What's Next? Jello Biafra Walks Back "Holiday In Cambodia," Pronounces Pol Pot's Record as "Mixed at Best"?


Give it to Jello Biafra, the idiot savant of Bay Area punk music who as frontman for the Dead Kennedys collaborated on at least two of the greatest political songs ever (Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, and Buffy St. Marie can all suck it). The first is "Holiday in Cambodia," a bracingly acid-washed rant flung in the general direction of Sandalistas who dug slumming in Third World misery, and the second is "California Uber Alles," a hoolarious slag on the once-and-future Gov. Jerry Brown so searingly funny you could cauterize severed arteries with it.

Listen to both of them before continuing because, like Biafra's brain-cell count and record sales over the past 25 years, it's all downhill from here, kiddos.

Like most idiot savants (and even more musicians), Biafra turned out to have had an excrutiatingly limited amount of good songs and antics in his bone sack; unlike the music emanating from the instruments of bandmates East Bay Ray, Klaus Fluoride, and others, a little Biafra-as-Shaman went a long way. Think of him as the Rudy Ruettiger of punk, one of the few Americans who really doesn't have a second act (sorry, F. Scott, old sport, you were oh-so-wrong about almost everyone except well, you, Rudy, and Jello; hell, even Jerry Brown of all folks is on, what, his third or fourrth or even fifth act?).

Like a tragic mix of Phil Ochs and Ray Davies, Biafra couldn't leave one of signature tunes alone, redoing California Uber Alles when Ronnie Raygun ushered in his horrifying age of peace through superior firepower and then yet again when Arnold Schwarzenegger's Sacramento anschluss fell over the Golden State like edelweiss pollen over the Von Trapp family on their way out of Austria. One only wonders how the very quintessence of modern-day gubernatorial evil—I speak, of course, of George Deukmejian—has escaped the recycling bin of Jello Biafra's mind.

Back in the day, Biafra was never slow to yap on and on about "corporate-serving rodents" and how "people in this country get more and more gullible by the day," draining the joy his music brought with every off-stage utterance. And, of course, as a self-declared commie-pinko-anarchist who happened to run a record label, he was never slow to rip off his bandmates.

As sad as that might be, here's something else to cause a tear right here in the 21st century: Biafra's all-too-serioso interview with The Daily Beast, in which the washed-up rocker puts on his best Stephen Stills and muses grandiosely and paranoidally about what was and what is yet to come:

"When Ronald Reagan won in 1980, I realized I kind of misfired," Biafra told The Daily Beast. "Sure, the Jerry Brown theory was something I came up with all by my little self, but it turned out to be wrong."…

Biafra is still hard at work deflating the great political personalities of the day. His latest album with his band, The Guantanamo School of Medicine, is entitled The Audacity of Hype, and features a parody of Shepard Fairey's iconic Obama poster drawn by Fairey himself. While Obama is far too centrist for Biafra's tastes, he says the album targets complacency—just as "California Über Alles" did.

"I cannot emphasize strongly enough that Obama is not the problem here: It's the people who voted for him and then assumed that their job was done," he said.

You got that? He's deflatin' the great pols of the day, but not Lord Obama, because…well, it's just not Barry O's fault. Cue up the Mary Magdalene bit from Jesus Christ Superstar and hum along: "…he's a man, he's just a man…"

Read the whole thing, including Jello Biafra's middle-aged worries about those Tea Party types ("Some of them are even talking in terms of guns and Obama and whatnot and you know that if anyone said that on radio or TV about Bush they'd be in jail for the next 30 years,") and then remember one of the foundational truths of punk by way of D.H. Lawrence: Never trust the singer, trust the song. The icons of our youth exist to disappoint us in their (and our) old age and in that sense, Biafra has indeed managed to cough up a second act, however predictable and uninteresting it might be. The madcap fella who closed out one of the greatest albums of all time with an ironic version of "Viva Las Vegas" has become far more cringe-inducing in life than Elvis Presley did while dying on the crapper.

NEXT: Created or Saved or Estimated or Assumed

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  1. Yeah, that’s right, mixed. Some Cambodians survived, you know.

