|Interview - Internet
Greg Graffin: 21st-century quizzical boy - Bad Religion frontman/Ph.D. owner ponders the relationship bewtween punk and science in new book
by Kate Carraway
eyeweekly.com, October 14, 2010
Greg Graffin is the singer in Bad Religion, which used to be one of my favourite bands I guess, so talking to him on the phone provided a micro-thrill that I am usually too jaded or busy to notice. (Thanks, Greg Graffin!) In addition to fronting Bad Religion since 1979 or something ridiculous, Graffin got a Ph.D. in zoology from Cornell and teaches at UCLA. (Bad Religion are a particularly unslackery band: guitarist Brett Gurewitz is the founder of Epitaph Records.)
So, Graffin is the right guy to combine the forces of PUNK and SCIENCE, and does so in the new book Anarchy Evolution: Faith, Science and Bad Religion in a World Without God, which he’ll talk up tonight at 6pm at HMV (333 Yonge) in a Q&A/autograph session; later on, Bad Religion plays at the Kool Haus.
Graffin’s approach to his two disciplines, and the core precept of both, is “question authority.” “If you don't challenge something," he says, "there’s no growth and no advancement. Both science and counterculture advance themselves by challenging traditions and challenging the norms….My band is kind of a ‘big idea’ band, and the songs are provocative, and it’s something we’ve tried to improve upon over the years. Academia is a slow build of ideas and concepts, and the academy is a forum to share those ideas and to hone your craft. The book is about the similarities in those two seemingly disparate strains of consciousness I’ve been doing for years. They both challenge authority; they both have a community of concerned citizens; they both have an interaction between ideas and feedback.”
The difference is that academia is academia, and punk rock has been distanced from whatever authority it once had, more often cannibalized for fashion cues and vapid pop-punk bands than looked to for its philosophy. As a three-decade-plus punker, Graffin disagrees with me about commercialism presenting a basic problem for the potential of punk.
“To me that’s a great success story, if something becomes democratized. So now you can go to the mall and find studded wrist bands. What’s important is the ideas.”
He adds: “Bad Religion is in our 30th year in punk rock; we just came off our most successful European tour ever. There's still a viable and vital scene.” He says that anywhere between 30 and 60 per cent of the people at Bad Religion shows are first-timers: “It’s not just a bunch of crusty old punkers who haven’t grown up … The punk scene has morphed into so many permutations, no one could have predicted it.”
With the doctorate and the stalwart punk status and the book deal, Graffin has become an undeniable, three-horned authority. But, he cautions, “You have to be careful, because as you become more respected, you might become an authority, or an authority figure… The bad kind of authorities are ‘authoritarian.’ These are people who are close-minded and not open to change. You run the risk of becoming a fundamentalist if you don’t leave your mind open to change.”
It’s this same resistance to challenges and change that turned Graffin off mainstream culture as a kid and which alienates him from “the nihilistic elements of punk” and the populist (and popular), Richard Dawkins-centric atheist movement.
“I've felt very unwelcomed by the atheist movement," he says. "It’s either ‘you're with us or against us,’ sort of like the most negative aspects of punk. I've always wanted something more, something better from the punk scene, and likewise I want something more and better from the atheist discussions.”
Graffin says that most naturalists, which Anarchy Evolution reveals him to be, are atheistic in their beliefs anyway; his band’s name and famous logo (a cross inside a red “no” symbol) kind of confirm the point. Still, Graffin is opposed to the idea of such fixed thinking. He asks, “Why would you raise problems and social issues if you didn’t want a better society?” The book serves as something of a memoir, but with a throughline applying the import of natural science to all of the themes that are central to science, punk, and Graffin: God, evolution, faith, humanity.
“While we're arguing about this stuff, a million people have been born, and a million people have died because of a lack of knowledge of biology and medicine. We have no idea how we’re going to sustain the new people who were born. And those are the things that are really going to determine the decisions we’re going to have to make in the 21st century, and they’re all topics of natural science.”
And punk rock.
German transcript updated
English transcript added
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