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Bad Religion, That Damn Show Headliners, Have Been Around Longer Than You Think

On Saturday That Damn Show is back for 2013 at the Mesa Amphitheatre, featuring national acts like Bad Religion and local favorites like the Veragroove. Check out the full schedule here. (Full disclosure: We're co-promoting this show with KUKQ, because we just want you to be happy.)

Bad Religion has been around long enough that it's been surprising fans with how long it's been around for something like 25 years now. Newly angry teenagers buying and falling in love with True North this year -- it hit number 18 on the Billboard 200 -- have 15 other albums and more than 30 years of history to sift through next. Fans who lapped up their major-label debut, Stranger than Fiction, were already 12 years behind in 1994.

Even if you latched on with their epoch-defining third album, Suffer, you'd already missed two albums, an EP, an extended breakup, and a prog-rock detour that moved Voice icon Robert Christgau with its "anthemic ambition."

Here are five stops Bad Religion hit on the way to their That Damn Show performance Saturday, as documented by the music press and some of our sibling papers:

Early days

Bad Religion formed in 1979, and, yes, that's a long time ago. Long-enough ago that most of the early coverage of Greg Graffin and company appeared in zines, according to the incredibly exhaustive Bad Religion Page press archive. Here's an excerpt from a 1981 interview in Flipside, presented in its original format:

BRETT--HEY, they'd frown on that kind of stuff. (Hud and I discuss the fact that it's 2$ plus 20¢ for every check we write)

MICHELE--As long as I keep 600$ in my checking account, I don't have to pay it.

BRETT--We'd love to have 600$.

GREG--We have a bank account. we're legally a partnership.

AL--Who writes all the songs?

GREG--Brett and I write all the songs...

I know Michele wants to do the interview and she's over there talking about...

AL--What are you going to do if you don't make a million dollars in your band?

GREG--I'am going to be an inpersonator. I'll probably make a million dollars doing that!

BRETT--He does a muscleman impersonation...........

(Everyone tries to make him do it)

GREG--No way [email protected]#$(*$&#)@(#*@¢*#

BRETT--Hey he's quite a card, you know? He's always the life of the party.

MICHELE--How do you guys have 24 hour parties?

GREG--How do we? We don't!

Graffin was 17; Brett Gurewitz was 19.

Next: A potentially ill-advised move into prog rock.

Into the Unknown and Breakup

Into the Unknown, Bad Religion's spacey 1983 detour into prog rock, is a bit of a curiosity now -- the band doesn't much like it, it's not available on CD, and when one of its songs is played live, it is a fandom event. But we have the benefit of hindsight -- and the knowledge they made an abrupt return to their punk roots one album later -- in making those judgments.

At the time, it looked like they'd changed permanently. And the mainstream press -- if not their punk fanbase -- actually kind of liked it. In a 1984 review, the Village Voice's Chuck Eddy had this to say:

Let's face it -- to us white males who came of age in the suburban Midwest in the mid- to late '70s, and to I bet a lot of females and urbaners and ruralers and Easterners and Southerners as well, "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "Dust in the Wind" and that ELP song the radio used to play a lot are truer folk music than Loretta Lynn or the Wild Tchoupitoulas will ever be. In as much as the people I grew up with are of the same species and therefore as in need of musical ritual as your average Creole or Bantu, "Stairway To Heaven" was (for a while, anyway) our "Caimanera," our "Iko Iko," our "Cotton-Eyed Joe."

There had to be some intangible which attracted all of those unsuspecting hordes. Bad Religion -- an L.A. punk band whose 1982 debut How Could Hell Be Any Worse was rightfully lumped with Christian Death, 45 Grave, et al. into the ephemeral "horror rock" sub-subgenre -- has found that intangible.

... Most of Into The Unknown's songs are by singer/pianist/organist/synthesist Greg Graffin, whose tunes break down pretty easily into your life's-terrible-if-you're-young-but-not-terrible-enough-to-do-that numbers and your grown-ups-really-fucked-up-the-ecology numbers. Songs of the former ilk open and close the record; "It's Only Over When... " and "...You Give Up" are as inspirational in their own ways as - no shit - great Al Green or Mighty Clouds or Swan Silvertones.

