Book Review: Punk Paradox – A Memoir by Greg Graffin


There is no dearth of material out there by and about Bad Religion frontman Greg Graffin. As both an academic and a veteran of the California punk scene, Graffin has penned books like Anarchy Evolution: Faith, Science, and Bad Religion in a World Without God; Population Wars: A New Perspective on Competition and Coexistence; and Evolution and Religion (his dissertation). Along with his bandmates and journalist Jim Ruland, just two years ago, he helped write a fantastically detailed story of his band in Do What You Want. So, it would not be out of place to ask, what more you could possibly stand to learn about Graffin?

Turns out, there is plenty more ground to cover. While a few of the details here retread on Do What You Want, Punk Paradox for the most part is a fascinating look into a Midwest child of divorce relocated to the LA suburbs at one of the most consequential times in punk rock history, finding a teenage Graffin heading into the city for punk shows in the early ‘80s, catching some of the first sets by bands like the Circle Jerks and Black Flag before shortly joining them on stages with his own group.

His experience alone as one of the founding members of modern American punk rock is enough to justify the book with remarkable stories here about playing to small rooms of people in the U.S. and then heading over to Germany, where they were treated like national musical treasures, staying in punk rock squats on the road and then piling into windowless cargo vans and laying on the equipment to trek to the next show. But his other day job as a well-respected natural science professor at UCLA and Cornell makes this story that much more compelling. The fact that he was pursuing several degrees, conducting field research, and also writing a dissertation, at the same time that he was juggling being a member of one of the most influential punk rock bands to come out of California, is an astonishing feat.

Written with the nuanced detail for research of an academic, but balanced out with a punk rocker’s experience, Punk Paradox is a rock memoir unlike most. Whether talking about experiencing racism for the first time as a child on a cross country trip with his brother, mom, and her boyfriend or getting labeled with the scarlet “S” (Sellout) by self-proclaimed punk purists by finally moving up from a van to a no-frills tour bus, Graffin knows how to tell a compelling story. If you think you know all there is to know about Graffin and Bad Religion, Punk Paradox is all the proof you need that you don’t.

Purchase this book.

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