I think I’ve been pretty open about my belief that Jello Biafra’s singing kind of ruins the otherwise great Dead Kennedys. But he was also the soul of the band. And his writing was great. And don’t get me wrong: I understand that Biafra’s voice was meant to be annoying. But that doesn’t change much. Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables is a great album despite his vocals. But if those vocals work anywhere, it is on “California Über Alles.”
It’s funny to listen to California Über Alles now. It is an attack on Jerry Brown from the left — extreme left. It calls him a fascist. And based upon its content, you would well imagine Biafra growing into some kind of libertarian freak later in life. But that didn’t happen. Biafra has only become more serious and thoughtful throughout his life. The song was meant more to be a joke anyway. The point, more than anything, was that Jerry Brown was power hungry and that everything he did was in the service of becoming President of the United States. And there is something to be said for that interpretation of the Jerry Brown of the 1970s, just as it is of Gavin Newsom today.
Not California Über Alles, but America…
But what’s really amazing is that we now live in a nation in which we have actual big name politicians who are the modern day equivalent of fascists. California Über Alles? Well, there are a whole lot of Americans who would proudly sing, “United States Über Alles.” I’ve gotten to be tired of people claiming that politicians like Cruz and Rubio and Trump are not fascists. I don’t think you can base modern politicians by the details of old politicians. All the Republican candidates are in favor of the same kind of government supported business system — a kind of modern feudalism. And does anyone question that if Pakistan went to war with us that all of these men would be eager to round up all Muslims and put them in camps? (Cheered on by Sam Harris, no doubt.)
Today, Jerry Brown is the ultimate technocrat. He’s been a great governor for the state. And there is no doubt that he is liberal. But he’s never been a radical. But our country’s politics is so out of balance that he is seen as an extremist today. All liberals are. When the old and unhealthy Antonin Scalia died, millions of them spent days talking about how he must have been murdered. This is projection, pure and simple. Even as conservatives have been highly successful over the last 40 years accomplishing their stated goals, they are unhappy. Because what they really want — what they always wanted, was fascism in America. They want a nation where it is just accepted that patriotism means cheering every act of state belligerence.
In that context, “California Über Alles” is not as funny a song as it ought to be. But it’s still pretty great.