I was going up that steep Astoria staircase, for what felt like the hundredth time in the past few years, though maybe tenth is more realistic. Still it felt like they would go on forever. With me were two teenage boys, also coming to interview Jay Bentley , the bassist with Bad Religion, for some magazine. Whilst we waited in a tight corridor for interview slots to be sorted out I began to feel aware that when this band first started out, around twenty-five years ago, none of us had even been born yet. Here we were though, still interested in what Bad Religion have to say, and still trying to make sense of what they’re all about. Whilst we may have moved on from the Cold War mentality of decades past, Bad Religion continue to hold relevance among contemporary generations. They’re still around to say their piece, and, through guitarist Brett Gurewitz’s Epitaph label, they have inspired a host of other bands to do the same. From Pennywise to Anti-Flag, the influence of this band has not ceased to spread.

And where did it all begin? I imagined that a fourteen-year old Jay thought along the same lines as Pennywise’s Fletcher Dragge, in terms of local problems such as corrupt policemen and teenage drug abuse. Was that the case, I asked him.

“No. We talked about that straight away. We said we didn’t want to be in a band that got up and said ‘Fuck the cops!’ You know, ‘Fuck my mum!’ We talked about wanting to have lyrics that had more social relevance. There was a band called The Germs, and their lead singer, Darby Crash, just wrote some amazing lyrics. This guy was out of his mind, just a total junkie, crazy guy. But I mean his lyrics went far, far beyond ‘Fuck the cops.’ That’s what we wanted to be.”

When I think back to my own fourteen-year old self and my own awareness of politics, I would have to admit that I saw it as something much too boring and grown-up to give a second thought. Jay thought differently; “I had this argument with my Dad recently. I told him that I grew up with the impression that at any moment the Russians were going to bomb America, and vaporise us. I also knew that America were going to bomb Russia and vaporise them. I grew up with the impression that at any moment the world would just be done. And I told him, you’ve never had to live with that thought. You’ve had wars, and you’ve had your problems, but you’ve never had that. Most of the kids my age never thought about that, but there was a handful of us that did."

“I don’t know if it was paranoia, or just assigning blame, but what I said when I was fourteen was that I was really mad at everybody. I didn’t really know what I was mad about. It just seemed like everybody was wrong. And it’s not just a teenager thing."

“We were growing up in this world where recycling was just beginning to happen in America. The concept of all the pollutants that were going into the ecosystem were my problem. I realised that. I said my parents don’t care and their parents are dead. So, I was angry at the past generations for being so short-sighted. I was angry at the men in power.”

How did you know about these things, I had to ask, thinking I must have been a very ignorant child.

“I know exactly what it was. It was when I was in fifth grade –I would have been nine- and we were having some History class. I raised my hand and I said ‘What happened to the Indians?’"

“My teacher said, ‘Oh, they just kind of went away. They just packed up their stuff and went away.’"

“That was what she told me. But I wanted to know; ‘Where did they go?’"

“‘Oh, they went to these places. These beautiful pastures.’ And I thought well okay, you’re my teacher, and I guess you would know, because I asked you, and you told me that’s where they went. Then in eighth grade –I’m eleven or twelve- my grandmother gave me this book on American History. It was from Taiwan, so it was a lot more honest about what happened. It said Americans handed the Indians blankets with smallpox on them, and literally just wiped out villages of women and children. That was the moment. A teacher lied to me. I find out that the country I live in is stolen. And that the people that are in control are greedy and evil. Everything just started changing at that moment. I thought I would never ever believe anything anyone tells me again. I’m going to listen to it, and then go think about it. I just wont be so gullible.'"

“I was just a toiling, angry child, because I felt that –and I can remember this- that the government was letting its people down. It was really quickly that I learned that it was just human nature to fail. When the band started we talked about human nature, and how we’re all inherently evil. We have to work hard to be nice. How it’s so strange that your brain just immediately slips into thinking something so bad. In order to be nice you actually have to force it. Force a smile. Force ease. Force not being jealous. Force not being angry. Force not coveting something someone else has; ‘Oh, I wanted that guitar. But I’m poor, and that fucker over there bought that guitar because his parents are rich.'"

Sounds like Christian morality, I said, and talking of which, what is your view of religion? Is it bad?

“There’s nothing wrong with religion, and there’s nothing wrong with having faith. I think that’s a beautiful thing. I think having a belief in anything higher than you makes you much more human. That being said, I admire people like Ghandi, and Martin Luther King, who had non-violent protests, and were very religious people. Why would I be opposed to that? That’s not really what we’re espousing. We’re not preaching dark metal, and saying come to Satan. That’s not us. I would never stand up and say religion is bad. What I’m against is what we do. That’s bad."

“One of the issues in Bad Religion, and always has been, is that I’m probably the most spiritual member of the band, since the beginning of the band. Not in the sense of belief, belonging to a church, or belonging to anything, but belief in something. I believe in karma. I think that you get what you deserve. Greg Graffin( Bad Religion vocalist-Ed)is a scientist, and has been since the day I met him. A devout atheist. There’s no God unless you can bottle that guy and put him in front of me. Brett is an agnostic, who wants to believe so badly. He wants to have faith, but he just can’t jump. And it hurts him. It hurts his heart that he can’t just step into a faith and say ‘Okay, I believe in something that’s greater than myself.’ Bad Religion is not just a one-sided argument. It’s more like questions and answers. Between the two main song-writers there’s a dichotomy of not believing in anything and wanting to believe in something.”

Religion apart, there are bigger problems that need to be addressed. The problem is Bush. Bands like Anti-Flag revolve their entire band image around this man. Pictures, inspired by the Sex Pistols ,God Save The Queen, sleeve, of Bush and Blair serve as the background to their stage. Whilst it may seem like a forceful preaching, Jay admits that sadly tactics employed by the likes of Anti-Flag are preferable to leaving people to make up their own minds. “We thought the fans would decide for themselves in the States, and they voted George Bush in. So maybe not. Maybe leaving monkeys to their own devices isn’t such a great idea. I have way more faith in people and they continually let me down. There is just no other solution."

“The problem is you feel backed into a corner because we really don’t have a choice who the Democrats are going to throw into the mix. We don’t get the say. But I can tell you, people would rather join a third party in the States. You guys have more than three parties here, right. In the States the Green Party doesn’t exist. No-one’s saying ‘here’s Ralph Vader, let’s put him in.’"

“‘Well what’s his constituency?’"

“What Senator is going to back him when he comes into the Oval Office and says ‘Right, we’re going to stop the drilling in Alaska.’ Nobody."

“The problem that I see with most Americans is that to delve deep enough into information to form a valid opinion about anything takes a lot of work. And most people are too lazy. People who live in Missouri have no fucking idea what’s going on in the world. Not one. Like, hey, the dollar devalued against the Euro today. It’s like 60 cents to 1."

“‘What’s a Euro?’ And that’s most of America."

What’s the answer, I ask, marches?

“No, I’m pretty sure that roughly 40 million people marched against George Bush not to go to War in Iraq. And he gave the world the middle finger. He said fuck you and your marches. So what you realise is the time has come and gone for these sixties era protests. The hippies protested against war, and then they all got too high, and they were just idiots. That’s not the answer. It doesn’t do anything.”

Your music?

“I don’t think you should look at your music like that. Like some kind of power. It’s something you can use to share ideas. The thing about us is that we’re all the same as normal people. Just because we’re in a band doesn’t give us the right to have any kind of a valid opinion. It helps to sell magazines, but that doesn’t make anything I say any more important than what you say. And if you strongly believe in something, your opinion is just as valid as anyone else’s.”

Amen to that.

















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