included with the album. Biafra believes the trial was politically motivated; it was often reported that the PMRC took Biafra to court as a cost-effective way of sending a message out to other musicians with content considered offensive in their music.

Music author Reebee Garofalo argued that Biafra and Alternative Tentacles may have been targeted because the label was a “small, self-managed and self-supported company that could ill afford a protracted legal battle.” Facing the possible sentence of a year in jail and a $2000 fine, Biafra, Dirk Dirksen, and Suzanne Stefanac founded the No More Censorship Defense Fund, a benefit made up of several punk rock bands, to help pay for his legal fees, which neither he nor his record label could afford. The jury deadlocked 5 to 7 in favor of acquittal, prompting a mistrial; despite a motion to re-try the case, the judge ordered all charges dropped.[citation needed] The Dead Kennedys disbanded during the trial, in December 1986, due to the mounting legal costs; in the wake of their disbandment, Biafra made a career of his spoken word performances. His early spoken word albums focused heavily on the trial (especially in High Priest of Harmful Matter), which made him renowned for his anti-censorship stance.

No one has posted Biafra’s amazing 45-minute long “Tales from the Trial” rant on YouTube, but I’m sure it’s pretty easy to track down.

Below, highlights of Jello Biafra absolutely eviscerating Tipper Gore’s pro-censorship arguments. This is an amazing piece of history, it really is:
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Rock outlaws: Interviews with Iggy Pop, Richard Hell, Lydia Lunch and Jello Biafra
04.20.2012
01:57 pm

Topics:
Music
Punk

Tags:
Iggy Pop
Lydia Lunch
Jello Biafra
Richard Hell


Iggy talks about lessons learned from David Bowie: “No,you’re not coming to the dinner table on heroin.”

Jérôme de Missolz’s documentary Wild Thing (2010) was made for French television and it’s a pretty good look at rock n’ roll outlaws from the 1960s thru to the present day.

Here are some excerpts featuring Richard Hell, Lydia Lunch, Iggy Pop and Jello Biafra. Lunch’s anecdote about The Dead Boys is a jaw-dropper. The Boys ate Lydia’s Lunch.
 

 
To watch the entire film (much of which is in French) click here. There’s some fascinating interviews (in English) with Eric Burdon, Genesis P-Orridge, Kevin Ayers and many more.

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Jello Biafra bobbing head doll
11.17.2011
12:37 pm

Topics:
Amusing
Design
Punk

Tags:
Jello Biafra
Throbblehead

jellllllooooo
 
Jello Biafra throbblehead just in time for the Holiday Season.

This figure capturing his look from the 80s is limited to 1000 numbered units, stands at 7 inches tall, and is made of super strong polyresin.

Jello is accurately sculpted right down to the piercing glare, star belt buckle and Alternative Tentacles tee.

A little bobbing Dead Kennedy can be yours for only $19.95. Pre-order at Aggronautix
 

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Jello Biafra on Canadian TV
09.14.2011
12:00 am

Topics:
Politics
Punk

Tags:
Jello Biafra
The Hour


Joey Ramone and Eric Boucher (aka Jello Biafra) in Denver, Colo. 1977
 
Here’s a clip of the always witty, acerbic and insightful Jello Biafra on Canadian TV show The Hour.

I’ve known Jello since he was an 18-year-old hippie in Boulder, Colorado.  He was one of the smartest kids I’d ever met with an incredible knowledge of rock and roll and a radical, edgy sensibility. At a time when most longhairs where luxuriating in the Rocky Mountain High vibe, Jello was busy inhaling vinyl and sniffing grooves. We first met in a used record store. I think he was buying some Roxy Music and T. Rex.

He was one of a handful of Boulder teenagers who supported my punk band in 1976. He’d help carry my group’s equipment at gigs so he’d get into clubs that had a 21-years and older door policy. I’m not sure but that might have gotten him into his first Ramones’ show when I opened for them in 1977 in Denver.

I’ve literally watched Jello grow from a brilliant kid into a brilliant adult. I love the fucker. He has stayed true to his core beliefs while many aging punks have sold out and played it safe.
 

 
Photo: Don Fleming

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Jello Biafra voodoo man: When the saints go moshing in
05.26.2011
10:19 pm

Topics:
Music

Tags:
Jello Biafra


 
Jello Biafra’s vast knowledge of rock and roll came into play last month at this New Orleans gig where he and members of Dash Rip Rock, Supagroup, Egg Yolk Jubilee and Cowboy Mouth dusted off some classic New Orleans r&b and garage rock tunes in what looks like an absolutely smoking party. Jello’s fire and brimstone attack is perfect for these slabs of funkified soul and Crescent City blues. Dr. Jello, The Night Tripper.

Jello, you oughta do this more often. It’s good for your soul and it’s okay to take some time off from from trying to bring down empires. Sometimes the most revolutionary act is the one that feels good. Your buddy, Marc.
 
“Land Of A 1000 Dances”

 
“House Of The Rising Sun”

 
“Ya Ya”

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Rage: 20 years of punk rock, West Coast style

image
(Germs from left to right: Pat Smear, Lorna Doom, Darby Crash and Don Bolles)
 
Back in 2000, I vaguely remember the documentary Rage: 20 Years of Punk Rock, West Coast Style coming out, but never caught up with it—my gut told me it wasn’t gonna be no Decline!  (plus, doesn’t the math seem off?  2000 - 20 only equals, like,  what…1980?)  Anyhoo, thanks to YouTube, I can now present to you a few of its highlights.

First up, here’s Germs drummer Don Bolles discussing singer Darby Crash’s well known fascination with both Nietzsche and Scientology:

 
Next up, here’s Dead Kennedy‘s frontman Jello Biafra discussing how it felt to be first a witness then a player in San Francisco’s exploding punk scene:

 
Bonus clips: The Circle Jerks’ Keith Morris, T.S.O.L.‘s Jack Grisham

Bonus Germs: Lexicon Devil, live @ The Whisky, 1979

Posted by Bradley Novicoff | Leave a comment
CIA Releases Iran-Contra Documents After 20 Years
11.06.2009
04:57 pm

Topics:
Politics

Tags:
Jello Biafra
CIA
FOIA
Oliver North
Iran-Contra

image

After 20 years, the CIA has finally released Iran-Contra documents requested under the Freedom of Information Act. Better late than never, I suppose. See docs and analysis here.

It?

Posted by Jason Louv | Leave a comment
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