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Jello Biafra

Jello Biafra's scathing brand of political commentary won't pass for comfort food in troubled times: Gooey, patriotic pabulum is best left to star-spangled yokels like Lee Greenwood or Alan Jackson. But the guy takes his anti-punditry as seriously as any free-speech proponent out there. He also has a knack for turning his personal unease into long-winded morality tales with meandering punch lines. One need look no further than 1994's Beyond the Valley of the Gift Police, Biafra's three-disc marathon of inconsistent outrage, to find a well-meaning agent of social change turned glib egomaniac. Yawnarooney.

Thankfully, Biafra limits his seventh overall spoken-word installment, The Big Ka-Boom, Part One, to 34 minutes. It's a regular sermonette on the mount compared to projects past. Preaching to the liberal choir at the University of Wisconsin one month after the attacks of September 11, Biafra offers solutions both satirical and serious while analyzing the world's ever-increasing tensions. "I get equally frightened -- even terrorized -- when President Bush says things like, 'You're either with us or the terrorists,'" he says. In this concise diatribe, the aging punker condemns the current administration's "orgy of violence" as something designed "to make arms manufacturers rich till kingdom come." He skewers the antiterrorism legislation of "Bible-thumping white supremacist" John Ashcroft for creating "a permanent state of emergency at home." Our nation's leader, "King George II" (impersonated by Biafra with juvenile relish as the Great Cornholio of Beavis and Butt-Head fame), likewise draws plenty of Jello shots: "Right now, it seems like we have a clown prince of the oil companies in the White House, surrounded by overturned cans of gasoline, being handed matches.... This is the same president who, before he was in the White House, thought that the Taliban was a rock band."

After alluding to undercover heroin-running between the CIA and the Northern Alliance (and citing reports from the Manchester Guardian to back up his claims), Biafra calls for lifting the sanctions against Iraq and pulling American troops out of Saudi Arabia. "Let's not only end our dependence on foreign oil but do as much as humanly possible to end our dependence on oil altogether," he says, commanding the biggest round of applause of the evening. "And instead of spending all of our money on nuclear devices or running amok in somebody else's country with no real positive, tangible results, how about putting that money into safer airports and safer planes instead? They're worried now that the next targets may be our nuclear power plants. They won't be if we decommission them and shut them down."

Biafra also questions the sanity of giving blind loyalty and a blank check to the "cowboy faction" of the Bush administration, instead of addressing the economic root causes of terrorism in the first place. Quoting filmmaker Michael Moore, he asks, "'Will we ever get to the point that we realize we will be more secure when the rest of the world isn't living in poverty so we can have nice running shoes?'"

Biafra is one of the few visible artists in any medium who have braved the precarious position of speaking out against the effort to eradicate "evildoers." With sequels all but promised in The Big Ka-Boom, Part One's title, expect more speeches on the heels of this one. Biafra's one-man rant will continue as sadly unfinished as the war that it protests.

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John La Briola

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