Bad Religion's Greg Graffin Challenges Authority Through Science
For over 30 years, Bad Religion have carved out a niche as the thinking man's punk rock band. When they formed in Los Angeles in 1980, the inspiration for their lyrics came from the topic of corporate greed and the conflicts between philosophy, science, and religion. The band's 16th full-length album True North, released this past January, continues the band's lifelong exploration of these topics.
Corporate greed is explored on our favorite track from the new album, "Robin Hood In Reverse." The song is a rousing punk rocker full of shoutalongs recapping the controversial Citizens United Supreme Court case that bars the U.S. government from restricting political expenditures by corporations. We spoke with vocalist Greg Graffin, who has a zoology Ph.D. from Cornell University, about this and other topics.
"It is interesting that the concept was just as viable in 1980 as it is now," Graffin says. "There are universal truths we talk about on all of our albums. Me and [band co-founder and co-lyricist] Brett Gurewitz were nerdy teenage kids that were interested in science and philosophy. We wanted to incorporate metaphors from those fields into songs at a very young age. It became a trademark of the band."
Those sources of inspiration have helped the punk rockers remain relevant for over three decades, he goes on. "Those are things that you can talk about into your old age. They will always be relevant. Ultimately, we are a punk rock band interested in entertainment. But entertainment can also be inspiring, and eye-opening. It's not hard for me to say that music is my life. But we've always desired for something more out of life than just punk rock."
Graffin's desire for something more led to forays into academia; since getting his Ph.D. he's taught classes in life science and evolution at UCLA and Cornell, and has authored several books on those topics -- most recently 2010's Anarchy Evolution: Faith, Science and Bad Religion in a World Without God. He says his work in academia parallels his pursuit of punk rock as a teenager.
"Ideologically, the pursuit of science is not that different from the ideology that goes into punk rock. The idea of challenging authority is consistent with what I have been taught as a scientist. Science is very vibrant. There are always new observations to be found. And it's all in the interest in challenging the authority that came before you. That's consistent with the punk rock ethos that suggests that you should not take what people say at face value."
This idea extends to the title of the new album. "True North reflects the idea that as young people, we set out on this plan that our parents gave us," Graffin explains. "You can look at a map as a metaphor for this plan. Every map has a legend with an arrow that points to true north. But when you go out into the field with a compass, your needle is always pointing to magnetic north, which does not match exactly to true north. What we experience in life is truly our own experience, and it's significantly different from the course that the map sent us out on. That is the journey of not only every young punk rocker. It's the journey of every human being that doesn't throw in the towel and stop living. We're always searching for our own sense of true north."
Bad Religion performs at Epicenter Festival this Saturday, September 21.
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