AUSTIN, Texas -- It was an odd moment of reality abruptly imposing itself on art.
Jello Biafra was well into a spoken-word show full of rants against censorship, forces of repression and other pet targets when an
apparently drunk man began heckling him from the foot of the stage.
"OK!" Biafra yelled when two police officers arrived to escort the heckler out.
But the audience saw things differently. Shouts of "Censorship!" and
"Save him, Jello!" rose from the crowd.
A few minutes later, Biafra interrupted his monologue to peer through
the room's glass doors into the lobby. "They're handcuffing him?
That wasn't supposed to happen," he said.
It was just the kind of incident -- loaded with layers of political and
social subtext -- that usually provide the grist for Biafra's one-man,
And at the 1,000-seat ballroom of the University of Texas Student Union
on Tuesday night, the mill was operating at maximum capacity.
Resplendent in an electric-blue shirt visible even from the back of the
room, Jello Biafra (born Eric Boucher) held forth for nearly four hours
of acidic, Lenny Bruce-inspired commentary on politics, the media, his
own idiosyncratic career and whatever else popped into his ever-critical
mind at a given moment.
For Biafra -- former frontman of the highly politicized punk band the
Dead Kennedys, onetime candidate for mayor of San Francisco (campaign
slogan: "There's always room for Jello") and longtime operator of the
Alternative Tentacles record label -- the show was one more jagged notch
in his post-DKs career as a standup comic/curmudgeon.
The tone of his rants aren't far removed from the hardcore sonic
attack of the DKs, audible in such tracks as
href="http://media.addict.com/atn-bin/get-music/Dead_Kennedys/Kill_The_Poor.ram">"Kill the Poor"
the Poor"(RealAudio excerpt).
On Tuesday, in a voice that at times seemed simultaneously mocking,
sarcastic and astonished, Biafra delivered his show rapid-fire, with
enough energy to rival Chernobyl.
He railed, ranted, cackled and jumped up and down, alternately reading
from a sheaf of papers and free-associating, seemingly intent on
imparting as much information as possible to his audience, regardless of
how long they would have to sit there -- whether or not all of it was
And while the crowd sometimes grew restless (after a 15-minute
intermission at 10 p.m. a few dozen seats emptied), most of the audience
remained responsive to Biafra's commentary, with cheers, whistles and
The audience, comprised mostly of students, seemed especially rapt
during the tales of his wonder years growing up in Boulder, Colo., in
the '60s and '70s.
After describing such eye-opening childhood experiences as "dad driving
me through the Detroit ghetto to show me why people were angry," he
moved on to the subjects of high school and starting a band.
Biafra talked about his first shaky steps toward a music career ("In
Colorado, you sounded as horrible as the Eagles or you didn't play");
choosing his nom-de-punk ("I picked the two words out of a notebook; I
liked the way the words collided"); and dealing with the trauma of
growing up ("A shy, self-conscious dork with no social skills ... a
virgin until I was 19. ... Now, at least I'm a shy, self-conscious dork
with no social skills onstage!").
Throughout, the crowd responded with wild cheers, which first seemed to
But he relaxed as the evening progressed. At times he seemed almost
professorial, and warmed to the role ("The bell has rung; sit down,
children, and put the crack pipes away").
"A lot of the stuff he talks about, I learned in my media studies
class," journalism student Beverley Demafiles said.
"A lot of what he says is really relevant, and not just for students,"
Targets of Biafra's condemnation included corporate America ("spider
webs of corruption ... destroying America's soul"), excessive
consumerism ("buy more stuff!") and the so-called "drug war" ("It's
worse than the drugs").
Student John Kramer, who handed out pro-drug-legalization fliers during
intermission, noted Biafra's manic pace: "Yeah, he's a bit frenetic. ...
[He's got] overwhelming amounts of energy that go everywhere!"
Despite the subject matter and intense delivery, a light tone persisted
throughout Biafra's appearance. He pondered the odd logic of shopping at
Wal-Mart, where you "can't buy a CD with songs about guns but you can
trot over to the other side of the store and buy a gun!"
At one point, Biafra admitted harboring some jealousy of shock-rocker
Marilyn Manson. "I gotta admit, I'm kinda jealous. ... Imagine tying up
legislative offices and governments for days like that," he said,
referring to ongoing controversies over Manson's live shows.
But Biafra also mentioned the case of a father who blamed his son's
suicide on "Marilyn Manson, the Sex Pistols and the Dead Kennedys."
"I got one, I finally got one," Biafra exulted. "Eat your heart out,
NOFX and Rancid. I finally got one."