Wednesday, January 16, 2013


Above: my photograph which appeared in the 10.8.87 Rolling Stone magazine of Jello Biafra about to enter the courtroom of his obscenity trial in downtown Los Angeles criminal court. 

On Aug.27, 1987 Jello Biafra, then lead singer of The Dead Kennedys and their Alternative Tentacles label manager Michael Bonnanno beat the rap by mistrial of the first ever such charge against a musician.  And I, dear readers, as a Southern-fried tv ad of the times pronounced it, "hepped." 

 The "distributing harmful material to minors" criminal charge sprang from a poster by Swiss fine and commercial artist H.R. Giger inserted into the DK's 1985 LP "Frankenchrist." I had provided the character witness Joan Weinstein for the defense whom those connected with the trial agreed turned the tenor of same around. I'd been approached as a presentable pro in the music biz with punkrock sensibilities ( I wrote the first book on punk published in the U.S. in 1977 ) but knew my quiet voiced delivery would not help matters as I'm far more productive behind the scenes.

To wit: I immediately suggested colleague Joan Weinstein, my former co-editor of the entertainment mags at UCLA and afterwards a professor of Art History at an East Coast university. She shared my warped sense of humor in the arts and could quote Monty Python with the best of us, yet could dazzle all comers with her undeniable academician cred. She testified on the stands on behalf of Biafra and Bonnano for three straight hours (average for others: a half hour) quoting prestigious European art journals in their original German which she spoke fluently. Joan underscored poster artist Giger's standing in the international art world beyond notoriety for set design for the big budget space horror hit of that time, the first Alien plus that pesky DK poster insert "Penis Landscape."

Judge Susan Isacoff ruled against appeals for a new trial by claiming all juries for same would no doubt remain equally deadlocked by innate demographics-- 5 to 7 in this case-- of younger jurors used to expansive freedom in the arts versus the quite elderly (most likely present in juries due that era's more reasonable laws on juror excusing) who preferred the strictures of censorship of their own youths. In it's a small world trivia, the judge was my parents' own directly across the street neighbor.

To thank me for providing witness Weinstein whom his lawyers knew would prove helpful, I was given the exclusive access to Biafra and hence Rolling Stone shot. I wanted him to look like the confident rockstar that he was/is, rather than cowed defendant or goofy punker that other press then depicted. 

 Your other unsuspecting factoid about this case besides my part in supplying the most influential character witness remains its genuine legal importance. Biafra and Bonnanno were the sole two charged by their own magnanimous prior agreements, hopeful to reduce the case against its plethora of original defendants: every single person involved in the manufacture and distribution of this release, regardless of their actual non-participation in its art conception and subsequent design. Had they lost, edgy art for commercial usage immediately would have become extinct in the United States: no one would dare fabricate or distribute any item vaguely controversial for fear of immediate imprisonment. Why? Because all American jurisprudence works entirely upon successful precedent rulings.
Below left, sample H.R. Giger "Alien" design                                                         
                                  Right, sample eBay sale of complete 
Frankenchrist package

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

here is to a job well done! (And a good shot, too!) :)

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