Punk rock is now decidedly middle-aged along with the teenagers that made up its early audiences. Those mosh pits have dispersed into all corners of society and I thought it would be fun to start exploring how the music itself has taken up residence within other genres.
The new Bad Religion record, True North, was released yesterday – their 16th in over 30 years. A major Bad Religion booster in my hometown was Chris Jay, now front-man for Army of Freshman. Before the all-ages shows we’d play together in Cape May County, New Jersey, Chris and I would often talk music and I particularly remembering him telling me all about Bad Religion and which records I should start with. What drew me to their sound was the speed and the melody; two characteristics that are found in abundance in one of my other favorite genres of music – bluegrass.
A good Bad Religion song is done at breakdown speed with a soaring melody. In fact, a bluegrass classic like “Molly & Tenbrooks” would work very well as a Bad Religion tune. My favorite Bad Religion songs, like a burning bluegrass number, has the feeling that you’re hanging on to something that’s moving as fast as it can, and maybe just a little faster than it should. Songs over the years about fast horses, fast trains and fast cars have all sought to capture this feeling musically – the feeling of being not quite out of control, but getting close. And when you’re done playing one of these songs you have the same feeling as when the roller coaster ride comes to a stop and you find that you didn’t fly off the turn after all. The smile that erupts on the player’s face says, “That was close. Let’s do it again!”
I should emphasize the famous proscription in bluegrass never to play a song faster than you are able. But I like to interpret that rule as, “Play it as fast as you are able.” In that spirit, my group The LA BlueGrassHoppers worked up a bluegrass take on Bad Religion‘s “Stranger Than Fiction.” Below is a clip from UCLA’s Schoenberg Music Hall filmed last June. I’ve also included a song from the new Bad Religion album and would love to see someone take a pass at this one with a banjo. Finally, I put the Stanley Brothers version of “Molly & Tenbrooks.” (Do check out the great Punch Brothers performance of this song as well.)