Eric Reed Boucher, better known by the stage name Jello Biafra, is an American punk rock musician and political activist best known as the former lead singer of the Dead Kennedys. After the band disbanded, he became a solo musician and spoken word artist, releasing several albums on his record label, Alternative Tentacles.
In his political life, he is an active member of the Green Party and participates in activism relating to his progressive political beliefs. He is a self-proclaimed anarchist, and advocates civil disobedience in the name of political change. Biafra is known to use absurd media tactics in the tradition of the Yippies to highlight issues of civil rights, social justice, and anti-corporatism.
His stage name is a combination of the brand name Jell-O and the name of the short-lived country of Biafra, which attempted to secede from Nigeria in 1966. After four years of fighting and horrific starvation, Nigeria regained control of the nascent Biafran State. Jello Biafra created his name as an ironic combination of a nutritionally poor mass-produced food product and mass starvation. He said he likes how two ideas clash in people’s minds.
Eric Boucher was born on June 17, 1958 in Boulder, Colorado, USA to parents Stanley and Virginia Boucher, both social workers. Boucher developed an interest in international politics early on, which his parents encouraged. As a child, he avidly watched the news. One of his earliest memories of his childhood was the John F. Kennedy assassination.
Biafra claims he has been a fan of rock music since first hearing it in 1965, when his parents accidentally tuned in to a rock radio station. During the 1970s, he became involved in activism in reaction to several events of the era including the Vietnam War, the Chicago 7 trial, and the Kent State shootings
In June of 1978 Biafra responded to an ad by guitarist East Bay Ray and together they formed the Dead Kennedys. Biafra wrote the band’s lyrics, most of which were political and displayed a sardonic, sometimes absurd sense of humor despite their serious subject matter.
In June of 1979, Biafra co-founded the record label Alternative Tentacles with which the Dead Kennedy’s released their first single, “California Über Alles”. Biafra has been the owner of the company ever since its founding. He does not receive a salary for his position but considers himself the “absentee thought-lord”.
In the fall of 1979, Biafra ran for mayor in San Francisco, using the Jello ad campaign catchphrase, “There’s always room for Jello”, as his campaign slogan. His platform included unconventional points such as forcing businessmen to wear clown suits within city limits and a citywide ban on cars as the city was suffering from serious pollution problems. Biafra has expressed irritation that these parts of his platform attained such notoriety instead of being acknowledged for more serious proposals such as legalizing squatting in vacant, tax-delinquent buildings and requiring police officers to keep their jobs by running for election in the neighborhoods they patrol. He finished fourth out of a field of ten receiving 3.5% of the vote, or 6,591 votes.
Biafra became a spoken word artist in January 1986, starting with a performance at University of California, Los Angeles. In his performance he combined his sense of humor with his political beliefs, much in the same as his song lyrics. Biafra has held this career since, but did not begin recording spoken word records until after the disbandment of the Dead Kennedys. Biafra has been a prominent member of the Californian punk rock scene and, while a member of the Dead Kennedys, was one of the founding members of the San Francisco hardcore punk scene. The Dead Kennedy’s was one of the first U.S. punk bands to write politically themed songs. The lyrics Biafra wrote with the Dead Kennedys helped popularize the use of humorous lyrics in punk rock.
Biafra claims to be an anarchist in his personal dealings with people, though he does not advocate replacing current governments with an anarchic system. He claims that mankind is not yet ready for anarchy, and still needs government to control the order of human life for the safety and progression of human events. In speeches, he has advised people to partake in civil disobedience, political pranks, and hacktivism. Some such acts that he has advocated include hacking corporate owned web sites and planting marijuana seeds in public areas.
In 1990, during a speech in San Francisco, Jello Biafra concluded by saying: “You don’t need to smoke pot to realize that the real drug problem in this country is not the drugs. And we can help solve drug problems, crime problems, and environmental problems—even our racial problems if we say no to George Bush and get together and grow more pot! We need fuel! We need paper! It’s almost gone! Where are we gonna get more? The answer, for centuries, has been right under our nose.”
The New York State Green Party drafted Biafra as a candidate for the Green Party presidential nomination in 2000. Despite the fact that his address to the Green Party was positively received, they overwhelmingly chose Ralph Nader as the presidential candidate for 2000.