Bad Religion becomes an open book in new biography

Bad Religion isn’t going anywhere.

Four decades after hitting the scene in LA, the punk band is kicking ass and taking names — sharing some stories for the first time, thanks to a new biography. 

Do What You Want: The Story of Bad Religion” was published Monday by Hachette Books and was co-written by the band and Jim Ruland. “From their beginnings as teenagers jamming in a San Fernando Valley garage dubbed ‘The Hell Hole’ to headlining major music festivals around the world, Do What You Want tells the whole story in irreverent style,” according to the band’s website. 

More than 1,000 fans tuned into a livestream conversation with the band Tuesday night, hosted by CrowdCast, discussing the book, life without touring and addressing some stories from the band’s 40-year history. 

Sidelined by COVID-19 and unable to tour for the first time since their very early years — 1989 or 1991, depending who in the band is answering — the guys in Bad Religion have done the best they can to keep occupied this year. Greg Graffin continues teaching at Cornell while Brett Gurewitz maintains his responsibilities with Epitaph Records and a handful of other artistic and music industry-related endeavors. 

Some of the others haven’t been as lucky. 

“I haven’t left my house in months,” joked bassist Jay Bentley. 

“I’m 10 times busier than I ever was and I have to take a two-hour break in the middle of the day to do some homeschooling,” Gurewitz said. 

In an hour-long chat led by Ruland and featuring a lively round of questions from fans, Bentley, Graffin, Gurewitz and latecomer Brian Baker (a member of the band since 1994) talked about their surprise and dismay when fans lamented the band “getting political” on later albums. 

“What the hell,” Gurewitz said of fans complaining that Bad Religion following in the footsteps of…um…Green Day. “Those aren’t the real fans.” Fans who have been with them since the beginning knew politics was always there. Punk is political. 

Graffin also addressed the avalanche of books published recently, taking a longer view on punk, but missing the years between 1983 and 1993. Bad Religion was just getting off the ground during that time, releasing some seminal, influential albums. 

“In the middle of that decade, we released Suffer,” he said. “It was a momentous occasion. We didn’t feel it was momentous at the time but it’s been deemed as an influential album.” 

Bentley also talked about the time he painted his bass, pleading ignorance, at the time, about how adding layers of color to the body of his bass would change the sound. 

“I didn’t know it would make the guitar sound terrible,” he said. “Brett had a MusicMan combo. He wasn’t using it so I used it for my bass which is completely against the rules. You can’t use an open-back four-channel for bass! We were learning how to sound like a band. We didn’t want to sound bad.” 

And Baker confirmed a story long thought by some to be a running joke: He really did play with Santana as a teenager. 

He was 14 and a friend’s father ran a restaurant in Detroit that was a favourite of Carlos Santana and his crew. Backstage passes in hand, Baker found himself in a tuning room before the band took the stage that night, so he picked up a guitar and started to play. Spotted by a roadie, he didn’t think much of it at the time and went out to enjoy his first concert. 

“For the encore, someone put a guitar on me and pushed me out onto the stage to play with Santana,” he said. “I thought for sure it was Black Magic Woman or something. It was a song I never heard of before.” Instead, he just tried to keep up with the legend and his band. 

Bad Religion is hosting one more online event for fans to talk about the book: a fan-submitted Q&A on Thursday, August 20. More information on the event is available here.

An archived recording of Wednesday night’s conversation can be found here.  

As the conversation wrapped up, both Baker and Gurewitz said there will be more chapters left to write in the Bad Religion story. 

“I’m never stopping doing this. I’m unqualified for anything else,” Baker said. “It’s fun. We’re in kind of unknown territory. We’ve been a band for 40 years. Why not see how this all ends? It’s supposed to be a good time. It’s not like a job, it’s a creative expression. I want to keep doing that as long as I can. It’s fun for me.” 

“As long as they want to keep going and as long as they’ll have me, I want to keep doing it. I consider it a privilege to be able to write music and demo and record and present them with songs and go in the studio with my old friends,” Gurewitz said. “These guys are the oldest friends I have in life. I’ve been friends with them since I was 17 and they were 16 or 15. I don’t see any reason to stop. I’m definitely not going to stop before the fucking Rolling Stones stop.” 

Amber Healy

I write about music policy and lawsuits because they're endlessly fascinating.

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