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Jello Biafra—High Priest of Harmful Matter: Tales from the Trial (1989)

Jello Biafra—High Priest of Harmful Matter: Tales from the Trial (1989)

Jello Biafra—High Priest of Harmful Matter: Tales from the Trial (1989)


Produced by Biafra. Edited by John Cuniberti at Hyde Street Studios, San Francisco. Recorded live on one of those DAT machines that certain wanna-be vice presidents want to ban at Bogart’s, Long Beach, California on 14 December 1988. Engineer: Adrian DeMichele. House sound: Joe Simon.

“Love American Death Squad Style” originally released on the Alternative Tentacles compilation LP Oops! wrong stereotype. Recorded live at the Ritz, New York, 7 April 1988.


  1. Intro—Love American death squad style
  2. Talk on censorship
  3. Tales from the trial


In 1986 I was just beginning to seriously get into rock and metal music. Queen—A Kind of Magic came out that year, Metallica—Master of Puppets, Slayer—Reign in Blood. That was a good year. But I also remember in the music press at the time, in Kerrang! and Metal Hammer, worrying reports of a right-wing Christian group called PMRC (Parents Music Resource Center) from the US, headed up by future vice-president Al Gore’s wife Tipper Gore. PMRC’s goal was to increase parental control over the access of children to music regarded as violent, sexual or drug-related. It was PMRC that are responsible for the introduction of the ‘Parental Advisory’ stickers on the albums.

Parental advisory explicit content

Parental advisory explicit content

I remember discussions at our Scripture Union group at high school about why certain music genres were dangerous, about the dangers of backmasked messages. Rock, punk, metal, rap, were all at the top of those lists. And, of course, those were the genres that my friends and I preferred. I didn’t buy any of their arguments (I actually found Tipper Gore’s name more frightening than any of the music!). I continued to listen to metal. And look how I turned out! And the kind of blog I started.

Meanwhile in the US, Jello Biafra, lead singer of the Californian punk rock band the Dead Kennedy’s was arrested and taken to trial for obscenity over the artwork of their album Frankechrist (1985) which featured a poster of Penis Landscape by Swiss artist HR Giger. The trial in 1987 almost bankrupted Alternative Tentacles Records, and resulted in a hung (not hanged!) jury: seven against five in favour of acquittal.

High Priest of Harmful Matter: Tales From the Trial is the second spoken word album by Jello Biafra himself. It’s a double CD released, the first disc Biafra focuses on censorship in the US (1. “Intro—Love American death squad style”, and 2. “Talk on censorship”); on the second he describes his own experience of the events that led to the 1987 obscenity trial.

Having been aware of some of these issues at the time as a teenager, I found this a fascinating recording. Biafra is a great performer, a great communicator. At times a public speaker and lecturer, at times almost a beat poet. It’s fascinating hearing about this from the inside.


I’m not a great supporter of censorship. I’m in favour of people thinking for themselves, being responsible for their own decisions.

I’m not sure how often I will listen to this spoken word album, but I’ll definitely keep it for my kids to listen to. Once they’ve grown out of Chuggington and Charlie and Lola audiobooks.

Review score: As this isn’t a music album I’m not going to give it a score.

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