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Jello Biafra wants to know

Special to The Times

“Questions are the No. 1 impediment to progress,” boomed Jello Biafra during the sardonic opening piece of his Wednesday spoken-word show at the Henry Fonda Music Box Theatre. Then the erstwhile leader of hard-core punk band the Dead Kennedys spent hours urging fans to fight the status quo by asking such questions as, “How is this war going to make our country safer?”

The generally well-informed Biafra started from common ground -- being safe from terrorism is good, Saddam Hussein is bad -- and then turned sharply left, criticizing the wars against terrorism and Iraq for exposing Americans to more danger.

He also chastised the mainstream media, denounced the Bush administration’s domestic agenda, decried corporate global power and rehashed his legal travails with former bandmates.

Something like a really long college lecture, except funnier, the program went quickly while Biafra was speaking, but momentum suffered when he took a 40-minute break after his first two-plus hours on stage. Still, despite his tendency to over-explain things to a mostly like-minded crowd, he left an urgent impression. Biafra’s intriguing-yet-depressing refresher course on the many Persian Gulf War figures back in play proved key among many important points. Recent history is too easily washed away by the flood of current events, but what matters isn’t merely whatever’s flashing across our TV screens. It’s our duty as Americans to stay informed, to remember what came before so we can more clearly see, and deal with, the present.

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