Bad Religion should, by now, be like most religions that are long past their original insurgence. That is to say they should inspire unconvincing allegiance among a mass of indoctrinated followers, plus a small but vociferous mass who claim they are the Only Way. Meanwhile, an equally small number should acerbically denounce them as imposters, relics of an outdated philosophy.
Without historical lore (like the Sex Pistols and the Clash) nor the radio hits (like, well, the Sex Pistols and the Clash), Bad Religion definitely shouldn't be selling out four shows at the 1,100-capacity House of Blues this week. And yet, that's exactly what's gonna happen.
Dr. Greg Graffin and his aging band of hyper-literate punks retain their followers and keep picking up new legions of converts. For a band that formed 25 years ago (yes, just five years after the Pistols, four after the Clash), that's a pretty impressive feat, especially when you consider that the Pistols are only good for the occasional reunion (which are disappointing) and the Clash died with Joe Strummer.
Bad Religion have achieved long-lasting relevance in arguably the same way the Clash could have-by being a band you grow into, not out of. As a newly minted teenager, I discovered the Southern California band with the release of their fifth album, Against the Grain. By the end of my junior year in high school, I could sing along to every single second of the album, and had to buy a second copy due to wear and tear.
But as I sung the words "Anesthesia, Mona Lisa/ I've got a little gun/ here comes oblivion," I thought Anesthesia was a girl who'd gone and broken Graffin's heart and now she was gonna get capped. It wasn't until I learned the verb "anesthetize" that I realized Graffin was literally hunting down the inability to feel. It was a very adult perspective pertaining to both teens and adults. It could apply to a sad-eyed 17-year-old coming to grips with the fact that her single mother would always bring losers over to the house to drink beer lie around on the couch. Or it could apply to a 57-year-old dentist taking stock of his manicured life and finding a hole where the soul should be.
That same dentist could feel in touch with those words more than, say, "Bitchin' Camaro,"-which is to take nothing away from the Dead Milkmen's simpleton glee. What Bad Religion does is often called "thesaurus punk" because of Graffin's use of big-brain vocabulary. Graffin explains social ignorance with lines like "blind to indications of his species' slow decay" ("Suffer"). A lesser bookworm might just be content to say "our world sucks cuz you don't care." And so Bad Religion thus serves as the world's only English class that organizes its pupils in a mosh pit.
Through their entire career, the band has adhered to a level of loud-mouth social consciousness that's becoming rare among bands. That's not necessarily the fault of the modern-day rock lyricist, but rather rock fans' unwillingness to take moral guidance from pop icons.
Nowadays, a gifted songwriter like Conor Oberst speaks out against the Bush administration and he's likely to hear, "Oh, shut the fuck up." And those are the liberals. And that's because the media circus-from NME's play-by-play of self-destructive rockers to the Enquirer's banal gossip-has reduced celebrities to an unprecedented level of buffoonery.
The pop icon's once-exalted status has been denigrated with a series of photographs with circles around their thighs that say, "Look, cellulite!" or "Billy Joe drinks Starbucks!" And though true punks would never strive for prophet stature, what was once a healthy dose of cynicism among fans has ballooned into a dogmatic dismissal of any insight that's delivered through the microphone.
That's where our old guys come in. Dylan. Bowie. Fugazi. Bad Religion. They've all been granted immunity from the Don't Lecture Us generation, the few artists who fans permit to break through the hard outer shell of indifference.
So that's why tickets to see middle-aged punk rockers are hard to come by this week. Plus, you know, their songs kick some serious ass.Bad Religion plays four shows at the House of Blues this week. 619-299-BLUE.