SONIC REDUCER What do you give a 50-year-old punk icon who has everything? A silver-studded dog collar? A reason to believe or rebel? Peace of mind?
"Boy, I can't think of much," Jello Biafra, né Eric Boucher, says with a chuckle at the question of what to gift him for his 50th birthday June 17. "I'm already such a pack rat, the last thing I need is more stuff. The main vice is vinyl, but I archive a lot of stuff. I'm a librarian's kid."
Instead, the exDead Kennedys vocalist, in characteristically against-the-grain fashion, will gift celebrants at his birthday-bash-to-end-all-bashes, the two-day "Biafra Five-O" at Great American Music Hall, with turns alongside the Melvins and a newly assembled band, the Axis of Merry Evildoers, which includes Victims Family's Ralph Spight on guitar, Faith No More's Billy Gould on bass, and Sharkbait's Jon Weiss on drums. Oh yeah, and each punk-rock fire-/party-starter will receive a poster, or if it arrives in time, a 7-inch of Biafra and members of Zen Guerilla covering Rev. Horton Heat's "Speed Demon" and Frankie Laine's "Jezebel."
So what gives with the very public celebration of three decades of punky monkey-wrenching? "I saw the Stooges on Iggy's 60th last year, and that was a great show," Biafra tells me while snacking in his San Francisco digs. "I got carried away with the moment and promised myself, if he's that good at 60, I better be a tenth as good at 50 and get something together."
Expect Biafra's new group to be part of a continuum: one that began with Dead Kennedys and has manifested in collaborations with the Melvins, DOA, No Means No, Al Jourgensen, Mojo Nixon, and others. "The hope is you're still going to get a pretty sharp set of teeth," he promises. And speaking of DK, the man who would be SF's mayor ("It was done as a prank") and who was nominated as the Green Party's 2000 presidential bid, right on the coattails of Ralph Nader ("It kind of got dumped in my lap") is also recognizing the 30th anniversary of the Dead Kennedys, which played its first show in July 1978 opening for the Offs, DV-8, and Negative Trend, despite an extremely acrimonious lawsuit between the vocalist and his bandmates that led a jury to award control of the catalog to the rest of the group.
Despite intimations of a reunion on the part of the remaining Dead Kennedys, the bitterness of the conflict still rankles, with Biafra confessing with a wry chuckle, "I've had battles with suicidal depression especially after that ugly Dead Kennedys lawsuit." Further, he says, "I really resent all the times they played these so-called reunion shows advertised as reunions, and there's my picture in the ad. I think we have a new genre of punk, and it's called fraudcore!"
Nonetheless, he hasn't completely ruled out a reconciliation: "Sure, if those guys were ever willing to undo every last bit of damage they've done, I'd consider going back on stage with them. But so far they've been way too greedy and way too cowardly to even consider it."
So leave it to the Melvins to convince Biafra to tackle a few DK songs in honor of his birthday. The once SF-based band in a near-original lineup including Mike Dillard also will attack early hardcore tunes culled from a 1984 demo sent to Biafra. It turns out those pack-rat tendencies, coupled with Biafra's abiding love of music, led him to hold onto that ancient tape, which the Melvins lost long ago. "It's a good thing I saved these things," Biafra says.
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