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June 17, 2005





Do you have a hero? I guess by hero I mean someone who does the things you would do if you weren't too busy indulging the dreams, distractions, and delusions that keep you from becoming your best self. Among the living, the person who most nearly fits that description for me is Jello Biafra--singer, songwriter, publisher, provocateur. As an uncertain and skeptical teen, I found force and meaning in the songs of the Dead Kennedys. I would play the same albums over and over again, reading along with his words (all the best records include lyrics), which held more appeal than the music. Tonight, Biafra competed in Iron Composer, a much hyped spectacle where well-known musicians compete to write a winning song, as judged by audience applause. Any event based on a TV show (in this case, Iron Chef) is bound to be corny, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to see Jello in action. He did not disappoint. And though I call it corny, Iron Composer did provide food for thought and was perhaps an inadvertently apt venue for Jello's anticonformity message. The event was designed along the lines of the Nazi Nuremburg rallies: flashing lights, exciting music, sexy uniforms, weaponry, and rabid speakers coming together to whip the crowd into a frenzy. The line between fascist parody and corporate reality was blurred by the event's taking place in Paul Allen's EMP. The competitors were given a variety of pop culture references and audience interactions out of which to build their songs, which at the end they performed backed by an inebriated house band. As usual, Jello cut through the malarkey and delivered a rockin' autobiographical critique of mass culture and passive entertainment: No, no, no / I've never seen Star Wars / I've never been that bored... He won hands down and neatly skirted the ego trap by Sharpie-ing his chef's hat into a fright mask. I left the venue energized and played pedestrian chicken with a stretch HumVee. I won. It veered.