On Bad Religion’s seminal 1988 album Suffer, thesaurus-wielding frontman Greg Graffin offered this decidedly straightforward declaration of empiricist independence: “Hey, I don’t know if the billions will survive, but I’ll believe in God when one and one is five.” A fairly pedestrian gob of punk ambivalence, really, but as we learn in Anarchy Evolution (It Books, 304 pages, $22.99), Graffin’s autobiography-cum-evolution primer, such sentiments were (and still are) only the whipping tail end of Graffin’s academic pursuits, which now find him balancing his legendary band’s touring and recording schedule with a part-time gig teaching life sciences and paleontology at UCLA. That Graffin’s book tour coincides with a Bad Religion jaunt confirms it: This man is going to vacuum as much meaningful experience out of life as he possibly can.
And Graffin wants the same earthly happiness for us. He might as well have appended this subtitle to Anarchy Evolution: “We’re here, it’s weird, get used to it.” He still doesn’t know if the billions will survive; he doesn’t expect one and one to ever equal five; he views evolution as a chaos of Darwinian competition, random tragedy and accidental glory; but he is certain that humans have evolved into stewards of this tiny speck of the cosmos, and that the fate of this teeming happenstance is best left in the hands of those who’ve adopted a naturalist position, which is, according to the author, “the only perspective that can secure both our happiness as individuals and our survival as a species.”
Anarchy Evolution’s first half is a wall-eyed mess of everything-for-everyone: a history of Bad Religion, an introduction to evolution, a sentimental bildungsroman, and a self-congratulatory celebration of Greg Graffin’s capacity for writing songs and books. Punks who ditched high school halfway through sophomore year (me!) will get a lot out of the first few chapters, which find Graffin dishing on 1980 A.D. punk and 540,000,000 B.C. archaeocyathids, but anyone who stuck it out through biology class instead of dropping out to listen to Minor Threat will either know too much about science or not enough about the Germs (band, not thing that makes you sick) to care. However, the book evolves (ahem) into a rather touching and even rousing manifesto: We might not know everything, but we know enough to know that we should be treating this world and its inhabitants with a bit more foresight and compassion. Some of us (me!) just need a little punk rock to help the inspirational message go down.
READ: Greg Graffin reads at Powell’s on Hawthorne, 3747 SE Hawthorne, 228-4651. 6 pm Tuesday, Nov. 16. Free.