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by Preston Jones


The Punk Rocker with a Ph.D.

Greg Graffin, frontman of Bad Religion, has a freshly minted doctorate in evolutionary biology and a new album coming soon.

By the early 1980s, Southern California was well on its way to becoming the asphalted calamity it now is, and I remember talking with friends about the disappearing fields and orange groves as we hiked foothill trails late at night, with Rush or Led Zeppelin or Peter Gabriel (or Devo, U2, or the Christian "new wave" band Undercover) blasting from a portable cassette player.

Our valley, the San Bernardino one, had never been counted among So Cal's hip sections. The valley of the "Valley Girl" craze (c. 1982)—which, like, permanently altered casual American speech—sprouted in the distant ravines of San Fernando. And while San Bernardino was too much of a backwater for us to be up on the lesser known fashions afoot nearer to L.A.—and especially in The Valley—we heard from to time about the emerging punk rock "scene."

As one would expect, most of the bands that fed that scene came and went—where, if anywhere, are Jody Foster's Army, the Dead Kennedys, Agent Orange, the Minutemen, and China White? But one of those bands, Bad Religion, lives still. As I write this, its frontman, Greg Graffin, is sick at home with pneumonia. He tells me that this is the price he's paying for doing seven west coast concerts without a day's rest. Even atheists, it turns out, need a Sabbath.

Graffin, now in his late thirties, is working on BR's next record, (due in the summer), and he sports a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology acquired last August at Cornell.

It was in the Carter era that Graffin migrated to The Valley from Wisconsin with his mother. According to lore, he started Bad Religion at the age of 15 in response to the mediocrity and brainlessness of late-Cold War suburbia. And as BR became one of the best known (and certainly the most enduring) of the Southland's punk bands, Graffin helped to create a distinct subculture centered on mini-music festivals, angst-ridden song lyrics, skateboarding, complaining, bucking authority, and enjoyment of free speech and capitalist-created wealth.

In the ...

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