photo & text by nacrowe
i know its hard to believe now, but there was a period - however brief - that THE OFFSPRING did not suck.
1994 was a big year in music for a lot of reasons, but i distinctly remember what it was like to be in elementary school in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA when SMASH (EPITAPH, 1994) went big that year. at the time i was big into BASKETBALL and played lots of tournaments of with a traveling team, i even knew the coaches at the three high schools in my area (ORANGE COUNTY) as i was a known entity at that time. so i remember going to basketball tournaments all over the state when songs like "COME OUT AND PLAY" and "SELF ESTEEM" got played during warmups. at the time i knew THE OFFSPRING were a local band (BUENA PARK) and i knew the record was massive. i didnt have MTV as none of my friends had cable, but i did listen to 106.7FM KROQ out of LOS ANGELES. at the time i became conscious of music, the SEATTLE ALTERNATIVE ROCK scene was massive and ubiquitous so it was cool to know that a local band was on that level. this was a time that was before the national emergence of SUBLIME (LONG BEACH) and NO DOUBT (ANAHEIM) but concurrent with that of GREEN DAY (EAST BAY).
looking back now, SMASH and its predecessor IGNITION (EPITAPH, 1994) were both albums that were made by musicians that obviously had a love for LOS ANGELES HARDCORE bands like THE GERMS (HOLLYWOOD) and BLACK FLAG (HERMOSA BEACH) yet were noticeable influenced by the melodicism of other local acts like THE ADOLESCENTS (FULLERTON), AGENT ORANGE (PLACENTIA) and THE DESCENDENTS (MANHATTAN BEACH). to my ears this record is a marriage of those two approaches and a fairly successful one at that. for some odd reason which i cannot explain, after this record the band decided to go a more "WEIRD AL" YANKOVIC route and make novelty songs that double as lame social commentary. for me and a lot of other earlier admirers this really killed their appeal. i am almost certain that there are some reading this that share this antipathy for the band in general.
but there was a moment that THE OFFSPRING didnt suck. and this album was it. what caught me off guard was when i moved to NIGERIA in 1996 and met fellow classmates from places like ISRAEL, NORWAY, KENYA, LEBANON, ENGLAND and GHANA who knew about the band and were fans of the scene they came from. i realized then the true scope of this record. all future releases by seminal bands from my former hometown would be experienced as an outsider as i never moved back. i dont feel nostalgic about my time in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA (i was happy to leave), but hearing this record, especially lesser known cuts like "GOTTA GET AWAY" and "NOT THE ONE" take me right back to being a pre-adolescent in ORANGE COUNTY.
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.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
ok i realize that BAD RELIGION by no means is a new band and that in the past i only highlighted recent, more obscure bands in this CHECK OUT THIS BAND series. but really i just felt the need to write about them.
with all this shit surrounding DONALD TRUMP and the dire future of american democracy conceivably going the way of a strong-man dictatorship like those i've lived under in the past (ALBANIA, NIGERIA, MYANMAR and VENEZUELA), its disheartening how few recording artists these days have explicitly addressed this sense of existential dread in an intelligent manner.
enter BAD RELIGION. they're whole career has been a rallying cry against corporate greed and fascism since the 1980s, but to continue doing so publicly at THIS stage during THIS political moment with THIS proto-fascist in charge is beyond admirable, its a necessity. i can't express how much i respect them for that, giving an intelligent voice for the opposition is unequivocally HARDCORE, absolutely PUNK ROCK. i would argue it is their finest hour.
i just wish other musicians would stop worrying about the music industry and how to maximize their market-share and consumer brand identification and just go for the jugular like these QUINQUAGENARIANS! it bothers me that a group of BABY BOOMERS are the only relevant cultural force out there addressing this sort of thing, but then maybe i shouldn't be that surprised with everyone inwardly concerned about their social media presence and sponsorship/cross-branding opportunities. just a shame.
we still have BAD RELIGION thankfully. support them and the organizations they assist. and register to vote. please.