When you haven't a friend in the world, and you turn to light and all you get is darkness, and you're lost in space, and your life's in the garbage can, it's only over when you give up. The Lord will make a way, somehow. No, Graffin doesn't exactly say that, but the hope he displays in these songs (and in his ballad, "Million Days") suggests that his sort of humanism isn't that bad a religion after all. If I knew a kid who was considering suicide, I'd play him these songs, and he'd decide to start a band instead. That's what rock'n'roll's for, right?

Alas, the band didn't like it as much as Chuck Eddy and Robert Christgau did. The result was a brief breakup and a return to the sound that would make them famous with an EP self-awarely titled Back to the Known.

Next: After a triumphant punk return, Bad Religion joins a major label.

Mainstream fame

After an iconic run of punk albums on Epitaph, Bad Religion signed to Atlantic Records in the mid-'90s and released Stranger than Fiction, their mainstream breakthrough. As with Into the Unknown before it, some fans were less-than-excited about the change. Here's Bad Religion talking to Alternative Press

Nothing was changed when Bad Religion moved to a major. In fact, the new album, The Gray Race, is easily their best since 1989's No Control. There is pressure to conform, but ironically it's now coming from sectors of the "indie scene," who may have forgiven the Stooges, Ramones, Pistols, and Clash their major-label deals -- but no one since.

"Well, when those records came out, it didn't occur to anybody that the name on the outside of the cardboard album cover had anything to do with the music on the record itself," guitarist Brian Baker steams, albeit grinning. "And nowadays apparently there's some correlation between the two. But they had to be told it wasn' t cool to like that before they knew they weren't supposed to. A message to those people: Kill yourself!" he laughs. "Or better yet -- just go fuck yourself!"

"File Under: 'Wasting Oxygen,'" adds Gaffin. "But if you're a punk band it is easier to sell records today than it was 10 years ago. I don't think that detracts from the intent of the music, though."

Of course, the band underwent a more dramatic change: Guitarist and songwriter (and label president) Brett Gurewitz left the band shortly after the release of their Atlantic debut.

Next: The band returns to Epitaph, and Gurewitz returns to the band.

Brett Gurewitz is back

In 2001, their major label stint over, Bad Religion returned to Epitaph -- and Epitaph founder Brett Gurewitz returned to Bad Religion. LA Weekly devoted a cover story to the news.

[Gurewitz is] disarmingly candid when talking about Bad Religion's remarkable career and becoming the owner of the largest indie-rock record label in the world in '94 -- then nearly losing it all to drug addiction. He's elated that the band has come back home to Epitaph after a three-album affair with a major. Mostly, after seven years away from Bad Religion, he's excited about rejoining the band he co-founded with high school buds in 1980.

"It was terrifying at first. I was real stiff and inhibited, and it took a few shows to let loose. Playing in the band is that schizoid part of me, being a committed record person and a serious punk rock musician at heart. But I love the business side as much as the creative side. They're both part of how I think."

Still, "There's no love lost between me and the majors," he says, "I don't think their business practices are ethical, and that's why the old plantation-style system is on its way out. I like to think that punk rock, Bad Religion and Epitaph helped to contribute to this change. What's going on currently is comparable to the end of the studio system in the old Hollywood, where stars were no longer tied to these long-term exclusive contracts to one studio. Musicians will no longer be seen as a part of a record company's 'stable.' Record companies will become service providers for artists to manufacture, market and sell records, and the artist will pay the label a fair fee for these services."

Today: Bad Religion visits That Damn Show, talks evolutionary psychology.

That Damn Show and Greg Graffin, PhD.

If you've read this far you're probably interested in seeing Graffin and company at That Damn Show on Saturday. But the upshot of his recent interview with West Coast Sound is that he believes having choice in the matter is an illusion. So either you'll go or not, I guess?
Recently we had this Mayan apocalypse. One of the things that all religions have is a narrative of doomsday. There has to be some kind of overarching fear of the future. If there wasn't, none of the religions could invoke this important thing -- that science has no evidence of by the way -- called free will.

The Mayan Apocalypse scenario shows that other civilizations also had the doomsday scenario. The Judeo-Christian concept of free will is wrapped up in that doomsday scenario. According to theology, you and I are supposed to have free will. But none of the animals and plants has free will. It's supposed to be a gift given to us by our creator because we were God's favorite creation. There's no scientific data that shows anything like that.

That Damn Show starts Saturday at noon at Mesa Amphitheatre. For our complete coverage, click here. Read more:
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Dan Moore