Cult of Ferocity

True to punk's roots, Bad Religion keeps the anger alive

On Bad Religion's latest, The Gray Race, Graffin plants his size-13 shoe right up the rump of an American political system that spends millions of dollars on elections while people are left to starve in the streets. In the cleverly cynical "Punk Rock Song," Graffin sounds his latest call to arms: "Written for the people who can see something's wrong / We do our share, but there's so many other fucking robots out there."

Graffin can get away with this preachy stuff without sounding rhetorical or shallow because, for one thing, he has the education to back it up. He has a year's worth of work left on his doctorate in evolutionary biology at Cornell University, and like the leader of Australia's Midnight Oil, Peter Garrett, who graduated from law school and chose instead to write songs about environmental and social catastrophes, Graffin offers an authoritative yet street-smart take on the world's problems. And that message isn't lost on Bentley, either.

"I want to teach my children the positive aspect of negative thinking," he says. "I don't want them to be misled. What you've always got to question is the idea that this person you're listening to isn't always telling you the whole story."

As Bentley sees it, people have to understand that while today's explosion of technology can be used to supplement people's intelligence, trouble starts when technology actually replaces the human element.

"You don't want to fall for the technology carrot that promises it will make your life better, and then you stop questioning it. I can write down your phone number a hell of a lot faster with a pencil and paper than I can boot up the computer, get the file and type it in. It's just not the be all, end all," he says. "You see these kids at McDonald's, they push a picture of a hamburger on the cash register, and never have to think. Nobody has to think about shit anymore. If the register broke down, and you order some fries and give the kid $50, they don't know what the change is. Too many people may end up like that. You take the technology away, and things fall apart."

Bentley did his share of navel-gazing at one point, quitting Bad Religion along with co-founder Brett Gurewitz in 1984. He didn't see a future in the band, and lost his desire to continue. To this day, Bentley can't really say why he chose to come back when Graffin called him up two years later; Bentley, in turn, coaxed Gurewitz back into the fold. Gurewitz is gone for good now in order to devote all of his energy to his Epitaph record label, which is home to the million-selling Offspring and former MC5 guru Wayne Kramer. He was replaced in 1994 by Brian Baker (formerly with Dag Nasty).

In true punk fashion, Bentley says it took all of one hour to bring Baker in once Gurewitz made his departure official. "We're very blase about bringing in new people. We just do it," he says.

As for the predictable cries of sellout when Bad Religion moved from Epitaph to major label Atlantic, Bentley snorts out a typically indignant response. "If people want to bitch, I say, okay, show me what you're doing," he spits back. "If you're just sitting there on your ass and bitching, I don't fucking listen."

And what about years from now, when Bad Religion is ready to write its own epitaph? What will it say?

Bentley roars with laughter, relishing the moment, and fires back an answer in an instant.

Bad Religion performs at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 6, at the International Ballroom, 14035 South Main Street. Tickets are $16.50; $17 at the door. Dancehall Crashers and Unwritten Law open. For info, call 629-3700.

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