The Corner

More Jello Shots

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.

Fred Schwarz — Fred Schwarz is a deputy managing editor of National Review.

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