    1. And Castro’s not such a bad guy, when you get to know him.

      I hear Kim Jong is a hoot at parties. Kinda makes you feel sorry for him, in a way… but not for the people he spends his waking moments under the thumb of oppression. Hey, they led him on! They were asking for a good slapdown.

      1. Castro is God.

    2. The title of the article is “What’s Next? Jello Biafra Walks Back “Holiday In Cambodia,” Pronounces Pol Pot’s Record as “Mixed at Best”?”, that is he didn’t actually say that.

      He did say about Brown:
      “His record as mayor is mixed at best,” Biafra, a Bay Area resident, said. “There was a lot of gentrification that went on, but who did it benefit? Plus he never stood up to the Oakland police, who are as corrupt and out of control as any rogue department in this country.”

  2. Jello did some great songs with DOA in the 80s as well: check Last Scream of the Missing Neighbors. “Power is Boring” is brilliant. “Wish I was in El Salvador” and “Full Metal Jackoff” also very very good.

  3. I saw them in 2002 after the other band members won the lawsuit (with the kid from The Courtship of Eddie’s Father singing). I have to admit, I was glad that Biafra wasn’t there, because had he been, there would have been 10 minutes rants about GWB, and the band probably would have played a bunch of shit from Frankenchrist and Bedtime for Democracy. As it was, they played almost everything from Fresh Fruit… and a few songs from Plastic Surgery Disasters and In God We Trust, Inc. Great show.

  4. I never got punk. Not even when I was an oh so angsty teen. Why would I buy a record of assholes who can barely play the guitar?

    1. That is a gross mischaracterization of punk guitarists. Sure, Sid couldn’t play to save his life (not a guitarist but w/e) but that tired trope has been played out for decades.

      1. But Sidney’s more than a mere bass player. He’s a fabulous disaster. He’s a symbol, a metaphor, he embodies the dementia of a nihilistic generation. He’s a fuckin’ star. e.

    2. You’ve obviously never listened to the Dead Kennedys. Whatever else you want to say about them, they could play their instruments.

      1. Is that a euphemism?

        1. Wow. I was never a big enough fan to want to know that. Seriously, though – they were probably the most musically talented punk band around.

          1. They were up there, but what about The Clash and Iggy and the Stooges?

      2. Maybe for DK, but people would walk into CBGB’s when the Ramones first hit the scene and say, “is this a joke”?

    3. Get right on out to your nearest locally owned music store and buy Double Nickels on the Dime, by the Minutemen.

      1. Minutemen are genius, but not entirely punk.

    4. The Minutemen, The Jam, Dead Kennedys, Husker Du… all punk bands with great musicians.

    5. Bad Brains

  5. Nick: talking of great bands from bygone years — some of my countrymen wrote a song that could’ve been dedicated to you:

    1. Dave,
      Best Chills song is clearly “Pink Frost.” And I also thank NZ for giving us The Bats (and various other Flying Nun bands).

      1. I disagree. I think “Heavenly Pop Hit” is better.

        True, the Dunedin sound was a good one.

  6. You may also like this Lard album:…..amp;sr=1-1

  7. I was always partial to “Rambozo the Clown”

  8. Concert’s famine aid spent on weapons

    Millions of dollars in Western aid for victims of the Ethiopian famine of 1984-85 was siphoned off by rebels to buy weapons, the BBC reported this morning

  9. Wow, what a post. I hope Biafra reads it.

    I’ve always loved the DKs (and always will), but I never doubted Jello was a first-class prick.

    “Holiday in Cambodia” made the National Review’s top 100 conservative songs. Biafra’s head must’ve exploded when he heard about it.

  10. “Some of them are even talking in terms of guns and Obama and whatnot and you know that if anyone said that on radio or TV about Bush they’d be in jail for the next 30 years,”

    Ugh – can’t stand this self-mythologizing bullshit. There were thousands of people calling for/joking about killing Bush – they made movies about it, sang songs about it, did fucking TV skits about it – and I don’t seem to recall the mass arrests and executions. Not to defend W too much, but the idea that his presidency was some sort of totalitarian state where the secret police watched your every move and dissenters were disappeared would be hilarious if there weren’t countries were THIS SHIT IS ACTUALLY FUCKING HAPPENING. Usually places that fat old lefty fucks like Jello admire and think the U.S. should be more like.

