My personal list, anyway. There, that should take care of any potential arguments.
When asked what the best punk rock band is my answer always has been and always will be Bad Religion.
A group composed of fiercely intelligent members, spearheaded by Greg Graffin (winner of the 2014 Humanist Arts award) and Brett Gurewitz (owner of Epitaph Records), Bad Religion is punk music that doesn’t debase itself by mindlessly shouting “fuck the government.” The majority of their songs contain allusions to literature, scripture, or real events and they’re not shy about criticizing attitudes many punk rockers may have.
I discovered them when I was a teenager and recent convert to atheist. The name was, obviously, extremely appealing to me. When I was too ignorant and angry to really understand what they were all about I simply liked the fact that it was a band that said things other people didn’t like (Cause I was a teenager, you see). As I grew older and listened to more of their work (and started keeping a dictionary handy) I started to appreciate the incredible amount of thought and philosophy they put into their lyrics. This isn’t regular “Scream a lot” punk rock. These are songs that challenged me to think and criticized a lot more than what George Bush was doing wrong (though there’s plenty of that as well).
If you think you’re too old for punk rock, take a listen to some of these songs. BR has brilliantly made their music adaptable to changing philosophies. Even as I got older and mellowed out I still loved listening to them because their work isn’t about obstinate anger against the system, it’s about taking a deeper, more critical look at the world around you.
My reasons for liking this song are a bit contrary to its intended purpose and it is because this song has a personal connection to me, rather than a more global cause for appreciation, that it is so low on the list.
Chronopobia is the fear of the passage of time (duh) and this song mocks people so obsessed with their own mortality that they go out of their way to stay young- subjecting themselves to ridiculous procedures that make them look more like a plastic doll than a human being
Cryogenic methods are intractable
And collagen polymers aren’t so terrible
I appreciate this song because I feel chronophobia to a certain degree. Often I wonder if I’m making the most of what I at my age. I realize I’m still young, but it is because I’m young that this is such a concern. These are my prime years, and I’m struggling to find work, to make connections, to have fun. I spend so much time sitting in my room wishing I knew something better to do that I fear every passing day and realize my chance to capitalize on what I can do is passing me by.
I’m constantly paranoid that the day will come where sex won’t be fun, where my body won’t be fit for adventures, that I’ll never be able to do the things in life I want later on because I was never able to lay the groundwork now.
These rational delusions have got to cease
The second hand has finally got the best of me
I’m too aware about the singularity
That brought me to the edge of time
And it’s always on my mind
This song speaks to what’s going on in my head, and that’s why it makes the top 10. Not to mention it’s an excellent sing-along song.
9) Beyond Electric Dreams
This is a rare BR song that’s longer than 4 minutes. It was on the first BR album I owned and was my favorite song at the time.
First off, it sounds fucking amazing. As usual for BR the lyrics are incredible, but they string together so nicely in this song with those excellent instrumentals that it puts me into a trance every time. It feels like a lot or effort was put into arranging this song. There’s an atmosphere to it.
Graffin has said that this song was inspired by backpacking trips he and Gurewitz take into Sierra Nevada, California where they’re so far from electricity that it’s “beyond electric dreams.”
8) American Jesus
From a purely musical standpoint, this song is good not great, but it’s the theme of the song which gets it on this list.
American Jesus is pretty self-explanatory. It’s about the idiocy of people thinking that they’ve got God on their side in a war, or God on their side in any kind of dispute altogether. Or the stupidity of, actually, nationalism. The stupidity of thinking that any spiritual concept could even include the idea of nationalism
What’s funny is this song was written in response to statements made by George Bush Sr. during the Gulf War, and several years after it was written George W Bush made it all the more applicable.
The idea that god is on anyone’s side during war is hysterical. I’m sure Jesus would totally be on board as people plug each other full of bullets and set cities on fire. America has created a vision of god that makes camo-wearing mullet-sporters believe that they are the chosen idols of the lord. Of all the people in the world, it’s Jimmy Sixpack, who goes huntin’ for possums every weekend, that has god’s favor. He knows that because every time he drives down the interstate there are numerous billboards telling him that everyone who doesn’t believe is going to hell, and he believes with all his heart, so he’s A-Ok.
You know who else believed? George Bush. So god must be okay with all his decisions.
You know who’s secretly a Muslim? Barack Obama. So everything he does is against Christians, even though, technically, the Islamic god and Christian god are the same thing. The American god, however, is something far different.
