Hey kids, how was your Columbus day (it just took me about six permutations of U’s and O’s to get the spelling of ‘columbus’ right, btw. What does that say about me as an American, a human of Italian descent and most of all, as a xenophobic weirdo who gets credit for doing things I never did and as a result somehow subsequently inspired a bunch of people to not do any sort of due diligence or research? It’s a sad commentary…my lack of being able to spell Columbus, that is. Sigh.)?
Yeah, mine was pretty awesome too. I don’t remember anything too wild happening, but I did go look for my Halloween costume. I’m gonna be a mammary exam machine with the holes for the tits right where my face is with a sign that says something clever like “stick tits here.” Either that or I’m gonna be a hotdog vendor with one special, slightly different colored hotdog in a bun right at my dick zone. You get it, right ? Right? It’s something that’s gonna provide me with the great trifecta that is pussy, laughs and respect for buying the best costume in the “adult ideas” section of the hastily assembled costume shack that was very recently a Crate and Barrel (thank you very much, Barack Obama’s sluggish economy! Now no one can afford to buy melon ballers and juicers and $1200 ottomans and as a result good, hard working overpriced and generally useless American gay and female themed retailers like CB, CBII and Z Gallerie are going out of business. Mr. President, if I can’t by a dark brown, tanned leather globe that doubles as a whimsical nightstand for no less than nine hundred dollars, then the terrorists have truly won).
Yeah, so Halloween. It’s gonna be great. You know who I’m gonna be? Greg Graffin. It would be such a great costume, don’t you think? Well, realistically it would be terrible because there’s no way to be both sexy and Greg Graffin at once and the costume shack doesn’t carry the costume, so uh, goodbye respect, but you get my point, right? No? Okay, let’s back up.
This past weekend, aside from being Columbus day, was also Riot Fest here in Chicago. My band, the Lawrence Arms, played and we had the confusing yet awesome honor of playing after the Circle Jerks and before Bad Religion. Now, for those of you not in the know, there’s a few things significant about this: these are legendary bands, and old bands. These guys are all either pushing or blowing past fifty. But more importantly, these two bands are bands that were already huge and established when I first got into punk rock when I was twelve, and bands that I grew up listening to.
The Circle Jerks were the band in the Emilio Estevez vehicle Repo Man, which was awesome, but I first got into them when as a twelve year old skate punk type, when I heard their song “Wild In The Streets” featured in the skateboarding movie Thrashin’ (which is amazing and makes Gleaming the Cube look like Police Academy 4). I’ve never been the biggest Circle Jerks fan, but the singer was the dude from Black Flag and generally, they’re a really awesome band that I’ve consistently bumped from time to time (usually in a rowdy situation) for most of my life. They played right before us and we shared a dressing room with them. It was pretty surreal.
Backing up a bit, I purchased No Control by bad religion, on tape, without ever having heard a note of their music from Reckless Records when I was twelve because I thought the phrase “bad religion no control” sounded dangerous and fucked up. I’ve gone into this before in this space but listening to that cassette for the first time was probably the single biggest perspective shift I’ve ever had in my life, pretty on par with becoming a dad (not that they’re equally relevant, but just in terms of changing my worldview completely and switching up my trajectory), and it’s no stretch to say that I admire Bad Religion pretty profoundly to this day.
Now, there were some moments that were amazing in terms of hanging out backstage with these elder statesmen (like, for example, Keith from the Circle Jerks ranting about how the ‘New Jersey Shore’ is all bullshit because he’s got friends who know those people and they all have college degrees and MTV just pays em to act stupid [this is all shrieked, max volume, by the way, and it completely ignores the scientifically proven fact that college grads get drunk and fuck strangers too] or fellow oldie and Bad Religion friend, Fletcher from Pennywise cracking up telling a story about a mutual friend who’s publically HIV positive who was pricking someone with a (clean) nail as a joke [which is pretty dark, but very funny Jackass-of-the-future type shit]) but the real highlight of the show was seeing Bad Religion on stage.
They came out after us (oh, we killed. Did I mention that?) and I was immediately struck by a few things about their singer, Greg Graffin. Firstly, he’s still got it, and by ‘it’ I mean the most amazing and note-perfect voice in punk rock. Secondly, he’s gotten a lot of other things too, like much, much older than I remember him, for example. He’s out there, completely bald, save the toilet seat situation on the sides and back, kind of overweight, wearing a fred perry bowling type shirt and trouncing around doing his same awkward dance he’s always done, but now, in the context of his new, much more shocking appearance, the whole thing takes on a surreal quality that can’t be easily quantified or explained.
It’s almost like if you picture your dad, or your boss doing their best impersonation of what a ‘rock and roll’ frontman would be doing. Now, the whole thing’s totally embarrassing, right? Sure it is. However, here’s the weird part: your dad can not only sing, but he’s singing better than practically anyone out there, so there’s this odd part of you that’s like “uh, that’s…uh….awesome? And it is. It IS, because he’s just so awesome, but he’s also an old dude who obviously has very little interest in keeping up his appearance and so the disconnect is very startling. And did I mention that his weird dancing and gesturing has always been offputting, even when he was young and uh…more ‘punk,’ or at the very least ‘age/style appropriate’ looking.
Yeah, it was weird. And it got me to thinking: Greg Graffin is one of the biggest divas in punk rock. I don’t say this to be a dick. Lord knows I respect the shit out of the guy and he’s earned the right to pull this kind of stuff for sure, but by all accounts (and in the few times I’ve shared the stage with BR, I can attest to this) he shows up the last second before they go on stage and he’s gone pretty much before the other dudes have even unplugged their guitars. In SF, he once held an entire backstage room hostage while he forced everyone to look for his “show boots” famously screeching “no boots! No show!” To the group of people who didn’t seem to care that much that he’d misplaced them.
And who can blame him? He’s an older dude. He’s been doing this most of his life. He’s got a very successful academic career and he’s pretty much done everything there is to do in punk rock, or rock and roll in general. Why should he put up with any bullshit of any kind for any reason? He’s kind of done it all and I’d imagine he could pretty easily walk away from the whole thing at this point and feel pretty satisfied.
I mean, fuck. It bears mentioning that Bad Religion is one of the most enduring and successful bands in the history of rock and roll. Most bands on the radio, even larger bands can’t consistently play the size of shows that BR plays without a tour/album/ad cycle being in place. Bad Religion doesn’t really have that problem. The dude is one of the most successful and therefore entitled front men in all of rock and roll. This is TRUE.
And as I stood there watching them the other night, looking at this unlikely candidate for that sort of job my mind was kind of blown out the side of my head and I just kind of started laughing. I mean, you could put my dad, my middle school gym teacher, my accountant, Greg Graffin, and the security guard at my wife’s office in a lineup and ask me which one of these people was one of the biggest, most enduring front men for an aggressive rock and roll band in the history of the genre, a diva and a brilliant, misunderstood and highly volatile rock star, and I think it’s safe to say that Greg Graffin would be the LAST person I’d pick. This, also, is true.
Good for him. They ruled. And that’s why I’m gonna be greg graffin for Halloween. Well, or the Situation. I could also be the Situation as a college TA as per Keith Morris’s suggestion.