Criminal charges have been filed against the lead singer of the Dead Kennedys punk rock band and four others in connection with an allegedly pornographic poster packaged with the San Francisco group's most recent record album, the Los Angeles city attorney's office said Tuesday.
In the highly unusual legal action, Eric Boucher, 27, who goes by the stage name Jello Biafra, and his co-defendants are charged with distributing harmful matter to minors, an offense that, upon conviction, carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $2,000 fine.
At issue is a 20- by 24-inch reproduction of a painting enclosed with the group's 1985 LP, "Frankenchrist," which depicts, in clinical close-up, 10 sets of male and female genitals engaged in sexual acts.
The charges were filed after a San Fernando Valley mother complained to authorities that her teen-age daughter had bought the album as a gift for her 11-year-old brother at a Wherehouse music store in the Northridge Fashion Mall last December, Deputy City Atty. Michael Guarino said.
"We're not proceeding against the album. . . . That is clearly protected by the First Amendment," Guarino said. "(But) the poster is not a communication of anything of value, and I'd think it would be beyond arguing that the average adult Californian would consider this material highly inappropriate for minors."
The prosecutor said the criminal filing is apparently the first such action ever taken by the city attorney's office, but it does not signal the start of a campaign against allegedly offensive music or artwork.
"We wouldn't have even filed the case, except there was an actual victim," Guarino said. " . . . We had to act after looking at the poster. We really didn't have any choice."
Trish Heimers, a spokesman for the Recording Industry Assn. of America in New York, said she was unaware of any previous criminal complaints nationwide "regarding particular works of music."
In a telephone interview, Boucher termed the complaint "totally ridiculous."
"This is not a pornography issue," he said. "This is a First Amendment, freedom of speech issue.
"This is a direct result of the nationwide move by right-wing and religious organizations to impose censorship via ratings and bannings of rock music, books and other forms of art and literature."
The poster, the singer said, was reproduced from a painting by Swiss artist H. R. Giger and has been displayed in European museums and in various art publications. Giger, he added, has designed film sets and album covers for several mainstream movie directors and recording artists. Giger shared an Academy Award in 1980 for best visual effects for the science-fiction horror movie "Alien."
Boucher is a trenchant social critic who ran for mayor of San Francisco in 1979 and whose previous recorded works have included the songs "California Uber Alles" and "Religious Vomit." He asserted that the graphic artwork was "far less harmful than what minors and adults see every night on the six o'clock news. Our band stands against exploitation and the glorification of violence.
'Is Not Exploitation'
"The painting is not exploitation. It is anti-exploitation, because it putrefies exploitation itself."
Since a search warrant was served recently, Boucher said, his record company has stopped including copies of the poster with the album, of which about 30,000 copies have been pressed.
The LP's cover includes a warning: "The inside fold-out to this record cover is a work of art by H. R. Giger that some people may find shocking, repulsive or offensive. Life can sometimes be that way."
Facing arraignment July 3 in Los Angeles Municipal Court are Boucher, owner of Alternative Tentacles Records, which distributes "Frankenchrist"; Michael Bonanno, 25, of San Francisco, general manager of the firm; Debra Ruth Schwartz, 26, of San Francisco, general manager of Mordam Records of San Francisco; Steve Boudreau, 38, president of Greenworld Distributors of Torrance, and Salvatore Alberti, 66, of Huntington Beach, owner of a Monterey Park-based firm that inserted the posters into the album covers.