Wednesday, January 17, 2007

In the Grip of Militant Liberalism

Jello Biafra – In the Grip of Official Treason (3-CD set)
(Alternative Tentacles, PO Box 419092, San Francisco, CA 94141-9092; web:

Long-time rabble-rouser Jello Biafra’s first new spoken word release since Machine Gun in the Clowns Hand (2002)is a sprawling 3-CD set extravaganza. Each disc runs nearly 80 minutes so you end up with nearly 4 hours worth of material. Biafra can be just as provocative on his spoken word tours as he was as the lead singer of the Dead Kennedys. But this former radical prankster channels a significant portion of that energy into advocating state-approved activities as the primary vehicles for change. Jesse Walker at Reason magazine wrote that there “were two Jello Biafras, one a liberal statist and one a punk anarchist” and, for the most part, what you get on this CD set is Biafra the liberal statist.

The first disc starts off with a 2004 Punk Voter Battle Cry rally with Biafra firing up the audience with calls for the teeming punk masses to line up and vote while reeling off a list of Bush administration crimes and misadventures. You hear Biafra encouraging the crowd to “take our country back” and “take back our democracy.” He ends his nearly half-hour long call to electoral arms with the bold proclamation of impending victory: “It’s going to be concerned, angry, pissed-off, patriotic youth who don’t want to live in Bush America anymore!!” I guess that didn’t work out as planned.

I’ve always preferred George Carlin’s frank assessment regarding electoral politics, a position that is more in tune with the original ideals of punk with its fuck-the-establishment attitude. He’s also funnier. This begs the question: Why would supposedly radical, do-it-yourself, anti-establishment anarcho-punk rockers invest so much time and energy appealing to the very political system that punk used to directly attack? It appears the road from fist-shaking defiance to resigned accommodation can be a very short one.

The rest of the material from Biafra definitely has its moments and, if anything, he’s certainly entertaining. Biafra offers up plenty of amusing anecdotes, provides some sharp analysis and excavates some historical truths from the memory hole on a variety of topics ranging from the war on terror, Iraq and Afghanistan, New Orleans and Katrina, media bias, US war crimes, the surveillance state, Abu Ghraib, globalization, and the political shenanigans inside the beltway. He manages to marshal an army of facts and connects the dots with not-so-subtle humor and biting sarcasm.

Biafra also compares the United States to Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia, characterizes the U.S. gulags around the world as “concentration camps,” and claims that our elections are rigged. It makes you wonder why he’s willing to put so much faith and effort in the very same political system responsible for all these monstrous atrocities. But I shouldn’t be surprised. Biafra claims he is an anarchist but he thinks an anarchist society is unworkable. Biafra thinks “we still need government” to keep people in line. Remember when punk used to rail against that kind of thinking?


In the Grip of Official Treason