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Ex-Dead Kennedy Leader Rips 'Offensive' Music Bill

Says measure unfairly targets music and may be ignored by artists not directly impacted.

Punk legend Jello Biafra is furious about a California bill that would

ban state investment in record companies producing "offensive" music -- but

it's not simply the legislation that has raised the ire of the former singer of the

Dead Kennedys.

It's the community of artists that such a law should offend, but very well may not,

he said.

Specifically, Biafra is concerned that other members of the arts community won't

oppose the measure because it specifically involves music.

"Hollywood damn well better fight this time," said the San Francisco-based

singer/political activist who also heads the Alternative Tentacles Records label.

"It's in their own backyard. They can't just put their heads in the sand and

pretend that since the bill only applies to music that it won't soon apply

to their violent and questionable TV shows."

The measure, proposed last week by State Assemblyman Keith Olberg (R-34th

District), prohibits money from several state-employee retirement funds

from being invested in companies that produce music that explicitly

describes, glamorizes or advocates such acts as robbery, assault, murder,

pedophilia, drug use, gang activity and violence against a particular sex,

race or ethnic group.

Those criteria for offensiveness were "more broad than they should be," Olberg

said, adding that his staff is working to more narrowly define the standards

before the bill is slated for a vote in the Public Employees Retirement System

Committee in the coming weeks.

The California measure follows similar legislation in Texas that was signed

into law last summer. While the Texas law takes effect Sept. 1, 1998, the

California measure would not require divestiture until Jan. 1, 2005.

Reprise Records spokesman Bob Merlis called the bill a "stunt" that unfairly

targets the music industry. "Why is music in their sights and not other media --

it's not equal application of the law," he said.

"This is the same thing we've seen since White Citizens' Councils started

circling the wagons over rock 'n' roll being race-mixing music in the

'50s," Merlis added. "Music is a red herring. It's always been used by

demagogues to put themselves on the map. I'm not taking it lightly, but I'm

not surprised [the bill was proposed]."

Claiming that he has not looked into banning state investments in other media

producing "offensive" material, Olberg said, "The movie issue is a separate

issue for a separate time."

During an informational hearing last Wednesday, Recording Industry

Association of America President Hilary Rosen said the divestment bill

would "chill the speech of America's performing artists."

But Olberg denied such charges, saying that the measure doesn't attempt to

restrict speech. "We're not saying you cannot use certain words or lyrics," he

said. "All we're saying is that lyrics that we know cause people to take certain

actions that we think are unhealthy for the culture of California, we're not going

to invest in those things and thereby promote such activity. Where in the

Constitution are we required to invest California employees' retirement funds in

order to not violate the First Amendment?"

Biafra, who has a history of fighting what he sees as censorship battles,

is likely to oppose the legislation every step of the way.

In 1986, Biafra was arrested on charges of distributing harmful material to

minors when a sexually explicit poster by H.R. Giger was included in the

Dead Kennedys' Frankenchrist album. The trial ended in a hung jury.

"The next step after this is to go after books," Biafra said.