7) I Want To Conquer the World
This is a song that speaks to our arrogance. It shouts the words we silently say in our head when we’re feeling particularly self-righteous.
I want to conquer the world
Expose the culprits and feed them to the children
I’ll do away with air pollution
And then I’ll save the whales
We’ll have peace on earth
And global communion
Yep, I can do all that, it’s just as easy as trying.
Except it really isn’t. This song pokes fun at the megalomaniacs who latch on to this idea that they can make the world perfect and believe they are the only person fit to rule. We all think those things from time to time, this is our warning to not go crazy with it. Work on one thing at a time, because you’ll never fix the whole world, and you’d be a jackass for trying.
6) Come Join Us
Catchiness definitely plays a role in this song making the list, I admit, but it is a damn great song nonetheless.
The song is primarily talking about cults, but I think the lyrics have a much broader application.
so you say you gotta know why the world goes ’round
and you can’t find the truth in the things you’ve found
and you’re scared shitless ‘cuz evil abounds
come join us
Some people are so afraid of things that seem overwhelming to them that they cling to the first easy answer presented to them. One of the few times I was ever discriminated against for being an atheist I was being driven home by my friend’s mother. This was the first occasion I met her, and my friend was meeting us later so it was just me and her in that car. I don’t know how religion came up exactly, but I’ve never been shy about my atheism so it’s no surprise I offered up that information to which her response was
“Well how the hell do you think we got here?”
I’m not sure why that’s the thing she latched on to, but it just goes to show some people have a desperate need to understand mysteries of the universe, even if those people aren’t willing to put in the time and research to find the right answers. Frankly, the idea of god simply existing is far more confusing to me than any alternative science offers.
This song also points out that cults (and others) love to target the confused and desperate.
you can go through life adrift and alone
desperate, desolate, on your own
but we’re lookin’ for a few more stalwart clones
It is often said that a man will turn to religion when his life is in shambles. This is not a good thing. Would you say a person who starts a relationship with someone they never liked before just because they’re desperate is built on a strong foundation? These converts are zombies. They cling to any hope and comfort they find and confirmation bias keeps them there.
Preying on the desperate to build a cause is about as deplorable as it gets. Eventually those people will figure out that the aid they were given was artificial, just an opportunist spotting another victim to contribute money and power to his cause. This song puts it all together so well.
It would be criminal not to have this song on the list. One of the most widely covered and recognized BR songs.
It’s hard to get a grasp on exactly what this song means, even after Gurewitz gave an explicit definition:
It’s a song about my concept of god (…) the hammer, window, knife etc. are prose and I don’t feel it’s appropriate to give you my personal intention, although like any art there is a definite ‘meaning’ I’m trying to convey. If Generator makes you feel something when you listen to it real loud than chances are you understand it just fine
He also said, and I absolutely love this quote:
The vibe that I’m trying to give is like, if you’ve ever been in a room and the air conditioner’s humming. You don’t notice it, of course, because it’s a constant hum. Then it turns off and you suddenly notice how quiet it is because it went away. That’s the generator; it’s just behind everything. It’s funny, God and spirituality has been the central conflict of my entire life.
I have heard (I cannot verify this) that sometimes when playing this song live BR will immediately launch into another song at the end- which is insanely cool if it’s true.
So what I get out of this is that when living a religious life, god is the generator- he is like a rock, a planet, an atom bomb- a massive force that grows in mass until it explodes. You never realize what a force it is in your life until you step out of it and the humming of all that chaos is gone, but at the same time you realize you were always aware of it.
I’ve known it all along
Like the bone under my skin
Like actors in a photograph
Like paper in the wind
There’s a hammer by the window
There’s a knife on the floor
Like turbines in darkness
Like the blood on my door
It’s the generator
The last stanza (above) represents how tempting it is to do something crazy and dangerous while under the hypnotic buzz of the generator. Under that comforting hum one can be lulled into discriminating against other faiths, fighting a war in the name of god, bombing abortion clinics.
It’s like being insane, moved to irrationality by the voices in your head.
That’s just my interpretation, and I only apply it to the overtly and/or ignorant religious, not all of them.
4) A Walk
Another song that makes the list because it speaks personally to me.
I love walking, but I don’t take “after dinner walks.” When I come back from a walk I’m covered in sweat and dirt and maybe a little blood. My walks are adventures, and they’re my chance to think without the distraction of “I should be doing something else right now.”
