Jello Biafra in court, 1987 (via Heather Harris Photography)
In December 1985, a Southern Californian teenager named Tammy Scharwath bought the Dead Kennedys’ latest album, Frankenchrist, from the Wherehouse at the Northridge shopping mall. Then her mother saw the poster of H. R. Giger’s “Penis Landscape” included with the record and lodged a complaint with the Los Angeles city attorney, setting in motion a series of events that culminated in the breakup of the Dead Kennedys and a 1987 obscenity trial for singer Jello Biafra.
The hysteria that surrounded rap and rock music 30 years ago is hard to imagine today, now that the anti-smut crusaders have elevated Mr. Obscenity himself to the White House, but the incoherent language of the reactionary right hasn’t changed much: at one point during the trial, in an ecstasy of outrage, the prosecutor compared H. R. Giger to the Night Stalker, Richard Ramirez. (Biafra discusses the PMRC “porn rock” panic and recounts the whole ugly Frankenchrist mess from his point of view on his second spoken word release, High Priest of Harmful Matter.)
During the trial, the Canadian TV show The NewMusic sent correspondent Erica Ehm to Los Angeles, where she interviewed Jello and his father at the courthouse. How cool was Jello’s dad?