Three chords and the truth

So punk rock has grown up. It’s not just the sheer number of potential hair club for men members in their 40s staging reunion tours. It’s that the whole idea of punk that has evolved — for better and worse — becoming a genre as enduring (and tired) as heavy metal or singer-songwriter folk. Bad Religion guitarist Brian Baker did his part, certainly; he came up wielding a six-string in D.C. hardcore combo Minor Threat. How many people can say what they were doing when they were 15 affected their entire life?

“If I hadn’t gone to the right high school and got into that after-school garage act — which is precisely what Minor Threat was — I wouldn’t be talking to you right now,” says the unassuming, bespectacled, sandy blond-haired former member of Dag Nasty, Bash & Pop, and The Meatmen. “When I was first interested in this music, it was me and about 50 other miscreants in my city of 500,000. And it was truly shocking to see someone who mutilated their hair in the way that we did, wearing the clothes that we wore. We were thrown off city buses and denied entrance to restaurants. It was truly a renegade frightening thing.

“Punk rock hasn’t been dangerous since the first guy with a Mohawk was in a Volkswagen commercial in 1986. …”

But while punk ideologues like Maximum Rock ’n’ Roll worry about scene politics with the reactionary fervor with which the Christian right worries about unborn babies, Baker is actually excited about the surge of popular punk-pop bands.

“The successful younger bands that sell millions of records — I see them as the gateway drug,” Baker says. “And if a kid comes into punk rock because he’s a Good Charlotte or a New Found Glory fan, and somehow that gets him to a Black Flag, Circle Jerks or Minutemen record, how wonderful is that?

“It’s the new American folk music; I’m talking Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, the early 20th century. Look at the parallels — it still has an outlaw context, requires a certain costume — at least purportedly. The songs are by and large interpersonal, issue-oriented or story-of-my life type of things, and that’s echoed every time you listen to the Louvin Brothers. It’s the same thing, just with creepers on and a chain belt.”

Meanwhile, Baker and his compatriots in the 24-year-old Bad Religion (founding member/guitarist and Epitaph records owner Brett Gurewitz, singer Greg Graffin, bass co-founder Jay Bentley, former Circle Jerk Greg Hetson and skinsman Brooks Wackerman) are hoping to rally their punk peers to participate in creating a regime change in this country.

How unusual is this proactive stance for the typically kvetching punk? Please.

“Bad Religion has always been a political band, but what I liked about it is that on the earlier records, Greg was usually singing about global issues, not the specifics of a particular administration,” Baker says. “Obviously having set that precedent, this new record, The Empire Strikes First, and the timing of its release, of course, is the most direct of any of the Bad Religion albums in its commentary on the state of our current administration. … This record is part of the personal desire of the members of our band to remove the current administration and do anything we can to do so.

“The problem is these delusional people think that the world will benefit from them using fundamentalist Christian doctrine to dictate international policy. They don’t think they’re doing anything wrong,” Baker says. “They believe if you’re faithless you should have faith, that it will make you a better person, and that if you’re poor, it’s your fault. Better people are rich people — that’s how they judge the quality of a human being. It’s twisted, but it’s not just ‘greedy bastards’ — it’s far more frightening. It’d be a lot simpler if they just wanted the money.”

Bad Religion performs at Clutch Cargo’s (65 E. Huron St., Pontiac) on Thursday, Nov. 4, with Rise Against and From First to Last. Call 248-333-2362 for info.

Chris Parker is freelance scribe. Contact him at [email protected]
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