“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.


The Apology Line

The original “Apology Line” from 1980-1995 was the brainchild of conceptual artist Allan Bridge, who posted fliers in New York City requesting that people call his answering machine to confess to anything they felt guilty about.


The fliers prompted a flurry of phone calls to his machine, which led to a magazine (“Apology”), an HBO film based on the project (“Apology”) with Leslie Ann Warren and Peter Weller, as well as several different projects over the years where the calls were played.  The calls ranged from the mundane (lying about going to a family gathering) to the truly criminal and scary (rapes, murders).  Since it was all anonymous, it’s not clear how much was true and what wasn’t.  However, if you want to examine the human mind at its darkest, this is a good place to start.

A sampling of the original calls can be found here:

A segment on the Apology Line from a past episode of Ira Glass’s “This American Life” can be found here … with additional calls:


I first heard about the Apology Line back in the fall of 1984 when the USA cable network’s late night show “Night Flight” featured a short documentary about the Apology Line where several of the calls were played.  It was probably one of the most disturbing things I had ever encountered at that point.

Allan Bridge was accidentally killed by a jet skier while diving in the mid-1990s (the sad irony was that the jet skier who killed him was never found).  However, the legacy of the “Apology Line” continues today.  First of all, with a new play based on the project, written by Greg Pierotti, who co-wrote “The Laramie Project”:


There’s also a new “Apology Line,” based in England, which inspired the James Less directed documentary, which you can view below:

Please note that none of what you’ll see or hear is safe for work or little ones.  You are literally hearing the darkest parts of the human soul being expressed here … so be warned.