Obama supporters have to take whatever crumbs of comfort they can find this morning. The defeat of Tea Party favourites Sharron Angle and Christine “I am you” O’Donnell, in Nevada and Delaware respectively, kept Democrats from ceding control of the Senate and showed that even disillusioned voters think twice before pulling the lever for the conservative fringe. In California, Barbara Boxer saw off Carly Fiorina in the Senate race and – here comes the protest-song link – Jerry Brown returned to the governor’s mansion he vacated in 1983.
I first heard of Jerry Brown through the Dead Kennedys’ 1979 single California Uber Alles and, understandably, I thought he was an asshole. Jello Biafra portrayed him as a “zen fascist” on his way to the White House and a kind of new age dictatorship. Only years later did I learn that Brown was a textbook progressive who opposed the Vietnam war and the death penalty, appointed liberal judges and locked horns with the oil industry over environmental regulations. He even dated Linda Ronstadt and was named Groupie of the Year by Rolling Stone. OK, you can see why his boomer smugness didn’t endear him to the punks, but he was hardly the scariest politician on the scene on the verge of the 80s. While writing my chapter on the Dead Kennedys I asked Biafra about this disconnect between the man and the song and this is what he said:
Keep in mind that I had just escaped from Boulder, Colorado where every other person was searching for a guru to tell them what to do. Any wacky cult or new age movement can find very fertile ground in Boulder and I was really scared by this and thought it was dishonest and evil and so I thought, ‘Oh my god after all this rebellion I expected more out of the 70s than people wandering in the mental darkness looking for someone with all the answers to tell them what to do.’ And one powerful politician alone seemed to be able to tap into that and thus Jerry Brown is the focus of California Uber Alles. But when Reagan stormed in and I realised what was at stake with the religious right claiming they owned the country and people more extreme even than the supporters of Richard Nixon, I realised that was a much bigger threat, thus California Uber Alles evolving into We’ve Got a Bigger Problem Now. It also set it up as kind of a folk song because now anybody can update it.
The year after the song came out, author and punk singer Jim Carroll saw Brown in the street and dashed over to give him a copy of the single. “Brown is probably the kind of guy who’ll take it home and give it a listen,” remarked Biafra.
Bonus beats: by popular demand, the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy’s 1992 cover version about Republican governor Pete Wilson (1991-99), a much more deserving candidate.
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