July 23, 2009

Bad Religion: World Taking

Bad Religion's Greg Graffin performs at Sunday's Warped Tour in Oceanport, NJ. The Southern California punk legends made their first East Coast stop at Trenton's City Gardens in '88. 

On The Beat hit up the Warped Tour in Oceanport last Sunday when it ran into Bad Religion bassist Jay Bently. Incidentally enough, I had just gotten off the phone with Randy Now (Ellis)  - a club promoter in Bordentown who tour managed Bad Religion back when the group first ventured east - and decided to get the dirt on the '88 "Suffer" tour and its first east coast stomp in Trenton. 

On the Beat: At what road was Bad Religion's career at when you first hit Trenton's City Gardens?

JB: We were nobody’s. I think the first show he put on for us, we probably had 20 people there. And that was on the suffer tour. That was ’88, and I think the record came out the day before we got there. And nobody gave a shit. “Play Fuck Armageddon!” And we were like, “Ok, whatever.”

On the Beat: When you look back on those days, talking about those late ’80s, early ’90s gigs at places like City Gardens, which was kind of a rough stop on the East Coast? Or being a West Coast band on the East Coast?

JB: What I remember was meeting people like Randy and other East Coast staple people that I never would have met being from L.A., and realizing how cool the scene was and how great everybody was. I was never scared. I was hungry. I was tired. And I just loved playing Bad Religion music. That’s what I remember the most. It didn’t matter how we got to where ever we were getting, I just wanted to play.

On the Beat: Did you ever get a “fuck West Coast” feel during those days?

JB: The first time we played at CBGB’s we sold it out. And that was on that suffer tour, as well. And the shows that we were playing up to that point, were literally just shit – literally in front of 20 people. Before the country western act, it was the Bad Religion puppet show.  And we got out to New York City, weren’t expecting anything, and somebody said, “Did you see the line outside?” And I remember walking outside, walking down the street, saying, “Holy shit.” Then a van pulled up and there was two boxes of the suffer vinyl had just come out, and we cracked them open, and we were just like, “Wow, this is happening.” It was weird. It was really weird. And nobody was East Coast beefy. They were all really excited to see us.

On the Beat: Is it when you hit New York for the first time when you realized you’d made it?

JB: Maybe for a lot of punk rock bands, it was that kind of idea of, “OK, so L.A., Chicago, New York, D.C. are good scenes.” And everywhere else was a struggle. I don’t know if that was true for other bands, The Circle Jerks, Black Flag and Minor Threat, and bands that were touring. But what I got out of it was these are good people from a vibrant scene, and they were really cool to us.

On the Beat: Was there doubt at the time not to spend the money to come out?

JB: I don’t think anyone had an idea of that tour in ’88 was going to happen. We borrowed The Circle Jerk’s van. I shouldn’t say borrowed. We rented The Circle Jerk’s van and we went out on the road for almost two months and came back and each guy owed $1,000. It cost us $1,000 to go out on the road (per person). And my feeling on it was, “Fuck that. I can’t afford that.” And to be honest, the next thing that happened for Bad Religion was that we started getting a phone call from this promoter in Germany, saying, “You need to come out here right away.” We’re like, “Fuck you, we just did a tour of the states and lost $1,000 each. You want us to get on a plane and go out to a place where we’re not going to know anybody, and much are we going to lose on that?” That’s what we all thought. I’m glad he was persistent, because we ended up going on a plane and going out there. And that was a whole different ballgame. The first show we played in Germany was to maybe 5,000 kids.

On the Beat: Did you ever play to 5,000 in California at that point? That’s a pretty big number.

JB: Maybe at the Palladium. But I don’t think we were headlining. It would have been a big punk rock event that there would have been 4,000 kids at the Palladium. But that was a different ballgame, because that was us. And when you talk about any East Coast vibe, when we got to Europe the vibe was, “We really like your band, but we hate you. Because you are Americans.” They said, “We loved what you were saying on ‘Suffer.’ We love the lyrics. We love your band. But we hate you because you’re American.” And I was like, “OK. I can dig that.” I could totally accept that. I didn’t have a problem with that.

On the Beat: Bad Religion is headlining the Warped Tour now, and it has this young vibe. And I’m 33, and none my friends are into that anymore. But I figured you have to see Bad Religion when you can. So, how long will that last?

JB: We don’t really have any kind of plan. The one thing that we all agreed on, is that like every other fucking band, when we say it’s over, it’s over. And it’s not going to be we’re going on a reunion tour, and, hey, we’re going on a farewell tour and come back three years later. I don’t have to be on the Warped Tour and don’t have to be on any big tours. Honestly, I have fun playing in this band in a rehearsal hall, because it’s therapy to me.

On the Beat: So we’re not seeing our last Bad Religion show?

JB: I don’t think anytime soon. God forbid something fucking tragic happened. And with that being said, I tell everybody, “Look, we’re slated to play at 6:55 p.m. – maybe we’ll play.” You never know what’s going to happen. I get on the stage, and Brooks hits the sticks, and I go and can’t stop, no matter what.

On the Beat: What’s you’re overall feel of New Jersey. There’s a couple dates each year on The Warped Tour in New Jersey. Is there ever too much Jersey?

JR: You can never have enough Jersey. You can never have enough. You can have too much Florida. You can have way too much Florida and Texas. It’s too hot. Too muggy.

On the Beat: Is there anything about New Jersey that you fell in love with as you’ve toured for as long as you have?

JR: Randy Ellis. For some reason, seeing him was this safety zone. I’m sure it wasn’t just us, but it really felt like he cared.

On the Beat: He said he was picking you guys up at the airport and he almost got his ass kicked by the porters because you didn’t want to pay them for helping you with your gear?

JR: Yeah, none of us had any cash. And the porter wanted a tip, and we had like seven dollars. We had no money. And the quote was, because we still say it on the bus; “I will bust your shit.” And that wasn’t about our gear. That was to Randy Ellis’ face.

On the Beat: What’s the one song you love to play? The one song you always want to play when you go out on stage for its passion or its lyrics. That one song you can’t leave off the set list.

JB: “Fuck Armageddon.” It’s just loud and obnoxious. Coming on the stage, the quandary of the band is divine power. Power can be quiet. Power can be hard. So to me that song is very powerful. I think it’s a live statement, and all the other songs in our catalog are just as endearing, but for some reason that song, it’s the cornerstone, where playing it (represents) where we came from. It’s who we are. Everything else is building on that. And without that we’d be in the unknown again. We’d still be kind of lost; we’d be without a direction and wouldn’t know what to do.  

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