by Greg Graffin, Steve Olson
Musicians love to write books. After years of cramming their wordplay into three-minute ditties and wracking their brains for words that rhyme with “party,” a chance to stretch out must seem irresistible. Of all the ex-rocker’s books however, Anarchy Evolution: Faith, Science, and Bad Religion in a World without God by Greg Graffin, vocalist for the long-running LA punk band Bad Religion, might be the most unique.
Graffin has teamed up with Steve Olson, author of the award-winning Mapping Human History: Genes, Race, and Our Common Origins to present a thoroughly readable introduction to evolutionary biology, interspersed with tales from Graffin’s life as a punk singer and scientist.
Between his duties with the band that, more than any other, birthed and popularized pop-punk in the mid ’80s, Graffin earned a PhD in zoology and now lectures in paleontology and life science at UCLA.
Graffin uses his life to illustrate different aspects of evolutionary biology. Using examples, such as the parallels between rabid record collectors and blinkered taxonomists, how songs on a punk album act as heritable traits, or why helping organisms (other bands inspired by the record) have more offspring (bands and records), he illustrates complex scientific facts on the level that the layperson (granted, a layperson interested in rock and roll) can understand.
Throughout the book, Graffin discusses his impatience with dogmatists in all fields, from religion, to music, to science. His recounting of an Amazonian scientific expedition which led to his disillusionment with his colleagues and being the impetus for re-birthing Bad Religion with Suffer, their ‘comeback’ album is a fascinating read, and an example of Graffin’s larger themes, that human creativity and networking can make up for setbacks and an absent god.
Bad Religion is intertwined with Graffin’s evolutionary lessons. One of the greatest anecdotes I’ve ever read in a musician’s book is Graffin’s tale of turning down beautiful and willing Brazilian women to meet with a professor in the rain forests when the band played in South America. Can you imagine any other rock biography using that story?
Anarchy Evolution is popular science writing of a high caliber, effortlessly illustrating complex scientific theories with a readable style, which is surprising, since Graffin was the one responsible for putting all those three-dollar words in Bad Religion songs.
Anarchy Evolution comes hot on the heels of Bad Religion’s 15th album, The Dissent of Man. Listeners who haven’t checked in on the band in a while will be surprised by a tight, powerful album, one that recalls the band’s glory days of Suffer, No Control and Generator. Actually, The Dissent of Man might be a better album overall than Generator. Everything you’d want in a Bad Religion album is here; hyper-literate vocals, a wealth of harmonies, and even a bit of experimentation. The production is surprising, giving it a crisp, punchy sound overall; resulting in a clean, yet powerful sound.
While Anarchy Evolution might be the more discussed work by a member of Bad Religion, The Dissent of Man is a surprisingly fresh and vital sounding album from these 30 year vets, an album that deserves to be heard by fans and newcomers alike.
Anarchy Evolution: anarchyevolution.com