|Interview - Newspaper
|APB News (United States)
|Greg Graffin explains why he's playing the Mumia Abu-Jamal concert on Jan 28, 1999
By Deborah Baer
NEW YORK (APB) -- Tonight, Rage Against the Machine, Beastie Boys and Bad Religion will play a benefit concert at the Continental Airlines Arena in New Jersey for convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu- Jamal, who was sentenced to death for the 1982 slaying of Daniel Faulkner.Since the concert was announced, the bands, the promoters and anyone attending the concert have been publicly slammed by Faulkner's widow, The Fraternal Order of Police, New York Post columnist Steve Dunleavy and shock-jock Howard Stern.
But demonizing the participants is childish, Bad Religion lead singer Greg Graffin told APB News in a phone interview. "I'm for cops, too", he said. "But I'm still playing the concert. My reasons for playing it are valid. This requires a worldly view."
Graffin explained why Bad Religion, currently on tour for their No Substance album, chose to play this concert.
APB: How did Bad Religion get involved in playing the Mumia concert?
Greg Graffin: My friend Zack de la Rocha, who's the singer of Rage Against the Machine, gave me a call. I knew he was passionate about this cause, and I wanted to support him and Rage Against the Machine in their efforts. And also, it made sense, because Bad Religion has always been one of the more maybe soft-spoken -- but still outspoken -- proponents of social action.
APB: The show sold out pretty quickly. Did that surprise you? Do the fans know what their ticket is paying for?
GG: Bad Religion is not used to playing concerts that don't sell out (laughs). I hope it's for the cause, but these things are meant to raise awareness. If the people come to the show because they just want to see the bands, that's OK, too, because they're just going to leave there with a little bit of understanding, hopefully, of the issues.
APB: Have you ever done any other benefits for Mumia Abu-Jamal?
APB: Have you ever done any research about the case?
GG: A little bit. Zack sent me some books on it, and I spent 11 years on university campuses, so obviously I'd hear of it through fliers and things like that. I never really had the time to delve into it. Then I started reading some of the books that were from the Mumia camp, and I got interested in it.
APB: Are all of the members of Bad Religion on the same page about playing this concert?
GG: We're five different guys, and me sort of being the leader, I end up taking most of the heat. It's hard sometimes to motivate the whole band, and I'm sure Rage and Beastie Boys have the same situation. Any band is made up of individuals. I think ultimately [the concert is] in keeping with the spirit of the band. The main point of consistency is that [the cause] raises awareness, and controversy is probably the best way to raise awareness.
APB: What other causes is Bad Religion involved in?
GG: We're not really a cause band, so that's why this is such a big deal for us. What we have been about is always questioning and promoting freedom of expression and trying to break free from the dogmatic, prescriptive indoctrination that we are forced to abide by from birth.
APB: Is your issue in the Mumia situation the unfair trial aspect or the death penalty?
GG: I don't support cop killers. I don't believe in supporting cop killers. If someone wants to make that the issue, then they can count me out. They cannot co-opt my reason for doing this by simplifying it down to that banal criterion. That's not why I'm doing this. There are legitimate reasons to question Mumia's innocence. I believe that strongly, but there's no excuse to not give the person a fair trial. To me, the biggest issue of awareness that I would like to promote is the inhumanity of the death penalty.
APB: If Mumia had been given a life sentence instead of a death sentence, would you be as involved?
GG: It probably wouldn't have taken on the same weight, but I would have jumped at the opportunity to protest against the death penalty. I think in this situation Mumia Abu-Jamal is a symbol, and a symbol can be interpreted many ways. And so there's always the possibility if you're going to support the symbol, then other people will see it differently and will try to stereotype you. I don't mind being stereotyped as someone who believes that the death penalty is inhumane. I do mind being stereotyped as someone who supports people who shoot down cops.
APB: The Fraternal Order of Police issued a statement last week stating, "Anybody attending this [concert] or promoting this is actively supporting the murder of police officers and will be looked on as such."
GG: That sounds like it was written by a sixth-grader, and you can quote me on that. I will gladly debate any of those half-wits on such a stupid thing to say. It's just a clear mischaracterization and a completely unsympathetic view of anyone who is attending the concert. That's just asinine. If someone wants to try and make me an enemy of the state they're going to have a hard time doing it. Everything that Bad Religion has ever stood for has been positive. [We're] about motivating people for goodness. The people in The Fraternal Order of Police, are they hoping that they can drum up support for themselves by saying such asinine things? One of my most vehemently defended positions is actually something that would help police, and that is the complete abolishment of handguns, because in every major city the police are outgunned by the people they are trying to police. From the policemen who I've talked to, they would be behind us 100 percent. It's not inconceivable that someday I'd be playing a benefit for police. It just shows what a fragile line you walk when you criticize people who are really for goodness.
APB: If you came face to face with Daniel Faulkner's widow, how would you explain to her the reason you are playing this concert?
GG: I think I could relate to her because I know what it feels like to have something taken away from you. I would relate to her on a level of loss. It's not murder, but from what my therapist says, it's the same experience: having your family taken away by a third party being involved with your wife. A friend of mine is now the husband of my ex-wife and my children's stepdad. It's the loss of your family. It's been a few years now, but for the first year and a half all I could think about was retribution. How can you punish this person? Eventually, I came to realize that was weighing me down. The whole concept of payback, which we sell to the public as closing the circle, or closure -- they love to use that word. Closure is no more than a way of acting out your hatred. Somehow we sell it to the public as a way of having it all make sense, somehow. There is no room in anyone's life for hatred. It's too much of a burden to live a productive life. Punishment in many ways is just acting out on hatred because it's clear that punishment is not a deterrent.
APB: Does it bother you that all of the celebrities who support Mumia are lumped together, when it's clear that you are all coming at this from very different angles?
GG: Being in this profession for so long, I learned early on there are many factors you can't control. One of them is your public perception. How do you change the public perception of the concert? All you can do is be true to yourself and not waver on the reasons that you're doing something, so if someone accuses wrongly, you still stand in the right. And that's what, hopefully, if people ever do try to label me as an enemy of the state, they can look at my record and realize they made a mistake.
APB: Mumia spokeswoman Pam Africa has been quoted as saying that you all are playing for a man's life Thursday night. Does that resonate?
GG: Everyone has their own angle on this. I'm playing for something that is much larger than one man's life that will ultimately benefit that one man. I see Mumia Abu-Jamal as a symbol of a flawed system, and I think he's a very powerful symbol. But I also know that he's a gifted intellectual, and if the system benefits him and others on death row, it doesn't absolve them of their potential guilt. But it does make us a more compassionate society. And that's one that I want to live in.
German transcript updated
English transcript added
English transcript added
Article added: Fracture #19
Interview image(s) added: Diplomatic Defense
Interview added: Diplomatic Defense
English transcript updated: Bad Religion, the ‘McCartney and Lennon of punk,’ to make Spokane debut
Interview added: Bad Religion, the ‘McCartney and Lennon of punk,’ to make Spokane debut
German transcript updated: Gähnend in die Punker-Rente