I half-awoke this morning (after a night of experiencing Catching Fire, high-dry winds, power-outages and Close Encounters-like power line repair) to the strains of Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” played at 45 rpm. The context was a CBS radio recollection, re-broadcast or re-creation of the chaotic reaction 50 years ago when media were notified of President John F. Kennedy’s death. Apparently, as all outlets were staying live this day in 1963, someone had the idea to play the “Adagio” as a somber on-air interlude, but forgot to check the speed on the phonograph. This got me thinking as to what Jello Biafra might have thought, as he has cited the broadcast of Kennedy’s assassination as one of his earliest memories (being too young to have experienced the event first-hand, my memory of Barber’s composition is that of the theme from Platoon).
One thing many punk rockers and assassins (self-professed and otherwise) have had in common is a love for anarchy (I recall vividly the stoner/punker in my 1981 high school World History class’ reaction of “Cool!” to my teacher’s announcement of John Hinckley’s attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan, earning himself — and the rest of his classmates — an ear-splitting tirade). Naturally everyone’s approach to such a ‘state’ is wildly divergent. It would seem that nowhere is this more evident than in the notorious name of Biafra’s original band, The Dead Kennedys, although Biafra has stated that he chose the name to ‘call attention to the death of the American Dream,’ a somewhat more prosaic goal in retrospect. The band itself was the most popular of the first wave of Northern California hardcore-punk bands in the late ’70s/early ’80s, and the one of the first American punk bands to incorporate political and satirical themes into its repertoire.
A quick perusal of the Dead Kennedys’ Facebook page revealed no comment on the Anniversary, only a posting of a vintage clip of their song “Police Truck”, featuring a rant against then-San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein, and a posting of a link to an article detailing Arcade Fire’s request that their fans “wear formal attire or costume” to shows on their current tour.
Biafra can be seen and heard all over numerous punk rock documentaries and films on demand, most notably in Rage: 20 Years of Punk Rock West Coast Style (2001), where as a talking head he expounds on the genesis of a revolution, along with others such as Rodney Bingenheimer and Germs drummer Don Bolles.
He’s also prominent in Punk’s Not Dead (2007), which examines the commodification of ‘punk’ as a lifestyle, something Biafra had always railed against.
There’s also Alice Donut : Freaks In Love (2011), which profiles the New York underground punk band and signee to Biafra’s Alternative Tentacles Records.
Biafra has a great performance as a slick 80’s music rep in David Markey’s film Lovedolls Superstar (1986). A great ‘alternative’ to all the “JFK – The Final Hours” specials we’ll be subjected to through the weekend.
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