|Category:||Interview - Internet||Publish date:||4/20/2011|
|Source:||ithaca.com (United States)||With:||Greg Graffin|
Punk rock paleontologist: Greg Graffin pursues music and science
by Jim Catalano
ithaca.com, April 20, 2011
In 2010, iconic punk band Bad Religion marked its 30th anniversary with constant touring and the release of a new album, "The Dissent of Man." Fronted by singer Greg Graffin, who has lived in the Ithaca area since 1991 (when he came to pursue his PhD at Cornell), Bad Religion has long earned acclaim for its thought-provoking lyrics and hard-hitting music.
The band is currently on a tour that kicked off with an appearance on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" and that will bring it to the east coast the first week in May. (Closest dates are New York (May 5-6) and Philadelphia (May 2-3).) The band is touring with Rise Against, with whom they've shared many gigs over the years.
"Everything is going great," Graffin said in a phone call from Salt Lake City last week. "It's kind of like two punk bands from two different walks of society that are bringing together both of their crowds. So the audiences are probably double what either one of us would do normally."
The band also recently taped "The Daily Habit" on Fuel Television, and the "Guitar Center Sessions" on AOL and DirecTV. "It's a pretty cool show, really hi-def, shot in 3D, that will be airing in July," Graffin said. "We're also going to be on cover of Guitar Center Magazine. That's quite a big deal nowadays; they circulate a million magazines a month. And the ‘Sessions' reach lots of people as well."
After finishing up the current tour in mid-May, Bad Religion will head to Europe for a string of summer festival gigs. "This year we're focusing on the ‘Dissent of Man,' because it came out late last year, and most of the 30th anniversary celebration swamped out the album," he said.
This fall, Graffin will return to the classroom, co-teaching a course in evolution in Cornell's Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology.
"It's a new course; we have to write it from scratch," he said. "We're developing a course that (his former advisor) Will Provine taught for 30 years. He approached it from a history background, because he's an historian of science. Now, it's going to be geneticist and paleontologist starting a new course, and it's exciting to teach evolution from that perspective.
"The cool thing about it is that it's for non-majors, so it's open to anyone," he continued. "What I like about that is that I believe evolution is an important topic for society and kind of litmus test for an educated society. And people from all walks or from any department will find it interesting. Even though we want to provoke people, it's not an indoctrination. We're as interested in their views as they are in learning the science of evolution."
Graffin taught for three semesters over three years at UCLA, so he's clearly comfortable in a classroom setting. "I like that because it's an equivalent to standing on the stage at a concert-you get an audience that is interested in having its thoughts provoked," he said. "And evolution is one of the best topics you can imagine for provoking people."
Graffin intends to continue his music career in tandem with academia. "I'll be teaching at Cornell for 14 weeks (versus 10 at UCLA), so it's a bit more demanding, but I get to be close to my home studio," he said. "So I can get music done while I'm teaching. I was doing that in L.A. to some degree, as well. As you know, it's always been the blend of academics and music in which I feel most enriched. So I'm very grateful for the opportunity to do that at Cornell now."
Last year, Graffin, who earned his PhD in zoology, published a book, "Anarchy Evolution: Faith, Science and Bad Religion in a World Without God." He said the reaction to the book "kind of matches the profile of Bad Religion albums after all these years."
"Whenever we put out an album, it would never soar to top of the charts, yet people couldn't put their finger on anything they could criticize it for," he said. "As the scrutiny of an album grew, more and more people loved it - it just sunk in. Over time, if you take any of our albums, their sales are very impressive.
"So that's what I'm trying to do with my books as well. Just put out something of good quality with high standards, and not worry about the marketing and how it's perceived or whether it's a blockbuster. But I'm absolutely convinced that over time people who pick it up will find it personally meaningful. Most of the reviews I've read are kind of personal and really hits people in a special place, and I'm very satisfied with that."
In the coming year, Graffin plans to work on his next book, titled "The Population Wars," which he said will be "a bit more in depth about the process" of evolution.
"It's about change, and change is a good metaphor for the way we live our lives," he said. "So it's going to be another general interest book that talks about change, but it will be a look at life from a population perspective."
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