Planet Clair 

Uber Weenie

Uber Weenie. That is the phrase that comes to mind when Planet Clair thinks of Jello Biafra. (California! Uber Weenie!) He's been running off at the mouth, angry at the Man, parading about in ill-fitting trousers and that fucking beret he's taken a shine to lately. intro text small: His speaking voice is akin to the breath of a bedentured relative you hoped you would never have to kiss again, but, "Oh no! Here comes Aunt Florence!" There are two places one wouldn't want to spend eternity: in the front row of a Jonathan Richman concert (acoustic, of course), surrounded by his sycophantic drones while he sings in affected honky Spanish, and at a Jello Biafra spoken-word performance.

Okay, that ought to generate enough letters from the Alternative Tentacles Defense Fund folks. On to the real story. In September, four remastered records from the Dead Kennedys' catalogue will be released: Plastic Surgery Disasters/In God We Trust Inc., Frankenchrist, Bedtime for Democracy, and Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death along with a live album, Mutiny on the Bay. These rereleases are a result of the court case between Biafra and the rest of the Dead Kennedys: East Bay Ray,Klaus Fluoride, and DH Peligro. Biafra lost. He lost hard. "It's not punk rock to sue people," came the clanging from the predictable set. They do have a good point, in that the Dead Kennedys, being so anti-corporate and disestablishmentarian (always wanted to use that word) seemed like the last band you'd expect to get hung up over money and who owed who what.But now Biafra is taking the punk "all money is bad" thing and using it as a way to bring people to his side of this story. He is more visible, has more access to the media, and as a result, the simple fact of the story -- that a jury found him guilty of fraud -- has been obfuscated. All he needed to do was convince four people of the twelve that his defense was better than the plaintiffs'. He didn't. He had a big bunch of really good lawyers, and he still lost.What was the real issue at the trial? There were several, but the big one was that someone at Alternative Tentacles, Biafra's label (which controlled the Kennedys' catalogue), discovered that back royalties had not been paid to his other bandmembers. Instead of telling them that the money was there and paying up right away, Biafra used the money as a bargaining chip to get them to sign with AT "in perpetuity, for life." The whistleblower didn't think that was right, and told the band that the money Biafra was offering them to sign on the dotted line was in fact money he already owed them, unconditionally. Weenie.

In a press release after the verdict came down (ordering AT to pay $220,000 in damages), Biafra calls himself the "acknowledged leader, visionary, and main songwriter" of the band. "How many artists do you know who teach their songs to the band by humming the parts? I still do. Charlie Chaplin did it with a full orchestra." If that's true, then why has everything he's done outside the Dead Kennedys been pure shite? It couldn't be that the band was a collaborative effort, now, could it? Biafra wrote all the lyrics, which means even after the settlement he will always get the larger share of the royalties from the records. But to say, in essence, that he was the Dead Kennedys is some major hubris. Was he a great frontman? Jesus, yes. One of the best ever, and he emerged at a perfect time, the Reagan era. He had charisma. And it's that charisma that forced the rest of the band back into the shadow of his big mouth. Take East Bay Ray, for example. He's shy. He's not interested in being the center of attention. But he started the band, placing a newspaper ad which Biafra answered. (Yet The All Music Guide to Rock says of the Dead Kennedys, "Biafra formed the Dead Kennedys in 1978; the other members included....") Ray started Alternative Tentacles; he played those amazing guitar parts. He's not the sort to outshine someone like Jello Biafra. Even now, the rest of the band is not interested in talking about the case with the media. They want to move on.

"I don't want to try this in the press like he does," says Ray over the phone from his Oakland home. "The press in general is not interested in the truth anyway. What they care about is a good fight and a good story. If you look at it plainly, a record label didn't pay its artists. The musicians sued, got out of a contract, got the money. And he got convicted of fraud by a jury. There was a conflict of interest. He was a bandmember of the Dead Kennedys and also a record-label owner, and his fiduciary responsibility was to the band first, and the record label second. He got it backwards."

"What is it like to have been in this seminal punk band, and then have this whole thing happen? Has it soiled your memories of it?"

"Not of the music. The important thing is the music, really. And the music's great. That's what I want to get to, that the music's been remastered. The songs sound better now. There's no contest between the new sound and the old. Give Me Convenience... I mean, the original sounds like an MP3 played over the telephone. It is really, really tinny. The new one is right off the analog tapes.... I can listen to [our records] again."

"Biafra says he was the 'visionary and main songwriter,' and that you tried to sell 'Holiday in Cambodia' to Levi's, and that the live CD you just released sucks and he wants no part of it."

"What he's doing is distracting things by attacking us. He's trying to make Klaus, DH, and I into the World Trade Organization -- which is just absurd. We are not an evil empire. We were musicians that were not paid by a record label, and he got caught with his hand in the till."

"He says the Dead Kennedys are no longer a democracy, that he's not in on any of the decisions anymore."

"Well, he gets outvoted," says Ray. "Being outvoted doesn't mean you're not part of a democracy. Biafra's kinda like Milosevic here. Democracy's OK, as long as it agrees with him. But if it doesn't agree with him, then it's no good."

Maybe now all of this truly can be put to rest, even though Biafra has filed an appeal (which he is probably going to lose, as jury verdicts are rarely overturned). The music, as Ray has hoped, continues to speak for itself. "Police Truck" and "California Über Alles" sound incredible now.

While Planet Clair had East Bay Ray on the phone, it was time to clear up some long-standing punk-rock rumors. For instance, some sources say that Ray was the band's "chief boot knocka."

"Word on the street is that you got the most chicks."

"What?!" he laughs shyly. He's got to be blushing. "What street is this?"

"You were the main luva."

"I don't know if I want to comment on that."

"If you don't comment, that'll make you look like a real stud."

He laughs. "No comment."


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