BOOK REVIEW | "DO WHAT YOU WANT: THE STORY OF BAD RELIGION" BY BAD RELIGION WITH JIM RULAND
photo & text by nacrowe
with the rise and proliferation of RUSSIAN DISINFORMATION, CLIMATE SCIENCE DENIALISM, the SOCIAL MEDIA BOTS, AMERICAN WHITE NATIONALISM and rampant cable news sanctioned XENOPHOBIA being experienced across the UNITED STATES, its likely that there has ever been a more prescient time for a book about SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA HARDCORE PUNK ROCK legends BAD RELIGION than our current TRUMPIAN post-fact moment of existential peril. when i consider their influence and legacy, ironically what comes to mind is how throughout their career they seemed very much focused on the present. HARDCORE PUNK ROCK, especially those that descended on the original LOS ANGELES/HOLLYWOOD scene in the early 1980s once the SOUTH BAY, ORANGE COUNTY and the bland extended SUBURBAN wastelands of places like OXNARD and the SAN FERNANDO VALLEY (where the members of BAD RELIGION resided) joined the party all were inherently aggressively transgressive.
but BAD RELIGION was different. as pointed out repeatedly in their recently published autobiography DO WHAT YOU WANT: THE STORY OF BAD RELIGION (HATCHETTE BOOKS, 2020), written by current and past members of BAD RELIGION with help from scribe JIM RULAND (who also collaborated on KEITH MORRIS' 2016 memoir, review linked HERE), the band was focused on using the template of PUNK ROCK as palette to project their musings and observations about how the world works.
the two central figures in this narrative are singer GREG GRAFFIN and guitarist BRETT GUREWITZ, who met through a mutual friend in high school. their songs explore a strident philosophical strain that puts them in concert with the humanist tradition dating back to the enlightenment. again, its beyond timely that their songs as treatises about issues both political and personal are being presented again in an era where lies and untruths have smothered both our political dialogue and our self-conception as AMERICANS.
but i should back up. the book covers their origins, development and ability to move forward despite constantly revolving line-up shifts, music industry cycles and regressive political climates. their independence and longevity is largely due to the relationship of GRAFFIN and GUREWITZ. famously GRAFFIN pursued a side academic career as an EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGIST, receiving his doctorate from CORNELL UNIVERSITY no less, and his availability based on these pursuits both determined the schedule of the band and provided GUREWITZ the time and space to both run his independent label EPITAPH RECORDS and write songs for the band. as fan, i always wondered how that arrangement worked. through this book i learned that when the band jumped to ATLANTIC RECORDS it disrupted both GRAFFIN's academic schedule (as he made himself more available for extensive touring) and GUREWITZ' ability to pull double duty with the band and label, leading to his departure.
eventually the band came to a balance after fulfilling their major label contract after four albums to return to EPITAPH and allow GUREWITZ the freedom to produce and write songs, but not tour. this arrangement has been going on now for the better part of twenty years and counting and no doubt has resulted in their longevity and current status as elder statesmen.
for me they are the LENNON/MCCARTNEY of PUNK ROCK. i also feel that what JOE STRUMMER attempted to convey with limited success is what they both actually achieved as songwriters. this is partly due to their songwriting prowess and production abilities, but i also feel it is due to their creativity and profoundly inquisitive nature. i think longtime fans will be pleasantly surprised to learn how many songs were written by GUREWITZ that most no doubt assumed were GRAFFIN compositions. GRAFFIN is renowned as the PUNK ROCK professor but GUREWITZ is very much his equal and this book sets the record straight on that accord.
great autobiography the presents them and their message of bringing intelligence and intellectual rigor to PUNK ROCK lyricism that is often maligned and derided, especially during the HARDCORE scene that birthed them. if you are interested in PUNK ROCK or meaningful music that asks its listener to think for themselves, then definitely check out this book.
otherwise just go listen to KID ROCK. or KANYE.
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