Many of us might recognize Greg Graffin as the frontman for the legendary punk band Bad Religion, but few of us immediately think of his academic standing. Without question, Graffin’s fame results from his career with Bad Religion, recording albums and touring with the band since 1980, shaping the sound of punk for the following decades. Besides the typical punk rock aesthetic which challenges authority, one can immediately see from the band’s name that they are more philosophically focused, taking a controversial (and often offensive) stance on religion. However, between time spent in the studio or on the road Graffin attended university and pursued graduate studies, ultimately receiving his PhD in Zoology from Cornell University. I’m sure many punkers forget that he’s Dr. Graffin now.
With the assistance of co-author Steve Olson, Graffin seems to effortlessly unite the dominant themes of his life – punk rock, anti-religious sentiment, and scientific study – into his memoirs, aptly titled Anarchy Evolution: Faith, Science, and Bad Religion in a World Without God. At first glance, these themes do not appear to have intuitive intersections, but Graffin’s account of his life as a punk and an academic bring the three together rather eloquently, albeit with a punk rock sense of harmony.
Anarchy Evolution does not simply breakdown the story of his life with respect to these three themes. Instead, the book very nearly follows a chronological order, beginning with Graffin’s years as a child and his experiences with his family. He reflects on the role his parents had on his life as educators, encouraging his creativity and individuality; however, he also recalls his grandfather, who was a vocal evangelist, and how organized religion and theological thought was also a profound influence on him early in his life. He also recounts his parents split, how it was difficult for him, and how he avoided drugs by finding solace through science and punk rock.
Of course, Graffin’s memoirs require some backstage and touring anecdotes, and Anarchy Evolution surely does not fail at that. Graffin goes into glorious detail on the formation of Bad Religion, explaining how they met each other and started jamming in his mother’s garage in Los Angeles, which they called “the hellhole.” Anarchy Evolution is full of fun and interesting Bad Religion trivia revealed by the man himself. Graffin even touches on Bad Religion’s so-called lost album, Into the Unknown, which he concedes was a failed experiment in punk rock although he remains unapologetic. He later provides his own first-hand account of the debacle behind the Bad Religion Riot in North Hollywood in December 1990. Graffin’s anecdotes are told with a scientist’s sense of striving for objectivity but they maintain a punker’s down to earth sensibility.
Nevertheless, some of the most entertaining anecdotes in Anarchy Evolution involve Graffin’s experiences in academia. He recounts his fieldwork studying fish fossils in the Sangre de Cristo mountain region in Colorado as well as his expedition to remote locales in Bolivia to catalogue animal specimens, relating portions of his journey through the remote Amazon to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. However, he does not write using stuffy and foreign scientific jargon; rather, he maintains a voice that should be accessible to all. Moreover, Graffin uses his academic exploits to unify his appreciation of science with his understanding of faith and the punk rock mindset. As he focuses on evolution throughout the text, he weaves together a naturalist worldview that draws similarities between evolutionary chance with punk anarchy, and although he rejects organized religion on reasonable grounds he does not discount faith in others or faith in humanity. The unification of these differing ideologies provides a unique insight into the thought processes of a man who is both a punk legend and a professor.
Taken as a whole, Anarchy Evolution is a work that should capture the attention of punkers and scientists alike. It is much more than a simple collection of anecdotes. It provides a useful account of how one can take evolutionary thought and apply it in an everyday worldview. Dr. Graffin’s Anarchy Evolution is presently available in hardcover and will be available this October as a paperback.
Dave Reynolds fancies himself a writer and teaches English at Memorial University. Visit his blog Reynolds’ Thoughts and Fictions here.