Not an Ad Man": Jello Biafra Breaks Down the Current Dead Kennedys Swindle
years, the Dead Kennedys have been global culture's unremitting anti-corporate
conscience, spitting out condemnation and analysis of its take-no-prisoners
consumerist ethos, its connections to international campaigns of terror
and greed, and its overarching emphasis on the profit margin.
(corporate) reality set in and it seems that everyone besides Biafra
decided that they preferred the rock star residuals rather than an adherence
to the band's decidedly hardline stance. So, in true American fashion,
they sued. And won.
the DK catalogue has been torn from its previous punk home at Jello's
Alternative Tentacles label and set down roots at the more musically
diverse Manifesto. And, pending yet another legal recourse by Jello
and AT, it looks like that's where they are staying [for
more on the Manifesto reissues of the DK catalogue, read Morphizm's
it's just a question of money: who's getting it and who isn't. Or is
it? We finally pinned down a reluctant Jello Biafra to shed some light
on the issue, and when he got going, it got good. And nauseating.
Thill: I understand this is a sensitive issue for you. In the sweep
of this court case against the other members of the Dead Kennedys about
the catalogue ownership, what do you feel is the major injustice being
Jello Biafra: Theft of intellectual property, basically. Not
to mention the fact that I busted my ass and put up the money for 22
years to keep those albums in print. So they didn't wind up as some
obscure collectors' items that only eBay people could afford. They kept
selling enough because of the way we managed the catalogue. The other
three guys never had to get jobs or anything, but nothing was ever enough
for them. The fact that they'd go running to a big-time corporate lawyer
rather than talk about stuff smells. And everything they've done since
they seized control of the catalogue just reeks of sheer greed.
How did this all start? There was some blurb on the back of the Manifesto
press release barely explaining how they ended up there at all.
JB: It's because they were turned down by Epitaph, Sub Pop, Lookout,
Caroline, etc. who had ethical and financial problems with monkeying
with the Dead Kennedys when the main guy was so obviously getting screwed.
What was their big problem? They didn't feel they were getting enough
JB: Yeah. I mean, even Peligro who didn't even play on all the
albums was getting over $30,000 a year, free money. Which is a lot more
than some people who work hard every day for decades ever get. But there
was no gratitude whatsoever. They just allowed themselves to degenerate
into these greedy prima donnas. So now they even gone as far to run
around two continents doing phony reunion shows with the former star
of The Courtship of Eddie's Father [Brandon Cruz]. They've gone
to great length to disguise the fact that I'm not in the band, even
sending out a photo to promoters with my picture in it which then winds
up in some of the ads on the flyers.
Give Jello punk ethics or give him death. "Basically, I am
being punished for sticking to the principles of the band."
It's mind-numbing to think that this is all about money.
JB: Well, once you get involved with bloodsport litigation, you
can not only get drunk on your own greed but start to believe your own
lies. And they knew full well there wasn't some fifteen-year conspiracy
to hide their precious royalty money from them. There was an accounting
error along the way and when we -- not they -- found it, we paid them.
And then they sued.
It's hard to believe a judge wouldn't throw the case out.
JB: That's why we're appealing the verdict. Because very little
of what went on in that courtroom makes solid legal sense. I mean, there
was unfortunately some animosity over the years, which I did not go
into in public because I didn't feel it was right. But East Bay Ray
even called me in the studio in 1993 -- in the middle of the night and
in the middle of recording my album with Mojo Nixon -- and yelled at
me for an hour about how I ruined his life because we didn't sign with
a major label twelve years earlier. And that's where some of the roots
of this are: bizarre delusions in the minds of people with too much
time on their hands that somehow I -- who was the main creative force
in the band by far -- deprived them of being major label rock stars.
They even said in BAM Magazine when this got ugly that we could
have gone on and on for years like REM or U2. Also, he's showed repeatedly
over the years disrespect for the people who've kept him so nice, comfy
and fed -- Dead Kennedys fans -- by just saying that they'll buy anything.
And now they're testing that theory.
By going so far as lying to them. Do you have any Dead Kennedys fans
chasing you down, wondering why you're not onstage with them?
JB: Most of the anger is directed towards them by people who
feel that they were deliberately ripped off. They saw the name Dead
Kennedys in the ad, not totally aware of what had been going on, and
assumed it was the real band. And felt that there was a bait-and-switch
going on. I mean, there have been some angry promoters that have contacted
Would Berkeley be ashamed? East Bay Ray looks ready for the Levi's
And you tell them, "Hey, we don't have anything to do with these guys".
JB: Yeah. What they're not doing is marketing the Dead Kennedys
in the spirit of what the band stood for. Or any kind of respect. It's
the exact opposite, even to the point where somebody is monkeying with
the artwork on the albums to make it come off a bit more toothless and
hokey. Especially what happened with Frankenchrist. They've even
cut up some of Winston Smith's artwork. And the live album was so bad
that I asked them to please take my name off of it. How much pride do
people take in their work when they put out something where Ray blows
"Police Truck" six times, and that's just the opening song? All of these
reissues were not authorized by me, I do not endorse them, the live
album was put out without my permission, and I've not seen a dime at
this point, either. The lawyers sent a letter last August declaring
that they weren't going to pay me anything anymore -- unless I pay them
$140,000 which they claim was my share of their bill to sue me -- for
anything to do with Dead Kennedys. Perhaps that was their real goal
in the lawsuit, who knows?
When will the verdict on the appeal come down?
JB: It would have come down by now but the other side has been
stalling like crazy, asking for extension after extension. It's a drawn-out
process anyway: there's a brief filed, then a counter brief, then more
briefing and more arguing and finally the appeal is argued in open court
and the appellate court can release an opinion on it whenever they want
within the next six months or so. We haven't even made it to round one
because of so much stalling on the other side. It's almost as if they're
behaving as if they fear they might lose the appeal, and are trying
to squeeze every last drop of blood out of the corpse before running
off with it.
Hoping you'll just give up.
JB: Yeah, or loot the store before the court comes down on them
like they should have all along.
How does this make you feel about what you've created? Can you even
listen to it?
JB: I've never even been able to listen to the remastered
ones; I was completely cut out of that. The other band members nor Manifesto
have never showed one ounce of respect or attempted to contact me on
this. I never even signed Manifesto's contract.
Page --->"It's a shame that they didn't put some creative thought
into this. They could have at least gotten Gary Coleman to be the singer.