photo & text by nacrowe
what makes PUNK PARADOX: A MEMOIR (HACHETTE, 2022) such a COMPELLING is how it voices the INHERENT CONTRADICTIONS, OPPORTUNITIES, LIMITATIONS, FREEDOMS, IN-GROUP/OUT-GROUP DYNAMICS and SOCIETAL EVOLUTIONS presented by the surprisingly ENDURING and AGILE CULTURAL INSTITUTION known as PUNK ROCK. as both a key member of 1980s HARDCORE icons BAD RELIGION as well as a TRAINED evolutionary biologist (with a CORNELL PHD to boot), GREG GRAFFIN is uniquely positioned to elucidate on such matters from a seemingly ELEVATED, macro-level perspective. i see this memoir as less focused on his personal narrative, albeit such details are included, and more as an EXTENDED meditation on the RISKS and BENEFITS of pursuing an INTELLECTUAL LIFE in a career [entertainment] whose format, supporting industry and audience expectations find such SUPERFLUOUS.
when i got into HARDCORE from LOS ANGELES through a childhood friend in ORANGE COUNTY, i was made privy to a whole host of bands from the neighboring area. places like the SOUTH BAY (BLACK FLAG, DESCENDENTS), VENTURA COUNTY (DR. KNOW, RICH KIDS ON LSD, ILL REPUTE), SAN DIEGO COUNTY (BATTALION OF SAINTS), LOS ANGELES COUNTY (THE BAGS, THE GERMS, X, THE WEIRDOS, WASTED YOUTH, FEAR) and even the SAN FERNANDO VALLEY (THE DICKIES, BAD RELIGION). all of this in addition to several bands from nearby ORANGE COUNTY cities (AGENT ORANGE, THE VANDALS, SOCIAL DISTORTION, ADOLESCENTS, D.I., THE MIDDLE CLASS) near where i spent my first twelve years before moving to NIGERIA with my family.
BAD RELIGION stuck out from their cohorts immediately due to the LYRICAL BENT and INTELLECTUAL ACUITY of GRAFFIN whose hyper-focus was on utilizing music as a vehicle for elevating the level of DISCOURSE with his audience. it felt like a contradiction in terms, as PUNK ROCK during this period generally was POLEMIC in nature, espousing CAUSTIC, ACCUSATORY VERBAL BOMBS at targets with machine-gun flurries of REPETITIOUS barbed statements that relayed a sense of urgency as well as a PSYCHIC LOSS of personal self-control and greater DISILLUSIONMENT with one's place in the world. HARDCORE in this sense was a FEELING, an ATTITUDE, an IDENTITY. GRAFFIN was the RARE wordsmith and intellectually ADEPT and CURIOUS songwriter that was able to take on heady CULTURAL and SOCIETAL ISSUES related to runaway MATERIALISM, ATHEISM, TRIBALISM, MISINFORMATION / DISINFORMATION, INSTITUTIONAL RACISM , JUDICIAL MALFEASANCE and POLITICAL CORRUPTION and construct COGENT points in SHORT, TIGHT, MELODICALLY SATISFYING outbursts. listening to BAD RELIGION felt like experiencing an oxymoron, a complete contradiction in terms, like the what-if test case of what THE RAMONES sounded like if they had genuinely INTELLIGENT lyrics.
my big take from PUNK PARADOX: A MEMOIR is that all INSTITUTIONS are useful in and of how they interact with the population and if needs change over time, they likewise change course and evolve. PUNK ROCK as a PUBLIC INSTITUTION shares this dynamic and is not what it was back in the early 80s when BAD RELIGION started out in a SAN FERNANDO garage, much less than what it started out as back in the mid 80s on NEW YORK CITY's lower east side. it is a form that will continue evolve and maintain relevance. or it wont and die like RAGTIME or NU METAL before it.
i wish this book would have been around when i was in high school and felt obligated to the tired arguments with SELF-APPOINTED "punk rock police" advocates who shunned some bands and lionized others for seemingly juvenile reasons. GRAFFIN does a great job of eviscerating the whole UNREALISTIC NOTION of the DIY ETHIC, as nothing related to being in a band is done on your own. in fact, it is the opposite as a band is the central organism that relies on a wider COOPERATIVE and INTERDEPENDENT NETWORK of ROADIES, MANAGERS, PROMOTERS and other INDUSTRY SPECIALISTS that make the whole mutually beneficial ECOSYSTEM SUSTAINABLE. if anything i found this book to be one of the most HONEST, NO BULLSHIT reflections on what it actually means to be in a band since HENRY ROLLINS' CELEBRATED tour diary GET IN THE VAN: ON THE ROAD WITH BLACK FLAG (review linked HERE).
does PUNK PARADOX: A MEMOIR become a little LOQUACIOUS at times, a bit overly SESQUIPEDALION? sure. but it never comes off is PEDANTIC in the least, more so that you are dealing with someone that put the time and thought into their memoir and likewise expect the same of the reader. much like what BAD RELIGION regularly expect from their audience.
i thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it to anyone interested in THOUGHTFUL deliberations about the meaning of art and the artist's responsibility to him/herself and their audience. it also touchingly showcases the GENERATIONAL DAMAGE caused by DIVORCE even under the best of circumstances and intensions on both sides. if you are looking for a more CONVENTIONAL history of BAD RELIGION, then definitely check out author JIM RULAND's recent book DO WHAT YOU WANT: THE STORY OF BAD RELIGION (review linked HERE) or maybe even history professor DEWAR MACLEOD's KIDS OF THE BLACK HOLE: PUNK ROCK IN POSTSUBURBAN CALIFORNIA (review linked HERE), MY DAMAGE: THE STORY OF A PUNK ROCK SURVIVOR (review linked HERE) by KEITH MORRIS of BLACK FLAG ,CIRCLE JERKS and OFF!, VIOLENCE GIRL: A CHICANA PUNK STORY (review linked HERE) by ALICE BAG of THE BAGS or UNDER THE BLACK SUN: A PERSONAL HISTORY OF L.A. PUNK (review linked HERE) by JOHN DOE of X.
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