It’s about someone who is at the end of his wits due to the oppression he feels living in the modern world, and he’s going on a psychological walk and forging a new way of thinking for himself. Independent and exempt.
I’ve been talking walks for as long as I can remember, and back when I was in high school my mother criticized me for it.
“Don’t you think you look weird out there? You always wear jeans no matter how hot it is, and people see you slinking by their houses.”
To which my response was “who cares what they think.” I felt pretty good about that answer after hearing this song.
and I know you’re watching everything I do
call me threat to your children call me socially unglued
call me master of insanity, unable to relate
call me lazy, bane, and filthy
call me monstrous reprobate
Walks are the best time to think, and this song gets it. It is not a leisurely stroll, it’s an intense experience where you push your body and mind and think of things you may have never considered if you stayed at home.
There’s a vibe to this song that makes me smile. It’s kind of tough to extract the meaning, and I can’t find any quotes from band members on it, but I’ll take a stab at interpretation.
This pokes fun at revelations that come from nowhere. Got a new idea on how the world works? Have any evidence of experience that lead you to that claim? No? Well good news, we have a word for that which will give you the impression that your out of the sky revelation is legitimate. It’s called an epiphany, and it’s basically a way to tell anyone who wants to fight your claim “fuck you, I know it’s true.”
I believe this song follows the story of a man who realizes the fallacy of epiphany only after it has led him to ruin. He does this, ironically, through an epiphany.
We arrive at this place
of no return my brothers
Only to discover that our minds have led us away
so far from the painful truth
of who we are
Then we move into an argument prophets of epiphany commonly use
If it’s real for me do I have to prove it to you
Why do revelations fade to cold blue untruths
It’s oh so relative
Subservient in total to one’s perspective
Well, yes, you do have to prove it to us if you’re going to use your revelation to try and influence politics and the people around you. Revelations fade to untruths because people discover facts that discount the “feeling” you had one time. If you’re going to take people along with you in your new found revelation, you’d better make damn sure that you’ve done research to ensure your epiphany isn’t total bullshit.
That’s my take anyway.
Even though this is a tragic song it always makes me mellow out.
This song is about the tale of Job, a story everyone knows to be pretty screwed up.
That was god turning his back on the one man who was good and righteous. That’s not god, that’s religion. That’s an example of how detestable religion is. What is the lesson there? No matter how good you are, god will turn his back on you? This is the basis for Judaeo-Christian religion? Is it any surprise the world is so screwed up? They say that the story of the Job is the saddest story ever told, so it seemed like the best archetypal story to start a song called Sorrow
When asked about the lyric “Or when the only true messiah rescues us from ourselves / It’s easy to imagine,” Graffin said that the true messiah is us and we must extract meaning from life on our own. A very humanist idea, and one I full heartedly agree with. I loved this song before I knew what it was about, I loved it ten times more after. I have nothing else to say about except: it’s wonderful.
1) God Song (Acoustic)
I rarely ever say this, but the acoustic version of this song is infinitely better than the original.
I am not prone to great swells of emotion. I’m typically rolling my eyes when someone is going off about how a song or movie really catches them in the heart. Now this song doesn’t make me cry or anything, but every time I hear it I feel. What do I feel? I don’t even know, but it feels good.
The beginning is a skewed reference to William Blake’s “and did those feet in ancient time” and it was such a pleasure to recognize that and put my literary background to good use.
My favorite part of this song:
Have they told you how to think,
Cleansed your mind of sepsis and autonomy?
Or have you escaped from scrutiny,
And regaled yourself with depravity?
A knock at how evangelicals are convinced that atheists are bereft of morality without the bible and find enjoyment in “depravity.” Only by being told what’s moral and good can you learn what is right. After all, mankind didn’t come to his own conclusion that murder and theft are wrong by means of higher cognitive function, only people inspired by GOD could deduce such things!
It’s this song’s ability to make me feel that puts this song so high on the list. It’s a spiritual song for the nonspiritual.
That was a tough list. I left out a lot of great songs. Some honorable mentions:
Nothing to Dismay
Punk Rock Song
Pride & the Pallor
I Love My Computer
Shades of Truth
Stranger Than Fiction
And so many more.
Thanks to the Bad Religion Page, without which I never would have found any of these quotes.
Here’s one last parting gift I came across while researching for this post: