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Say What You Must: A Bad Religion Book Review

An honest review of an epic band bio

I’ll never forget the first time I heard Bad Religion. It was on the Punk-o-Rama compilation that changed so many lives. My brother had the CD and when he wasn’t looking, I borrowed it and armed with a blank tape, I planned on making my own copy. The only problem was, I wasn’t sure how to work the old man’s stereo system. Luckily, he also enjoyed music and was happy to help me out. We got the CD popped in and my empty tape in the cassette player and hit record. A lovely father-son bonding moment. And then he heard Greg Graffin belt out “Say what you must, do all you can, break all the fucking rules and go to hell with Superman and die like a champion, yeah hey!” and that was the end of that.

Luckily, my ten year old brain now had the knowledge needed so once he was out of earshot, I finished the job and the rest was history. Do What You Want was my introduction to Bad Religion and conveniently enough is also the name of their biography that was put together by Jim Ruland in coordination with the band. Well most of them. For reasons never stated, long-time member Greg Hetson does not participate. All that’s mentioned is that he was contacted numerous times and declined to be involved. They do touch on his departure from the band and basically state that he had lost a step and his live performance was just not cutting the mustard. It’s really too bad they couldn't mend that fence because anyone who is a fan of this band will recognize what a legend he is in the scene. That being said, they do acknowledge his importance to the band’s legacy; he just doesn’t have any direct quotes. Better than nothing I guess!

At a little over 300 pages (in the hardcover version I have), it’s a decent chunk of reading material but any fan of the band, or music in general, will have no issues plowing through it. The chapters are short, succinct, and will have you flipping through the pages like Liu Kang on Molly. Even though I was fairly familiar with the career trajectory of the band, I still found myself learning new things about their journey to becoming punk rock legends. For instance, Brett Gurewitz went by Mr. Brett not only because his Salvadoran housekeeper called him that, but also because he felt the scene was still rife with anti-semites. By hiding his very Jewish sounding last name, he thought he’d save himself some grief. As someone with a Jewish mother, I can relate. Although, I’d like to think we’re further ahead as a society nowadays, one look around proves that is far from the case. Get it together, world!

If you pick up this book and are hoping for a similar experience to reading the NOFX book - Hepatitis Bathtub, you will probably be disappointed. While the fellows in BR were far from angels, they definitely don’t lay it all out there for you like Fat Mike’s team does. That being said, they certainly don’t completely ignore the troubled pasts of some of their band members. All I’m saying is, don’t expect to read anecdotes about drinking piss and riding planes while resting upon a buttplug. It’s just not Bad Religion’s (paranoid) style! And that’s ok by me! There is more than enough entertaining content in this book even if they left out the most salacious tales from their history (or maybe they just didn’t happen. Who knows?)

Do What You Want covers all 40+ years of the band’s existence and fans of any era of their career will enjoy it. Their output from the late 80s to the mid 90s is astonishing to look back upon and that kind of work ethic and efficiency is why they are so well-respected in the punk world. The passages I found most interesting were the early days of Epitaph Records and Brett’s departure from the band leading to Brian Baker’s entrance and the band’s tumultuous time on Atlantic Records. It was interesting to hear them admit that the final two albums in that deal were kind of duds. In fact, Jay Bentley even states he felt the band was becoming a parody of themselves in that era! Luckily, their return to Epitaph and reunion with Gurewitz would get them back on track!

To conclude, any fan of the band, punk rock, or even just lovers of music biographies will enjoy this one. It’s a great recap of the band’s storied career and will make you want to revisit chunks of their catalogue you may have been neglecting and if, for some bizarre reason, you haven’t listened to them at all, it should inspire you to give them a try. Bad Religion is a legendary band who has inspired countless young punks to try to make a difference with their music. They also learned the hard lesson of keeping synthesizers off their albums so we didn’t have to. Truly selfless souls! So thank you Bad Religion for being such an inspiration and thank you Jim Ruland for penning it so eloquently. Give it a read or don’t. Do what you want! See if I care!

Grab your copy of the book here!


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