    Just one more sad reminder that 99% of punks were just kids who really wanted to be hippies, and were pissed off because they felt that they were born too late for the party.

    1. TX, I hung around with a lot of them back in the day, and most (like Colin) thought the DKs were good, but Biafra was a prick.

    2. We don’t need any of that free hippie love shit ’round ‘ere.

      1. Slam dancing Punk Hippies, too tightly wound for living in teepees or VW buses, and a little too laid back to be accepted as full Punks. Possible Pippies, probable Puppies. Difficult to determine which one without a specimen available for dissection. Either way an extremely rare animal.

  11. I got the reference to “California Uber Alles” / “We’ve Got a Bigger Problem Now”, could someone tell me what the title was when he re-did it for Ah-nuld? Never heard that one.

    1. Kalifornia ?ber Alles, 21st Century

      1. Remade with the Melvins in 2004…what I can’t love banjos and punk?

        1. Why not? Some heavy metal bands like accordians, mouth harps, and – bagpipes (AC/DC – Long Way to the Top).

          1. Some people get it, some don’t (aggro dipshits).

        2. and dont forget pedal steel. Heard Hank III and the Melvins play ‘Ramblin Man’?

          1. pedal steels are pretty awesome too. I just Youtubed it, damn that was fucking awesome.

            1. further useless trivia: Not sure about the you tube performance, but on the album “The Crybaby”, its Henry Bogdan from Helmet playing pedal steel.

                1. don’t forget about jello biafra and mojo nixon’s prairie home invasion! weeehaw!


  12. I always though Bad Religion was a much better band than DK.

    They also keep putting out good records throughout the 90’s and 00’s.

    Plues, their frontman is an evolutionary biologist, and their guitarist owns the biggest label in punk rock.

  13. I have to take issue with the author’s opinion of Jello’s post-Dead Kennedys career. I find both his later musical work (with D.O.A, NoMeansNo, Lard, the No WTO Combo, the Melvins, etc.) and his spoken-word performances and recordings absolutely top-notch. In particular, a concert from his tour with the Melvins was one of the two best that I have ever seen, while a spoken-word performance that I saw kept the audience spellbound for nearly four hours. Readers should listen and decide for themselves, of course.

    I found it especially disgusting to see the line about how “Ronnie Raygun ushered in his horrifying age of peace through superior firepower”. Perhaps the author, unlike Jello’s listeners, is unaware that Reagan’s death squads in Central America slaughtered hundreds of thousands?

    1. I’ll be the first to admit, that I’ve never really been a fan of most punk music, so this might read as predictable. But seriously, this guy’s work lacked any real substance back in the DK days, and his spoken word is quite simply fucking trash…. dude, def jam slam poetry makes him look amateur and childish, and that says something quite sad about his sheer patheticness. You want to hear musicians turned spoken word, find some hip-hop (Sage Francis, Qwel, etc)…. in the meantime, if you want real spoken word poets check Buddy Wakefield or something.

      1. I like Henry Rollins’ spoken word.

      2. First off let me state I’m both a huge hip hop fan and and huge punk fan, and in my opinion not only is Jello a genius, but if you listen to a Sage Francis discography from front to back 99% of it is complete garbage. The guy is ok, but lyric wise Jello blows him out of the fucking water. I’m not even a fan of Immortal Technique, but his political lyrics are far better then Sage if anyone wanted a good example of political hip hop. And I don’t know where you seem to have gotten this idea of Jello being a spoken word slam poet, but he isn’t, just spoken word as in speeches and shit.

        Aside from all that no amount of stupidity from Jello even compares to the post-Jello antics of the DK Kennedys. And that is my ONLY COMMENT ABOUT THIS ARTICLE.

    2. Perhaps the author, unlike Jello’s listeners, is unaware that Reagan’s death squads in Central America slaughtered hundreds of thousands?

      LOL!!1! You owe me a new monitor.

      Jello lost me when he mocked the guy who shot his own lawnmower. Fuckin’ commie has NO respect for private property rights, or America.

      (I do love California…,Holiday…, and especially Halloween though)

      1. “Halloween” is a genuinely deep piece of social commentary. No joke.

