It was pleasantly disconcerting last week to find Brother Kevin invoking the political theorist Jello Biafra in a discussion of abortion and eugenics. As a nihilist anarchist punk-rocker, Mr. Biafra, former lead vocalist and songwriter for the Dead Kennedys, is rarely mentioned on NRO; yet despite his far-left proclivities, he wrote a number of other lyrics that are applicable to today’s politics.
In “California über Alles” (1980), for example, he could be Jonah Goldberg crooning about liberal fascism:
I am Governor Jerry Brown
My aura smiles and never frowns . . .
Zen fascists will control you, 100 percent natural
You will jog for the master race
And always wear the happy face
Close your eyes, can’t happen here
Big Bro’ on white horse is near
The hippies won’t come back you say
Mellow out or you will pay
And today’s violent demonstrators in Ferguson would do well to consider his cautionary words from “Riot” (1982):
Riot, the unbeatable high
Riot, shoots your nerves to the sky
Riot, playing into their hands
Tomorrow you’re homeless, tonight it’s a blast
Over the 1980s, as his work matured, Mr. Biafra started coming to grips with the type of questions and doubts that plague all true believers:
Seems like the more I think I know
The more I find I don’t . . .
Anarchy sounds good to me
Then someone asks, ‘Who’d fix the sewers?’ . . .
How many liberators
Really want to be dictators
Every theory has its holes
When real life steps in
After the band broke up, he became a businessman, running the Alternative Tentacles record label, and in 1998 his old bandmates (East Bay Ray, Klaus Flouride, and D. H. Peligro) successfully sued him for depriving them of royalties. In 2000 he rendered his greatest service to America by finishing second to Ralph Nader in the race for the Green party’s presidential nomination; how many low-info Florida progressives would have checked the box for someone named Jello Biafra? Lately he’s been playing the punk oldies circuit and grumbling about how file-sharing harms struggling musicians.
Has Jello become a squish? Not really; his views still tend toward sweeping redistribution of wealth (e.g., a “maximum wage,” which would make possible “free education for all, all the way up through med school, law school, whatever. Free transportation everywhere, including air travel”). But these days he focuses on paying the rent instead of finding a squat, and on tax reform instead of proletarian revolution. For a Bay Area punk from the Reagan era, that’s quite a concession.