|Category:||Interview - Internet||Publish date:||12/15/2006|
Bad Religion: What Is Punk?
by Sheehzaad Jiwani
chartattack.com, December 15, 2006
Bad Religion have been together for more than a quarter century now, and are currently writing what will be their 14th studio album. Given their status as punk rock royalty, ChartAttack recently spoke with bassist and founding member Jay Bentley about their unique perspective on punk's past, present and future.
ChartAttack: When you released The Empire Strikes First in 2004, several artists were speaking out against the Bush administration. But after he was re-elected, most bands just dropped the topic.
Jay Bentley: Those things aren't going to go away. It's only flogging a dead horse in the sense of the administration, not the consequences that we're going to be dealing with. We'll probably move away from the political ideology and more towards how we feel about this as human beings, whether it's speaking in terms of the families of the soldiers who are off in the Middle East to all the people that are going to be left penniless by the $300 billion dollar deficit. People don't think about that. They didn't just print that money, they had to borrow that money from somewhere. Those are issues where you can't just come out and say that, because that goes over everybody's head. That's why nobody cares because it doesn't make any sense.
Bad Religion Would you prefer the mindless protesting that most people took part in over none at all?
Yeah. I'd have to choose mindless protesting over none at all because none at all is just way too apathetic. As far as I can tell, the big shining ass in the sky example is the Dixie Chicks, where they came out and said something, and then they retracted it, then came out and said it again. That fucks everybody! It makes all of us look like fucking morons because then people are like, "They're just stupid drunks, what do they know?"
Do you think punk rock is as good a platform for free speech as it was in the '80s?
Yeah, maybe even more so because it's tenfold in its popularity. Given the access that punk rock has to the media, it could be used in a much more effective manner. I will say that it isn't because the bands who have achieved popularity have nothing to say. It doesn't necessarily mean that it's a bad thing. Having a band that is meaningless become popular in the sense of true punk rock doesn't preclude another band who has more meaning from following them, because that opportunity is there. In 1980, there was no opportunity for any punk rock band to be in the mainstream whatsoever. As far as you'd get was the Sex Pistols throwing up on people in the airport. Now, it's a much different scenario, and I believe there will be a time when voices of that generation and things to come will have access to the media and they'll have things to say that are very important. At the same time, I have to say that musicians in general and people of that ilk aren't necessarily the people that the general population should be listening to. It's a double-edged sword, so you have to go back to saying that it's just entertainment, it's just rock 'n' roll, and in the end we're all stupid. [laughs] None of us are Noam Chomsky.
Do you ever feel people's minds just can't be changed?
It's not that [people's minds] can't be changed, it's that they're unteachable. There's a point in people's lives where the things that they believe to be true become solid and fact, whether they are or not. They finally stop learning, they finally stop saying, "I wonder if that's true or not." They just believe it as fact. There's a lot of people who believe in things when they're 15 that by the time they're 21 they're like, "Boy, that was stupid." Not everybody, but most people. Being able to see that and saying, "I thought this when I was younger and I was wrong," or changing your opinion and leaving it open, that means you're teachable. The only thing that I've ever asked is for people to question what they believe just to make sure. Don't walk around thinking, "I was told this in fifth grade, so it's true." Look at it again! Spend some time, open a newspaper.
How do you feel about punk rock in 2006?
The same thing I thought of punk in 1976. It's not definable and it can't be sold, no matter how much you try.
What about bands who obviously use the punk tag as a gimmick?
Well, they look good.
And that's what counts!
Hey, in 1982, in L.A. when punk rock just ate shit and no one could play anywhere, when punk rock was essentially dead, people were saying, "What's the big thing that came out of punk rock?" and I said, "Ripped jeans and short hair." That's it! So if you want to know what came out of punk rock in 2006, it's Hot Topic!
Most elitists scoff at the idea that they're selling an image as "punk."
That's fine. It's just makeup, it doesn't mean anything. It's totally cool because it doesn't scratch the surface of what punk is. I can't define what it is. It's a defiance, that's why when people try to define punk rock, I say that's great, now my job is to defy that definition. I used to do that. I used to scoff at bands if they'd play a club of more than 500 people. "Sell outs!" Who gives a shit, you know? Who cares? It's not about bands, it's about you. You start realizing [as you get older], what battle is it that you're fighting. You better pick and choose the things that you really care about. Do you really care about Hot Topic? Hold on, let's see, war in the Middle East - Hot Topic - I think I've got bigger problems!
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