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Leopold and His Fiction
Leopold and His Fiction
Ryan McGarvey
Ryan McGarvey
Let It Grow
Let It Grow
 V.19 No.45 | November 11 - 17, 2010 


There’s a Ph.D. in the Mosh Pit

Bad Religion celebrates 30 years of intellect

Bad Religion will tell you about anarchy   and   sexual selection as seen in the peafowl.
Myriam Santos
Bad Religion will tell you about anarchy and sexual selection as seen in the peafowl.

The early punks and pre-punks openly pursued starry-eyed deals with major record labels. The majors, however, felt burned by commercial failure and unprofessionalism (New York Dolls: “They’re junkies!” The Sex Pistols: “Loudmouth yobs!”) and wanted little to do with bands that followed. Smelling further disaster, the majors backed off until “safe” acts tagged as new wave appeared.

This box set of Bad Religion vinyl could be yours
This box set of Bad Religion vinyl could be yours

This lesson was not lost on the homegrown punk bands that followed. A new and more aggressive sound called thrash (pioneered by The Stimulators and Bad Brains) became punk. DIY labels and networks of burned-out warehouse stages filled the void the majors had left wide open like office workers evacuating during a bomb scare.

Second-generation Southern California punks snubbed the melodic sound of L.A. bands such as X and, inspired by thrash, went hardcore. Played up in the press and by the sensationalism of Penelope Spheeris’ documentary The Decline of Western Civilization, the SoCal scene was typified by bloody mosh pits, petty criminals like Jack Grisham of TSOL, and kids who weren’t afraid of violent confrontation with police or even with themselves. There were no more aspirations to stardom, the thought of which was absurd even to the musicians themselves.

From the San Fernando Valley came a band that distinguished itself from previous punk rockers. Bad Religion embraced the DIY ethic but rejected mindless teenage male aggression, even though its own members weren’t all yet out of high school. Lyricist Greg Graffin not only had plans for serious college studies but insisted on penning songs that had a ferocious sound and intelligent subject matter.

Bad Religion’s articulate lyrics forced you to listen, even if you needed a dictionary at your side to interpret Graffin’s mini-dissertations. Songwriting partner “Mr. Brett” Gurewitz matched Graffin in intelligence, if not vocabulary, but his punishing guitar work spoke eloquently. The band appeared to be a lone voice in an unruly mosh pit. (There were other hardcore bands that had something real to say, but these were eclipsed by the public displays of violence that ensured riot squads were called in, further blurring the message.)

“Anarchy” was the cry of many punks who embraced it as merely chaos rather than a concept—living with integrity by responsibly governing yourself and your community. Songs like “You Are (The Government)” and “Don’t Pray on Me” reinforced the ethic that you can—and should—think for yourself, but avoided the buffoonery of the Dead Kennedys or the jock mentality of Circle One.

The book American Hardcore: A Tribal History devotes less than two of its 350 pages to Bad Religion. It’s interesting that here Graffin says, “Bad Religion was never given credit for even being part of that scene.” Whether this was a rejection of the band’s intellectual leanings and anti-violent stance is hard to say. No matter. Unlike other SoCal bands that later reformed for one-off tours, Bad Religion is not making a comeback at Thursday’s show. Except for a 1984 hiatus, the band has never stopped gigging. Or making records that ask you to think.

Sadly, Mr. Brett no longer tours with Bad Religion, although he continues to record with the band on his major-of-the-minor-labels, Epitaph. Founding bass player Jay Bentley (Wasted Youth) and early BR guitarists Greg Hetson (Redd Kross, Circle Jerks) and Brian Baker (Minor Threat, Government Issue) will be on hand along with “new” (since 1994) drummer Brooks Wackerman.

Bad Religion is turning 30 this year. To celebrate, there’s a new album, The Dissent of Man, which is the band’s 15th full-length release. There’s also a new book— Anarchy Evolution: Faith, Science and Bad Religion in a World Without God—written by Graffin, who’s now a UCLA professor with a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology. Even if you choose to watch the show right up front where you’re sure to get soundly thrashed in the pit, try to protect your head and brains enough to take in the wisdom Bad Religion imparts.

