|Landscape XX, work 219|
a) Encountering Giger's work
Towards the later summer of early fall of 1985 Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys came to see the Giger's artwork when a friend who he was living with in San Francisco, Jon Greenway who wrote the original lyrics to the Dead Kennedy's song California Uber Alles, showed Jello a copy of Omni magazine featuring Giger's work and said ‘You really gotta look at this guy. Look at this work!'.
Later Jello came to see the image with the penises, showing nine sets of male and female genitals engaged in the act of sex and only one penis was covered in a condom, was mentally blown away by what he saw and thought, ‘Wow! That is the Reagan era on parade. Right there! That shows how Americans treat each other now.’ He captured it in a nutshell.”
|image of Inner Sleeve ( Source: http://vinyls.altervista.org/)|
b) Giger's work as a catalyst
At that time then, Jello who was working on an album called Frankenchrist thought "hey, wait a minute, we're in the middle of recording the Frankenchrist album and this picture is like Reagan America on parade, and that's what the album was about too, and I haven't finished recording the lyrics, Holy shit, I didn't even realize that Frankenchrist is almost a concept album and on the same subject, and if I tweaked a word here and there in all these different songs, it would be a concept album" If I tweaked a word here and there in the lyrics I haven't recorded yet, it would stitch it all together." and that it would have clicked in his mind if he hadn't had that spark of inspiration from seeing Giger’s work for the first time and also he had in mind Giger's art being used
Ruth Schwarz of Mordam who was their distributor said "do you realise, no store will stock this, if that's the front cover"
c) What to do with the artwork
So the ideas was to have it as the wraparound gatefold album cover with Frankenchrist candy kane lettering and nothing else on the front and when it was opened up, the inside was an infamous Scriner picture and nothing else, no explanation whatsoever, that's what Jello wanted. They went further looking at the dark shrink wrap that Roxy Music used in their album "Country Life" and blue shrink wrap that Pink Floyd had used perhaps on "Wish You Were Here ", and it all proved prohibitively expensive. After humouring the idea and saying how they thought it was okay, The Dead Kennedy's other band members started freaking out about the picture after they had secured the rights, and so a big quarrel ensued and they finally agreed to use it as an insert poster. So there was a sticker stating that there was an insertion containing a picture by Giger that some may find shocking of offensive, life can sometimes be that way.
|The Shriner image featured on the album cover ( Source: http://vinyls.altervista.org/)|
d) Irrational Trials
In the US, he had a bit of a problem with Landscape XX. since the Dead Kennedys used it inside their album and Giger acknowledged that it was mistaken for a photograph although what happened was
that Tammy Sharwath, then 14, bought a copy of the album at Wherehouse music in the Northridge Fashion Mall, to give to her 11 year old brother and then her mother complained to the attorney general of California, who, in turn, sent the complaint to the L.A. city attorney’s office and this went to court with Biafra's Alternative Tentacles Records being accused of distributing harmful material to minors and in the court Deputy City Attorney Michael Guarino displayed a copy of the 20x24 inch poster during his closing argument an said "This, ladies and gentlemen, is what harmful matter looks like, You want the definition? Then look at the poster."
As one of Jello's attorney's , an American Civil Liberties Union Lawyer, Carol Sober was about to point out, one doesn't have to like a painting, but if everybody agrees the material is okay for adults to have, it become inconsistent to criminalize it because it was bought by a minor.
And so Jello's chief lawyer Philip Shnaeverson noted that this prosecution was an attempt to set a precedent in liability, since traditionally one doesn't prosecute the beer manufacturer because a bartender sold a beer to the minor, and so Jello and his record company had no control over who the record was going to be sold to
Meanwhile the poster was displayed repeatedly in the courtroom by Guarino and defense attorneys during the three-day trial, before a packed courtroom which included several fans under 18. After the jury retired, two youngsters stared at what appeared to be Guarino's copy of the poster as Los Angeles Municipal Judge Susan E. Isacoff sat several feet away. Isacoff, through her court clerk, said she had no comment about minors viewing the allegedly offensive poster in her courtroom. Guarino said he did not realize anyone was looking at his copy of the poster.
Outside of the courtroom, Tammy Sharwath then fifteen, gave her own view on the matter was that it was gross but it wasn't harmful.
e) A planned attack on music
During this time, people such as Tipper Gore and her religious rights zealous friends such as Susan Baker, who was on the board of directors of Focus On The Family and they had backdoor connections with people such as Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and Phyllis Schlafly's Ealge Forum, and the were launching a carefully planned attack on music. So they were using Jello Biafri as their stool pigeon to charge with a crime. Michael Guarino even admitted that he had chosen Jello as a cost effective way of sending a message to the public because they didn't have to pay the money to the lawyers for Prince or Ozzy Osbourne or Judas Priest or some of the other high profile targets, and this was before they were playing the race card and going after Hip hop artists. They wanted the Dead Kennedys and their legacy.
f) Comparison with past event
The California statute under which Jello was being prosecuted followed a decision by the Supreme Court of the United States in the case of New York v. Ginsberg back in 1968 over the sale of a men's magazine to a minor. The New York Law it was illegal to willfully sell to a minor under 17 any picture which depicts nudity, is harmful to minors and any magazine which taken as a whole is harmful to minors. Sam Ginsberg who operated a Sam's Stationary and Luncheonette with his wife, had sold two "girlie" magazines to boys under sixteen, was found guilty since the court decided that the images were harmful to minors and the state had a compelling interest in the protecting of children in matters that would not be obscene in regards to adults. The violation of the California statute was a misdemeanour punishable by a year in jail and a $2000 fine, but Mr Guarino said it was highly unlikely he would ask for anything but a suspended fine if he won the case
g) Leaving Giger out of it
Giger's agent Leslie Barany who had been very helpful in the legal situation, knew enough to not to try and fly Giger in from Switzerland as an expert witness in the court case. It got to a point where Jello was having his house raided by the LAPD and they were trying to get Giger's address out of him, and he would tell them "No, he's in Switzerland" while he thought he was about to get his jaw broken but thankfully they didn't go quite that far.
However the jury deadlocked, seven to five in favour of acquittal and when a jury of a criminal case deadlocks, it means a mistrial, and the prosecutor merely filed for a new trial, but the judge denied it on the grounds of there had been enough playing with the law for one case and distribution of harmful matter. The trouble seemed to die away when it was fully known to be an airbrush panting by Giger who was an actual artist and that he had a Hollywood Oscar, they stopped giving him trouble. Giger would admit himself that painting was ugly though.
|The "Penis Landscape" Frankenchrist album poster ( Source: http://vinyls.altervista.org/)|
i) Clouds with a silver linings
So the Dead Kennedys were neither fined nor jailed but in the market place it meant that Dead Kennedys and Alternative Tentacles were kicked out of a lot of chainstores because the McCarthy style chill factor that they wanted actually happened.
However Jello had a year of his life completely disrupted and he had been unable to perform any more music.
But he also found himself polevaulted from his spoken word alleged poetry readings in coffee houses to talking at universities about censorship and getting to know people of the likes of Frank Zappa.
|Chris Stein, Jello Biafra and HR Giger (http://www.alternativetentacles.com)|