As lead singer of the Dead Kennedys, Jello Biafra brought absurdist humor and informed politics to punk rock with songs like “California Über Alles” and “Holiday in Cambodia.” Over the past two decades, he’s performed and recorded as a spoken word artist, collaborated with a variety of musicians, run a record label (Alternative Tentacles) and run for office (mayor of San Francisco). On Saturday, he’ll be having an “Incredibly Strange Dance Party” at the Golden Tiki, where he’ll spin “a mixture of garage and soul, some trash, dementia and, of course, the punk.”
Biafra spoke to Vegas Seven and DTLV about Sin City, Donald Trump and fighting back—brick by brick and prank by prank. (His responses have been edited for length and clarity.)
“I think [Donald Trump’s] psycho tweets and tantrums are very carefully timed and much more thought out than we’re led to believe. With stuff that’s going wrong, or [when] Congress is ramming through something that’s really horrible—about wiping out important environmental regulations, or cutting education, or blowing up internet neutrality—it doesn’t get the coverage it should, because it’s Trump all the time. That’s the reason [why] people dreaming of impeachment can probably just dream on.
“The billionaires, millionaires and predatory corporations know they need to hang on to Trump at all costs, because this is their chance of a lifetime to get away with looting the country. They think this is the best chance they’ve ever had to not just take America back to 1950s, but to the 1850s. Put in President Mike Pence and people are gonna be much more on guard … [Trump] already had this rabid fan base, a cult following, even—people we didn’t know so well who spent all their time indoors watching him fire people on TV and thought he was really, really cool. They didn’t vote for him in spite of him being a racist, a bully. They voted for him because of that. I thought it might take 10 or 20 years to recover from the damage he’s done. Now, I’m not sure we ever will.
“Look what came out of the closet [as] the result of it. There’s a bill in the state legislature down in Texas under this new guise of religious liberty—they’re using that to say that adoption agencies can refuse to allow people to adopt children. They can deny a couple the right to adopt a child if they’re gay, transgender, Muslim, if they’re Jewish. Which of course, isn’t liberty at all, it’s trying to get legal carte blanche to stamp out everybody else’s religious liberty…
“I have long been a fan of creative crime. Crime is the last unspoiled art form left on earth. You don’t go to art school to learn creative crime: Everybody does it on their own.” — Jello Biafra
“There’s an easy way to get Trump out of the wall promise. It’s never gonna get built. They still haven’t settled all the legal claims from Texas landowners along the Rio Grande, who wanted to be compensated for—or blocked—George W. Bush’s big beautiful wall entirely.I think the best solution is for Trump to put up a Spinal Tap wall instead, built with blocks about the size of Stonehenge in Spinal Tap. Adjust the angle of the photograph, a little Photoshop and a little Fox News and you’re done.
“But Trump’s business, for I don’t know how many years now, hasn’t been building big beautiful skyscrapers or little old walls: He just licenses out his name. And he may actually be telling his version of the truth when he says he has no business dealings in Russia, but what about his kids? One of the Trump’s sons, a few years ago—in a golf magazine no less—[said] something to the effect of, ‘We don’t need to worry about loans from American banks, we get our money through Russia.’ That, I suspect, is the real reason he doesn’t dare say anything.
“I don’t think it’s worth horrible things happening to innocent people, simply ’cause it might inspire better art. Plus, the whole urban legend that Reagan and Thatcher abusing power made punk rock better is complete bullshit: Dead Kennedys, the Bad Brains, Crass, the Clash, Black Flag were all fully formed at least two years before Reagan or Thatcher took power. There was a huge outpouring of anger when Crown Prince [George] W. [Bush] invaded Iraq, but did that stop the war? No. The damn thing is still going on. However, that doesn’t mean you don’t keep pushing, or otherwise, the damage will be worse.
Not only is there an urgent need to fight all this shit, but there can also be a certain joy in pulling pranks on the powers that be.
“City elections, state legislatures, school boards—hardly anybody shows up and votes for that, or pays attention to [local] initiatives on the ballot. That’s where the more decent, thinking people show up and vote, the more likely we are to at least get some stuff fixed. Brick by brick, from the ground up.
“Not only is there an urgent need to fight all this shit, but there can also be a certain joy in pulling pranks on the powers that be. Not that this is all fun and games, but it shouldn’t all be a miserable hassle, either. I loved that carefully concocted prank at the Conservative Political Action Conference that Trump spoke at. Somebody handed out Russian flags with “TRUMP” on them to all the delegates and they were gleefully waving them, not realizing it was a Russian flag. I have long been a fan of creative crime. Crime is the last unspoiled art form left on earth. You don’t go to art school to learn creative crime: Everybody does it on their own.
“The first time I ever saw Las Vegas was flying in for the New Year’s Eve-eve Dead Kennedys show. It was supposed to be us, Bad Brains, M.I.A., the Remains. Oh, my God—I saw it from the air and kept visualizing the Bad Brains freaking out on the plane. ‘Babylon! That’s Babylon!’ Sure, it’s Babylon. … This place is so disturbed, either every city in the world should be like this or no other city in the world should be like this.
“’Oh wow, Dead Kennedys, we’re finally [playing] Las Vegas. Just like Elvis!’ Whatever. Well, leave it to a DIY punk promoter to rent two adjoining instant storage spaces, knock out the wall [and] put in electricity—that’s where we played. Unfortunately, because it was Dead Kennedys, my name was a little more notorious, [and] a cop finally showed up and said, “We’re gonna shut the place down.” They were finally convinced that there might be a riot if they shut it down, [that] they finally said ‘okay.’
“I did that high Fremont zip line last time. It was way more fun and less scary than I thought it was gonna be—yelling at everybody down below, “I’m about to puke! I’m about to throw up! Look out! Look out! Look out!” There went Lemmy scampering for cover. They didn’t even arrest me when I got to the other end. Great.”
Jello Biafra’s Incredibly Strange Dance Party
May 27, 11:30 p.m., $5, the Golden Tiki, facebook.com/thegoldentikivegas