Bad Religion

with Bouncing Souls and Off With Their Heads
Thursday, November 11, 8 p.m.
Sunshine Theater
120 Central SW
Tickets: $23, all-ages
Public Comments (2)
  • Bad Religion? More like "Bad Christianity"  [ Sat Nov 20 2010 3:22 PM ]

    Personally, I outgrew punk rock when I outgrew high school. I couldn't find enough in the stark minimalism of punk to keep me interested beyond that, especially knowing there was a vast world of music beyond it to explore. One could argue that I was never a true punk fan, and I would probably agree in order to end the boring discussion as quickly as possible.

    My sister and I were dining at Frontier the night of the Bad Religion show, when 20-30 punkish people began trickling in with their t-shirts, patches, and buttons. I saw the logo, which featured a Christian cross in a red circle crossed out. I am familiar with the sophomoric premise of Bad Religion's ideology, and I understand the line of thinking. I would personally cite economics as the reason for the world's strife and turmoil, with ideology (usually created by wrenching a religious premise out of context), tacked on as a rider to justify wars and oppression. The real culprit for human conflict is the scarcity of resources.

    This is a digression, however. On to the kernel: what struck me as amusing was that the cross was the targeted symbol for the band's logo, while there are plenty other major religions at which to throw stones. I've studied enough sociology to understand the reason for this singling out of Christianity. It is, after all, the dominant religion of the Western hemisphere, and as the Western hemisphere has enjoyed global hegemony for several centuries, it's a case of the underdog cornered by the wolf.

    However, with a wry smile I noted mentally that Muslim iconography was strikingly absent from the band's logo. Now why would this be? After all, Islam overtook Christianity in the 90s as the world's most popular religion. Christians are easier targets, I suppose, for their proclivity to be relatively permissive of criticism. After all, a tenant of Christianity is that persecution should be suffered willingly and patiently, while retaliation is discouraged. How much spine does it take to slap someone who is taught to "turn the other cheek"?

    What I used to admire about punk rock was its boldness. It had an in-your-face willingness to say what everyone else is afraid to say. Yet, I see Bad Religion still tiptoeing very obviously around the world's most popular religion by leaving it off of its merchandise. Why don't they just change the name to Bad Christianity?

    That's my two bits. I'll leave the exorbitant price of admission ($23 dollars for a punk show?!?!?) out of it.

  • Bad Religion = Highly Marketable  [ Sun Nov 28 2010 3:00 PM ]

    There seems to have been a lot of misunderstanding about my criticism of Bad Religion. I'll review just to be 100% clear.

    Bad Religion seems to me to be a cowardly band in a genre that is supposed to be an in-your-face, say-whatever-needs-to-be-said genre. I say this because it is still restricting the religions attacked in its logo to Christianity, while Islam, as the fastest-growing religion in the world, is completely left out. I cannot say for certain, but it would seem they avoid it because the political Left in America is decidedly for the acceptance and understanding of Islam (and justifiably so), and the political Left happens to be among Bad Religion's target demographics. An Islamic icon in a red circle crossed out would be too controversial for the band to tackle, although it claims to be against religion in all forms. Accordingly, I see an inconsistency between the band's creed and its marketing.

    It seems to me the band is more interested in selling albums than speaking out for its beliefs. After all, a Christian cross in a red circle crossed out can't possibly hurt the band's album and merchandise sales; if anything, it helps them. Exploiting the Christian symbol for album sales draws in the dough from rebellious children reared on Judeo-Christian values--a key demographic for the sale of punk rock albums. In this way, Bad Religion's assault on the Christian icon is not unlike the album-selling tactics of such schlockly shock rockers as Disturbed. It's all about getting money from the rebellious kids, who probably got the money from their Christian parents as an allowance.

    Last edited [11/28/10 3:03 PM]
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