Jello Hits Stockholm
Sunday, November 01 1998, 2:09 AM
Outside the small, intricately decorated theater in southern Stockholm the assembled groups snubbed out their cigarettes and prepared for the performance. A group of red-faced, over-excited teens finished their cans of Jolt and bottles of Red Bull energy drink -- a mind-enhancer for the underaged. A youngish couple kissed past their pierced lips and noses, pulled out their tickets, and went through the theater doors.
Inside, at the bar, the elders gathered in their leather pants, died hair, chains, fatigues, tattooed forearms and steel-toed boots. Lots of black. Ripped Ramones T-shirts. Faded Bad Religion. Minor Threat. Dead Kennedys. Red wine and cheap beer. The Swedish underground had surfaced for the night. It was time to feed on Jello sent from America.
It was my first Jello Biafra performance. I was one of the few Americans in the audience. I had never heard Jello speak, but I knew his screams from the "Holiday in Cambodia" tape I had back in my wannabe-punk skateboarding days in the brutal, razor-sharp city-town of Portland, Maine. Eighth grade and smoking cigarettes behind the Salvation Army. Running from the cops with our boards in hand. "Skateboarding is not a crime." But those days were far behind as I took my seat in the back of the darkening theater.
Jello started by telling us that Sweden was under Marshal Law. In his dark sunglasses and black graduation robe, he told us we had seven o'clock curfews and piss-tests and that we should all have "Black velvet Elvis-style paintings of Madeleine Allbright on our walls." "Shut up!" he yelled and I realized we weren't in Sweden, but in the grips of a fascist American future. And that's where he kept our focus for the majority of the performance.
Biafra read his works with force and energy while standing solidly at center stage. "Join the Marky Mark master race or you won't get laid - beware of the Nike Swooshtika (which evoked major cheer from the Nazi-sensitive Swedish crowd) - watch the Tomahawk missile as it flies like a vibrator over the vaginal-hair brown hills "
As an American I understood where he was coming from. I heard him loud and clear as many of my own opinions were being sent out to the crowd of 300 or so people in attendance. But did the Swedes relate? I hate to say it, but there's less to complain about here. It seemed to me that Jello lost a bit of the audience's attention when he occasionally fell too deep into his American based complaints.
"They told me in Copenhagen that my performance was too American," Biafra said. "But it's better that I talk about where I'm from, than to tell you all about Sweden." But he did try to mix in some talk about Europe compared to America. If his performance fell short anywhere, it was in this discussion. Despite the appetite here in Sweden for American pop culture, there's plenty of America that Sweden would just as soon have nothing to do with and Biafra touched on almost all of it: The unrestricted corporate growth that is slowly taking over the world; the manic, sex-scandal-searching media; poverty and the working-class poor; Over-crowded prisons and gun use. Biafra's words were a warning: Follow in America's footsteps (as the EU is considering in many respects) and this is what you'll end up with.
Jello cautioned the Swedes about something I think he called the MIA Treaty (I couldn't hear it clearly) which he said is "the GATT agreement on crack." "Don't let it pass!" he yelled. A member of the audience told him Parliament was discussing it right now and that the Social Democrats and the Left Party weren't so psyched on it. "But what kind of power do the Socialists have!?!?!? None!!" he screamed. "And the media would rather talk about MONICA, MONICA, MONICA!!" Maybe in America, but in Sweden the Social Democrats are the majority party and the former communist Left Party isn't doing so bad either. And despite a two page spread of the Lewinsky files translated into Swedish (which taught me sug av means suck off), the press continues to leave the front page open to national political coverage.
In the end, though, this matters little. People come listen to Jello to get pumped up, to get a healthy dose of hard-core ranting and raving against the powers-that-be, whether they be in Sweden, America or anywhere else in the world. And they come to gather with their own, to feel a part of society's weird, to show who they are and how they look. At times it even felt like some sort of Gothic Punk fashion show. During intermission, I caught two Swedes gabbing like a couple of schoolgirls about their clothes.
"Hey, those are cool army pants you have. I haven't seen that design before." "Yeah, I know," said the one taking a piss. "It's some '98 design. Only 400 Kronor too, so I bought two pair." "Really? Where?" They went on to discuss anarchy couture.
Even if Biafra's baritone-attack against the establishment sometimes faded into one long, indistinguishable cry from the far-left, I was glad to hear it. Railing against too much power and control is what he does best. Jello warns of evil powers and bashes at the growing menace of multinational corporations and corrupt police and politicians. And he asks valuable questions mp;quot;What if the whole world realized at the same time that nothing really matters? Why can't politicians wear their corporate sponsors on their clothes like race car drivers?" The performance isn't supposed to be a University lecture, it's a pissed Jello venting for a while with a group of sympathizers.
No matter what Tipper might think, people like Biafra are essential for healthy societies. His is a voice that must be heard. The cynicism and skepticism he preaches isn't just feed for rebellion-hungry nineties youth. Biafra is an American flexing his rights to stand tall and scream at the wall. Jello is free speech incarnate, made in America.
Jello Biafra's spoken-word recordings are available from Alternative Tentacles Records http://www.alternativetentacles.com