      2. Yeah, death squads in Nicaragua, Guetamala, Honduras, and El Salvador slaughtering hundreds of thousands (sometimes entire villages at a time), ignoring military targets in favor of butchering “soft targets” like schools, agricultural cooperatives, and medical centers, because they couldn’t fight back. That’s just, so, so, so fucking funny.

        Why, I don’t know what’s funnier (haha!!!), killing peasants and raping nuns, or supporting the activity by selling cocaine to crack dealers and thousands of missiles to the Ayatollah Khomeini.

        1. Oh, now I can think of a couple things that are even funnier than all those dead Central Americans:

          (1) The blowback from Reagan’s support for Saddam Hussein and the Fundamentalist Muslims who later became the Taliban and al-Qaida.

          (2) The fact that it turns out that Reagan covertly supported — none other than Pol Pot! This, readers should note, occurred in the 1980s, *after* the Khmer Rouge had lost power, and after the Cambodian Genocide.

  14. Never really had much use for Jello other than he seemed to have good taste in music while not really being able to reproduce it with any regularity.

    Lee Ving, on the other hand, is a god amongst men.

  15. Holiday in Cambodia made the Top 100 conservative songs?! HA! I’ve always loved them too, but definitely trust the song, not the singer in this case…. Police Truck anyone?

    1. My opinion on the DK’s was that even their best songs would have been better with a different singer. They have some classics, but Biafra’s voice was usually the weakest part of them.

      1. Ya, his voice makes the music a little old after a while.

  16. Like almost every single other band I’ve cherished throughout the years (with one exception that quickly comes to mind: The Ramones), I love the music and loathe the musician.

    1. Oh, and the Pixies. Black Francis/Charles Thompson/Frank Black/whatever that corpulent musical genius calls himself these days is kind of a cool guy.

      Reason readers should listen to the Pixies’ “I’ve Been Tired.” The opening lines satirize a “left-winger.” That’s about as political as the Pixies ever got. They were more interested, it seems, in “God and outer space”– two topics, in the words of David Bowie, which figure very prominently into the American imagination.

      1. Pixies are great as well. Bad Religion had some good stuff, even though they are old as dirt now…

        1. I love the Pixies. They did the coolest song about Tony ever. “Tony’s Theme.”

      2. “She’s a real left-winger ’cause she been down south and held peasents in her arms…”

        To me the song’s about a guy trying really hard to score with a hot hippie girl, and saying whatever he thinks she wants to hear to get there. One of my favorites.

  17. Went on tour with DK from 2001 to 2006 with all the original members minus Jello. They are the greatest bunch of guys I have ever met. I can’t really say that about Jello though.

  18. Jello’s second act was in the courtroom with the obscenity trial.

  19. No mention of Fugazi yet? I’m not a big fan of punk, but I really like them in spite of political differences. They seem to have a great attitude toward their music and their fans.

    1. i love everything Ian McKaye has done (even Pailhead). the number of great albums both Fugazi and Minor Threat put out is astounding, plus, how can you not have the utmost respect for a group that stands by their convictions even if it means surviving in relative obscurity.

  20. I blame government for keeping Biafra in the spotlight. If not for that stupid Frankenchrist lawsuit he never would’ve had the opportunity to take himself so seriously and would have faded into the oblivion he so richly deserves.

    The DK’s best records weren’t political, they were send-ups and insults of California culture. When Jello moved his lyrics to a more national focus, the records went straight into the shitter.

  21. “Read the whole thing”? I don’t fucking think so.

  22. It must be hard to be Jello.

  23. Why the fuck does Jello Barfa deserve 750 of the Jacket’s precious precious words?

  24. I think the appeal of bands like DK and Bad Religion, at least for me, was the lyrics rather than the music itself. I could listen to any discordant crap, but if you grew up kind of isolated (and before the internet and cable) you were starved for ‘alternative’ opinions and views. Nowdays I could give a shit what a musician thinks, but at the time punk seemed like my connection to a bigger world.

