Friday, June 13, 2008

Happy 50th Birthday, Jello!

Happy 50th Birthday, Jello! No, I'm not talking about the delightful Kraft Foods' gelatin dessert. I'm talking about Jello Biafra, former lead singer of the Dead Kennedys. For the past thirty years, Jello has been a great innovator: a singer, a songwriter, a spoken-word orator, co-founder and head of Alternative Tentacles Records, and frequent collaborator with the band The Melvins. Jello (real name Eric Boucher) was born June 17, 1958, in Boulder, Colorado, and grew up in middle-class suburbia. As a teenager, he saw the Ramones in concert in Denver and the concert changed him. He formed his own punk band, the legendary Dead Kennedys (DK's). I have fond memories of seeing the DK's play at the Indian Walk-In Center in Salt Lake City back in the 1980s. They blew my mind! Jello sang all the DK's classics -- "Holiday in Cambodia," "Moral Majority," "Nazi Punks, Fuck Off" and "Too Drunk to Fuck" -- and they left the audience absolutely ecstatic. Most of us were confused, young kids growing up in suburbia, right smack in the middle of Reagan's America. We were angry. We were full of rage and teen angst. We slam danced, ramming into each other, butting heads, pushing one another while the DK's performed full throttle. A few years later, I interviewed Jello while the band was on trial in 1986 for violating the California Penal Code. Inside of the Dead Kennedys' album Frankenchrist was a poster by artist H.R. Giger called "Work 219: Landscape XX" or "Penis Landscape" for short. It was a surreal painting showing numerous penises entering numerous vaginas. It was deemed obscene and the DK's were put on trial. The trial ended in a hung jury, and Frankenchrist was banned from a number of record stores for being "unwholesome." During my interview with Jello, I found him to be blunt and full of irony and great wit and passion. He was also friendly and loaded with energy -- good, positive energy.

In the years since then, Jello (right) has been a fearless voice of dissent. His "spoken word" performances are incredibly insightful and he just keeps getting angrier and edgier with age. His anarchism and righteous rage are admirable. Even more laudable is his sense of humor, which is still evident in all his work. Next week, Jello will be performing a 50th Birthday concert in the Bay Area, and his fans are really looking forward. Recently, Jello told the San Jose Mercury about his inspiration: "When I saw Iggy Pop and the Stooges on Iggy's 60th birthday, they were so awesome. I made a vow to myself that I better do something on my birthday. If it's just a tenth as good as Iggy, I'll feel triumphant."

Something tells me Iggy would be proud.

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