“Tales from the Trial” – Jello Biafra

From Jello Biafra’s 1989 spoken word album “High Priest of Harmful Matter” comes this monologue about the “Frankenchrist” trial from 1987. “Frankenchrist” was a 1985 album released by the legendary punk rock group The Dead Kennedys (Biafra’s band at the time) and the album infamously included a poster that featured the H.R. Giger painting “Penis Landscape.”

Never mind that a sticker on the album cover contained a warning label about the poster, Biafra (and others) were brought up on criminal charges for “distributing harmful matter to minors.” What the prosecution hoped to do was for Biafra (an artist on an independent record label) to plead guilty so a legal precedent would be set.  The prosecution actually admitted that going after Biafra was a “cost-effective” way to send a message.   Had that precedent been set, then prosecutors could have gone after bigger game, such as Prince or Madonna. But Biafra … seeing the big picture and the REAL reason he was targeted … chose to fight the charges instead. Sadly, his fight was without the help of any major record label (who seriously should have seen the bigger picture as well and helped Biafra … but did not). Fighting the charges was expensive and nearly bankrupted Biafra and his record label, but he won … sort of. The trial resulted in a hung jury and the judge chose to dismiss the case after the jury couldn’t come to a unanimous decision.

The entire arrest and subsequent trial are brilliantly (and very entertainingly) explained in this 43-minute monologue. Some bad language here and there, but to quote the label on the “Frankenchrist” album, “life can sometimes be that way.”

Some bizarre footnotes of this trial:

1) Gene Simmons of KISS wanted to the buy Biafra’s life rights to make a dramatic film about the trial with Billy Crystal playing Biafra (?!?)

2) The prosecutor, Michael Guarino, later admitted it was a mistake to have gone after Biafra and later came together with him on Ira Glass’s “This American Life” to discuss the trial and for Guarino to apologize.  Guarino also admitted that his son became a huge Dead Kennedys fan in later years and would blast their music to the annoyance of everyone on their street.

http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/285/transcript

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