|Category:||Interview - Magazine||Publish date:||4/26/2000|
|Source:||SLAMM Magazine #132 (April 2000) (United States)||With:||Greg Graffin|
|Synopsis:||Punk Demi-God Graffin Talks about Opening for Blink-182.|
To Be Punk in (the New) America
by Josh Brau
Since its inception in 1980, Bad Religion has fervently addressed social and political issues. The group is a mainstay of a lineage that includes, among others, Jefferson Airplane, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Public Enemy, Ani DiFranco and Rage Against the Machine. With popular music's current resistance to dealing with matters of substance, socially conscious bards like and Greg Graffin are more vital than ever.
Graffin, lead singer and principal songwriter for Bad Religion, is recently home from Burma and about to leave for a short tour of Germany. He is twenty minutes late for our interview; perhaps a better word would be "lecture." It turns out that the man described as "one of the smartest men in rock and roll" is as thoughtful in speech as in lyric writing.
"Punk goes back much longer than the 25 years that most music writers think it went back," states Graffin, discussing the cultural movement that his band is largely credited with expanding since the days of the Sex Pistols and Black Flag. "It's an attitude that is part of what being human is all about. The greatest advances in human history have been made by people who didn't think along the prevailing trends, and I think that that is part of the human spirit and is not going anywhere. There will always be a subsector of the population who will retain the ability and the desire to think differently and who will prove themselves against the mainstream," Graffin says.
Such beliefs have sustained Bad Religion throughout its history. Graffin, drummer Bobby Schayer, bassist Jay Bentley, and guitarists Brian Baker and Greg Hetson have watched many an opening band achieve the commercial success that has eluded them. In 1994, both Green Day and the Offspring went multi-platinum -- both bands were heavily influenced by Bad Religion and had previously opened for their heroes.
On May 11, Bad Religion will began a U.S. tour in support of blink-182, yet another multi-platinum descendent. To punk purists, such a tour is sacrilegious -- Bad Religion opening for blink-182?
"That seems to be the prevailing question," Graffin laughs. "The feeling that I get is something that has plagued us throughout our career. That is, spending a lot of time opening for bands that were actually inspired by the work that we did."
Instead of getting frustrated, Bad Religion intends to "show the audience an authentic example of what the heart and soul of this style of music is all about," says Graffin excitedly. "We have a role to play, and that is one of awakening people, and making them realize that there is an original source of all of this."
In fact, there currently might be no better band for them to open for than blink-182. Bad Religion’s new album, The New America will come out May 9, and the tour will give them a chance to turn younger ‘punks’ on to the fundamentals.
"I never would have heard of punk if I wasn't listening to KROQ back in the late 1970s," claims Graffin. "And most of the music that KROQ played was shit. They had a weekly punk show, and that's what got me listening and educated me, and taught me that there was a punk scene in England, and there was one in New York City, and there was one right there in my backyard in Los Angeles. If I hadn't turned on that commercial station, I never would've learned it. Well this is sort of in the same vein. There are a lot of people in blink's audience who probably think they're punk, but they haven't really been exposed to punk. Who are we to judge them for not being properly educated?"
Education, music and otherwise, has been a prevailing theme for Bad Religion -- Graffin holds a Master's degree in geology and is working towards his Ph.D in zoology at Cornell. "My parents were academics," he explains, "and I was brought up in a household that valued skepticism and valued the scientific method and valued the search for truth through objective means and not by blind faith. I study fossils. I learn something about the history of the earth and the history of the animals also. I've always been interested in learning about where I came from. I never had religion to answer those questions."
Graffin’s objective examinations have led him to ideas about human psychology which are more than relevant to the question of punk music. "Humans are not born to follow," claims Graffin. "So few people are ever compelled to lead. It's definitely part of our biology to be leaders, not followers. A lot of the followers do so out of fear. Many people who are buying into the commercialization of punk are doing it out of fear also. They are afraid of being outsiders; they want to be a part of a group. They are afraid of failure on their own terms, and so they just buy into the fashion of it all and they can hang out with other punkers."
Graffin recently published an essay, his "Punk Manifesto," in which he examines the meaning of the word. It is a word his band has played a role in defining since they were teenagers growing up in the San Fernando Valley. The five men are not the stereotypical ‘punks’ of the movies; three have families. In their band photos, they stand arm in arm. Even without co-founder Brett Gurewitz (who left the band amicably after the release of 1994's Stranger Than Fiction and who co-wrote one song with Graffin on The New America), the band is a cohesive unit. Bad Religion is a family.
Amnesty International inspired Graffin's recent travels to Burma. "They got in touch with me for the prospect of my writing a freedom song for them. I didn't want to be affiliated with any group," he says proudly, "so I went as an independent over there, to check things out, to see if I could get into it."
In Burma, Graffin encountered large-scale poverty in a beautiful country ravaged by civil war. "Our country doesn't do any trade with Burma; we have sanctions against them. It's kind of a taboo place to go and that's why I wanted to go over there and check things out," he says. "It's one of the few places in the world where you can go and not see a McDonald’s. Their government doesn't allow McDonalds's."
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Article added: Hartbeat #10
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Review added: The Genius Of... The Process Of Belief By Bad Religion