No More Cocoons

Jello Biafra

Alternative Tentacles, 1987

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Jello Biafra - a.k.a. Eric Boucher, a.k.a. the former lead singer for the seminal punk band Dead Kennedys - is the kind of man you will either love or hate. Opinionated, yet well-versed, he is guaranteed to either piss you off or make you want to site down with him, buy a round or two of beer (but no Coors - I'll explain in a minute), and just chat about world events.

I fall in the second camp - in fact, I'll even go so far as to extend that offer to Biafra the next time he's in the Chicagoland area and has a few hours to kill. Like the late Frank Zappa, Biafra is a strong supporter of freedom of speech and of expression, and has paid dearly for his beliefs thanks to the infamous trial involving the Dead Kennedys album Frankenchrist and the inclusion of a poster of H.R. Giger's "Penis Landscape".

No More Cocoons, the first spoken-word release from Biafra, only begins to touch on the raw nerves that resulted in his being tried and acquitted (thanks to a hung jury - no pun intended), and dares to spit in the face of conventional wisdom and thought. In truth, it's not quite as caustic as I expected it to be, which was a little disappointing - after all, Biafra is meant to be a social critic, not a stand-up comedian, witty though his insights are at times. Yet it is an intriguing listen which makes the time fly - at least for those who find themselves agreeing with what Biafra has to say.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Criticize punk music all you want (I happen to like it a lot), but don't call Biafra ignorant. The piece "What Reagan Didn't Know" dares to cut down "The Gipper" by suggesting he was merely a pawn in the political game - and backs it up with example after example, including reaching back to Reagan's days as an actor. You have to give Biafra credit for doing his homework. The same goes for "Talk On Censorship / Letter To Tipper Gore," which shish-kebabs the religious right-wing leaders and their backing of the Parent's Music Resource Center - which happen to be the filthiest four words in the English language, in my book. Biafra even dares to name corporations which quietly sponsored the work of the PMRC - including Coors Brewery Biafra's response to a letter from Tipper Gore to Creem magazine shows that the man has class - he attacks the beliefs and views, but not the person... at least not too maliciously, anyway.

Yet it is easy to understand how Biafra could be misunderstood just by reading the titles of these pieces. When I saw the title "Why I'm Glad The Space Shuttle Blew Up," I wondered what I might have gotten myself into. (This piece was written and performed after the Challenger disaster, not the recent explosion of the Columbia.) Yet Biafra presents his case in such a way that you understand his point of view, even if you may not agree with it. There is something to be said for someone who can maintain your respect while you disagree with their opinions. Likewise, "Vietnam Never Happened" is less of a denial of the war than a scathing commentary on what happened while placing it in a theme-park setting.

I could say the one thing I wasn't too fond of on No More Cocoons is the constant sound of papers shuffling, almost making it sound like Biafra had too many notes to work with and came overprepared. And, yes, I sometimes didn't like the way that it sounded like Biafra was just reading off of pages; to me, his biggest strength is when he talks directly to his audience and sounds like he's in the moment. Yet solid positions for debate like Biafra lays out on this set don't often come from spur-of-the-moment flashes of brilliance, so I'm willing to grant some slack in this department.

I'll freely admit that I wasn't originally looking forward to No More Cocoons, but after just one listen to this set, I find myself looking forward to hearing other spoken-word offerings from Biafra. You may think he's totally off-base with some of his positions, but No More Cocoons will leave you with two undeniable truths. First, Biafra is an excellent debater. Second, this is a set well worth the time, money and brain power you put into it.

Rating: A-

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© 2003 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Alternative Tentacles, and is used for informational purposes only.