Quantcast
metroactive logo

Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine

In Music
DEAD MAN ROCKING: Jello Biafra, former frontman of The Dead Kennedys, brings his new band, The Guantanamo School of Medicine, to The Ritz.

DEAD MAN ROCKING: Jello Biafra, former frontman of The Dead Kennedys, brings his new band, The Guantanamo School of Medicine, to The Ritz.

In the run up to the 1980s, New York had the Ramones and New York Dolls, Detroit contributed MC5 and The Stooges, London called in with the Clash and the Sex Pistols and Los Angeles blew up with Black Flag and X. Northern California’s contribution to the genre outpunked the bunch with a name more profane than the rest and pointed political wit that secured the Dead Kennedys’ position as one of the most influential bands of the hardcore punk explosion.

The creative force behind the DKs was lyricist and lead singer Jello Biafra, who made his way from UC Santa Cruz to San Francisco, where he later ran for mayor and placed fourth in a field of 10. Though no longer with the Kennedys, Biafra continues to produce politically charged rock with the Guantanamo School of Medicine, which plays The Ritz in downtown San Jose on July 23. Santa Cruz doom rockers Dusted Angel will open.

”We’ll be trying out some new songs, and it’s the first Bay Area gig with our new drummer, Jason Willer,“ Biafra says. “Then we have to pack up our bags, get on the plane and go on over to Europe.

“We play mostly our own stuff,” he adds. “A few DK favorites, but this band is here for new music—not to be just some kind of retro act. And I emphasize the word ‘act.’ I’m not a retro person, I’m a now person.”

Biafra has plenty to say about contemporary political reality, whether discussing his disappointment with “Barack Star O’Bummer” or Hillary Clinton’s hypocrisy and flip-flopping on the Keystone pipeline. “I am tempted to write in Edward Snowden for president or vote for the Green Party’s Jill Stein,” he says. “I’d rather vote for something I want and not get it than something I don’t want and get it.”

It’s an ironic twist that California presently has the same governor who was the subject of one of Biafra’s quintessential songs. In 1980’s “California Über Alles,” Governor Jerry Brown was described as a zen fascist führer who would force kids to meditate in school, while the uncool would be abducted by the “suede/denim secret police” to take showers of “organic poison gas.”

Biafra says he wound up meeting Brown and having dinner at his Oakland loft before he began his political comeback as mayor of Oakland.

And, despite the DK band name, which provoked much anger in its day, Biafra is anything but a Kennedy hater. He says he gets choked up thinking about them. “It haunts me to this day how different our world would probably be if Robert Kennedy had lived, let alone his brother. If Robert Kennedy was not murdered, Nixon would never be president. How different would we be today?”

Biafra says he finds it flattering that everyone seems to have their own favorite Dead Kennedys album. “There’s the Fresh Fruit [for Rotting Vegetables] people, there’s the In God We Trust people, there’s the Plastic Surgery Disasters people. There’s the Frankenchrist people. And in later years, there’s people whose favorite album is Bedtime for Democracy. It used to be only people in Japanese hardcore bands. ”

“My personal favorite is Plastic Surgery Disasters,” he says. “It’s more intricate, It’s darker, more like us and less like a lot of other bands.” He looks forward most of all to performing new material at the Ritz. “I’m very proud of what I’ve done to this point … but living in the past is poison.”

“I like a lot of music from the 70s, 60s, 50s, 40s, you name it. To enjoy the past and get inspiration out of it is one thing. Everybody has to have their roots. But the deeper they go, the more interesting it becomes.” Biafra calls nostalgia rock the opposite of rebelliousness. “It’s conservative.”

“The last thing people who call themselves conservative want is change. If anything, they want to turn the clock backwards. Their idea of making America great again is going back to the Joe McCarthy era,” he says. “Sure there were malt shops, cool looking cars, movies in Technicolor and the birth of rock & roll, but it was a viciously segregated society.”

Jello Biafra & The Guantanamo School of Medicine
Jul 23, 8pm, $15-$20
The Ritz, San Jose

Back to top