    I recently went back and listened to a bunch of old albums I loved as a kid. DK, Bad Religion, Black Flag did not stand the test of time. The pixies did, as did some of the skate-punk from the era. But the big surprise was Danzig. I don’t care if he was really an overweight goth kid. Danzig fucking rocks ! Now I have to go back to the record store and look in the ‘classics’ section …

  25. Oh. Too Drunk To Fuck. Great song.

    1. That’s my least favorite DK song. I love the two mentioned in the blog post, and the classic, “Pull My Strings,” among others, of course.

  26. The problem with political protest songs is they always sound lame after you know how it really turns out. The illusion of a deep truth is shattered and you realize it’s just some guy making a poster…drunk.

  27. The riff directly following the lead in on Holiday in Cambodia sounded a lot like it was taken from one of the tracks on Alice Cooper’s Billion Dollar Babies album then filtered thru that cat that sings for the band called Cure. I’m drawing a blank on the name at the momen, Robert something, or something Robert possibly.

    , a little surprising since that dude chased me around begging to be my friend in a couple serious nightmares that resulted in my waking in a cold sweat with my wife yelling at me for “running” in bed shouting “Damn Bandaid stop following me!”..

    They sure don’t make music like that anymore. Before the members of bands you never much cared for learned how to get into your dreams and mess up a good night’s sleep, about the most damage they could pull off was making one of their bad songs get stuck in your head so you’d have no choice but hear it all day.

  28. Uh, folks, Dread Zeppelin did the best cover of Viva Las Vegas.


    1. OF ALL TIME

  29. The “mixed at best” line seemed to be about Brown. Not Pol Pot. If you search the page for Pol Pot using the handy find function. It does not come up.

  30. I don’t know what’s gotten into Gillespie lately, but ninja is a genius.

    I’m willing to scotch-tape a vagina to my front side just so I could have his babies. I would do that. Yes I would.

    Gillespie hasn’t been this good since he wrote for Suck. Other reason writers, Cavanaugh and Welch excluded, haven’t sucked this bad since Gillespie wrote for Suck.

  31. Dear Mr. Gillespie: I tried to listen to both videos, I really did.

    Please remit adequate cash to cover the purchase of a new wireless keyboard. Cerebro-spinal fluid is VERY sticky, and I am sure that mine is beyond repair.

  32. Nothing like allowing the cognitive dissonance of “Tea Party” to reveal the Stalinist liberal inside those who insist they are strictly anti-establishment.

    Is it because those who show up at Tea Parties are often just the same old common, mundane, unsophisticated proletariat that the left’s elites always imagine that they, themselves, are fighting for? The people the left hold up as a sort of moral human shield while deeply despising and not wanting in their Bistros?

    Those proles come in handy when they are stupid, fat and entertained. You can trot out their plight as being gullible yet exploited and scream at them to wake up. But when they indded wake up and take to the streets, they are just a rabble in need of containment. Maybe their energies could be used more constructively – like picking rice?

    This really is a rich comparison of the “before” and “after” regarding Biafra – it creates a tidy symmetry.

  33. Biafra was way more interesting as an anarchist than he is as a socialist.

  34. I think he’s right about ‘Tea Partiers.’ No matter what I may agree with them politically, I have never met anyone who attended a Tea Party rally who wasn’t a total douche.

    1. You should get out more.

  35. Who the Hell is this lunatic called Nick Gillespie and why was he let out of the asylum.
    He seems to have no understanding of having an opinion let alone Satire

  36. Nobody’s obliged to respect any opinion or appreciate a satire. People don’t have to kiss your ass just because you think you’ve said something clever. Even if some people agree with you. Sorry.

  37. if you look at music through the “popular” and “good sounding to everyone” lens, then I feel very sorry for you. Jello Biafra’s music with the Dead Kennedys only gets better, more aggressive, more informed, and much more mature. If you seriously think they are at their best at their “hit-y-ist”, then something to me says you have very misappropriated view of what art is in a general people sense. Appealing to masses is not something you should take as a standard for music being well written. Freeform Jazz, Classical Music that isn’t Beethoven, and yes, punk music that no longer sticks to structure all have common ground in their “off the public radar” culture(more to say, “internet culture”)and a large fan base that doesn’t hinge on the Billboard 500. The only idiot savant I see is the one who apparently wrote this article; your vocabulary is pretty clever.

  38. biafra was always a schmuck and the kennedys were nothing special

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