Dead Kennedys' Jello Biafra interviewed during his 1987 obscenity trial

In 1985, a 15-year-old Southern Californian girl went to a shopping mall in Northridge and bought the Dead Kennedys' Frankenchrist album, which included an H.R. Giger poster called "Landscape XX," also known as "Penis Landscape." The girl's mother was horrified and she complained to the LA city attorney. According to Quartz, "A few months later, nine police officers stormed into Biafra's apartment in San Francisco and his record label's offices, seizing copies of the album and demanding to know where Giger lived."(Giger lived in Zurich.) Biafra and record label manager were arrested and charged with "distributing harmful material to a minor." Biafra said "We were the first people to be prosecuted over an album in American history."

From Quartz:


he jury deadlocked 7-5 in favor of acquittal, and the judge declared a mistrial. A few of the younger jurors asked Biafra to autograph the poster. (It was no longer included in the record after the trial, though it was available long afterward by mail order from Alternative Tentacles—with proof of age.).

The case reverberated for years. "If any of us had been convicted, there would have been a precedent set where even an artist or a crew member working on a project that someone deemed obscene would be responsible for the whole project," Biafra told the Miami Herald after the trial. Even though Biafra was acquitted, many chain stores still pulled his band's—and his label's—records from their shelves.

From Dangerous Minds:

The hysteria that surrounded rap and rock music 30 years ago is hard to imagine today, now that the anti-smut crusaders have elevated Mr. Obscenity himself to the White House, but the incoherent language of the reactionary right hasn't changed much: at one point during the trial, in an ecstasy of outrage, the prosecutor compared H. R. Giger to the Night Stalker, Richard Ramirez.

In the above video, Biafra and his father are interviewed about the case outside the courtroom.

If this interests you, here's a 1986 episode of Oprah, taken during the height of the moral panic about profanity and violence in rap and rock music, which was led by Al Gore's then-wife Tipper Gore. The episode has a pearl-clutching Tipper facing off against an articulate Jello, along with a constantly-interrupting Bob Guccione Jr (publisher of Spin), and others: