Interview w/ Bad Religion
Bad Religion was formed in 1979 when four El Camino High students (Greg Graffin, Jay Bentley, Jay Ziskrout, and Brett Gurewitz) decided to start a punk rock band. San Bernadino, California, was a fun place in those days—Valley Girl culture had not yet been exposed by popular media, the Galleria (soon to be the home of the biggest Taco Bell in the country) was being built, and L.A. was full of struggling, pissed-off and dead-broke musicians, from The Germs to X to the Vandals and the Adolescents. Over the past two decades, Bad Religion has left most of their contemporaries behind to become one of the most influential and commercially successful American punk rock groups of all times. Their intelligent, politically-charged lyrics set them apart from their legions of imitators—Bad Religion's strengths as a band come from Greg Graffin's ability to create actual anthems, chorus lines and entire songs that could be screamed by anything from an individual to an angry mob. This truth is evidenced again by their newest album, "The New America," which contains lyrics like "Don't sell me short….don't brush me off just because I don't belong" ("Don't Sell Me Short"), as well as the relatively mawkish "I Love My Computer" ("All I need to do is click on you/and we'll be together for eternity"). Good stuff, baby.
"The music scene back then was so incestuous," says Bentley, 21 years older and still playing bass with Bad Religion. "Everybody from everybody played with everybody. It was like we were part of this big family. That was a really important part of the development of the attitude of Bad Religion: that you're not really anybody special. You're just some guy who can play an instrument. Me, I hung out with all the bass players from all the other LA bands. We were The Bass Players, man. Me and Mike Roach (TSOL) and Steve Soto (Adolescents, DI) all hung out together--we were just The Bass Players, hanging out, feeling special together." Bentley's crew of special people has grown to include actor and Dogstar bassist, Keanu Reeves. "No actor who is semi-famous is going to join a band to become the bass player," says Bentley. "They start a band so they can be the singer. And then these guys get up there and just sound like a wailing dog, and they just need to stop. But Keanu, he's cool. He does things that I do, like he plays goalie in hockey—we actually played opposite of his team once, and we were at opposite ends of the ice screaming at each other, so I think he's okay. He's a bass player, and he's a goalie, just like me.."
Despite their reputation for being outspoken against authority, even prophetic, Bentley insists that Bad Religion is not a political band. "I don't think bands should be political, because the object of politics and politicking is to sway people to believe what you believe," he says. "The great thing about the '80s, was we had Reagan and England had Thatcher. It was just so much fun to poke fun at Reagan! I mean, he's a movie star that became the President. It's like, wow, how easy is this? The thing about British punks and political music—most of it, the average American would never understand the politics in British music. I didn't. When I was 14 and listening to the Clash, I didn't know what they were talking about. I didn't know what the dole was. For all that I knew, 'being on the dole' meant sitting on a pineapple. And that's just weird. But I don't ever look at Bad Religion as political, because I don't want people to believe what I believe—I want them to figure it out for themselves. Bands in the past that have been political actually became almost militant in their views, and basically said, 'If you don't agree with what we say, then we're going to beat you up.' And I think we can all live without that. We've had too much of that in the past."
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