Bad Religion's Jay Bentley interviewed on the road.

Bad Religion strikes back

The punk-rock stars keep on making music to dislike the Bush administration

Unlikely to play at any Republican fund-raisers in the near future and pretty much the self-styled soundtrack for H.L. Mencken's observation that "no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people," Bad Religion will play good music for sweaty people tonight at the venerable Ventura Theatre.

The punk-rock legends have been around a million years, have recorded a thousand albums and have played in Ventura hundreds of times. Or something like that. The band even played the legendary Goleta Valley Community Center back in those crazy '80s.

Its new one is "The Empire Strikes First." The old ones are too numerous to mention.

The singer, Greg Graffin, has a doctorate from Cornell in biological something or another, and the mosh pit, once again, will provide all the parent-scaring biology on the move that anyone could possibly desire.

The guitar player, Brett Gurewitz, started his own record label --- the wildly successful Epitaph Records --- 20 years ago. Guess which band with the word "Bad" in its name is on the label?

Meanwhile, the bass player, Jay Bentley, had stories to tell and elections to complain about during a recent phoner from Bakersfield shortly before a gig.

So you're actually in Bakersfield on purpose?

Jay Bentley: It's going to be a good time for all. I think our next "strangest gig" is going to be happen tonight; we're in a dome in Bakersfield. It's like a boxing gym. It promises potential for the great road story.

Has the new album finally made you wonderful guys rich rock stars?

Jay Bentley: No, but we're content. I think we're all happy with what we've done, although I'm not real happy with the election.

Then you've jumped ahead to my 10th question: Would George Bush wear a Bad Religion T-shirt?

Jay Bentley: Would he? Maybe. I dunno. I think the problem was that too much emphasis was put on George W. Bush and not enough on his administration. People should've taken an in-depth look at the people surrounding him, then asked, "Do we really want these people running the country?" But people just looked at Bush and said: "He's an affable guy. He choked on a pretzel. He walks with a swagger and can't say 'nuclear.' He's one of us." He really is just a doofus, but the guys around him are sharp as tacks, and they've been waiting since Nixon for this Middle East plan --- Cheney, Rummy, all those guys have been waiting a long time.

They do demonstrate patience, however.

Jay Bentley: The war was started to make a whole bunch of money for some people by rebuilding a country and running an oil pipeline out of Iraq to Afghanistan. It's all these things people don't think about, or maybe they just don't know about it. That's my personal take on all this from now on: It's not that people don't know but rather that they don't want to know.

Did all the Bad Religion fans vote against Bush?

Jay Bentley: Well, if that's the case, then all like-minded individuals like myself voted not so much for John Kerry but to get Bush out of office --- while in the Congress, Republicans are passing bills allowing assault rifles and banning abortion; at least the Democratic Party would've had the president's ear and could've said, "Hey, we're going to veto this bill." But right now, you've got the right-wing Christian fundamentalists with the president's ear and with the Republicans owning D.C., they can do what they want. They have a blank check to do whatever they want, which is why people are saying: "I'm leaving. I'm outta here."

It's almost as if the South had won the Civil War, because the Confederacy is real big now if you're counting all those red states.

Jay Bentley: Yeah, and I'm still fairly upset about the whole California governor thing. Whatever about Schwarzenegger, but the fact that Gary Coleman could come in fifth just shows where people's brains are at.

And Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys did very well when he ran for mayor of San Francisco on the free-beer-and-politicans-must-wear-clown-suits platform. Gotta love that.

Jay Bentley: Yeah --- it's almost like politics are funny or it's a joke, and people take it all lightly, and if they do take it seriously, they only take it seriously enough to be dangerous. They don't look into things enough to the point where, "Hey, I better study this." What it all boiled down to was that people thought that gay terrorists were going to be teaching their children in school, so they voted for Bush.

Hate when that happens.

Jay Bentley: This term is going to be worse --- way worse. We already have a $7 trillion deficit, and Clinton left us with a $200 billion surplus.

Yeah, but now Bad Religion can play in Fallujah because it's safe there now.

Jay Bentley: Yeah, whatever. Another thing that people don't realize because they don't travel outside the United States is that the dollar isn't worth anything anymore. It used to be the U.S. dollar could buy a lot outside America; not anymore. It's like the peso or something now, and no one seems to understand what that means. They have no idea how expensive everything is about to get. You think your ... Japanese computer was cheap? Well pretty soon, it's going to be $7,000.

Hey, aren't you in a band or something and haven't you played in Ventura about a thousand times?

Jay Bentley: Yeah, about a thousand times.

The first time I talked to you, the band knew three chords. What about now?

Jay Bentley: Seven. That's about all of them, and there's even one that has a minor note in it. I don't even know what they call that, but it's kind of a bitchen thing.

Wow, seven. Now you guys are scaring me. What's your take on mosh pit etiquette these days?

Jay Bentley: The mosh pit's the same; well actually, it's a little better now. I see people picking people up, so that's good. There was a couple of years there when someone would fall down, they just beat the crap out of him. And now, I see a lot of girls out there, which is even better. They're watching out for each other, which is how it should be.

What happened to all the scary old punks that looked like Lurch?

Jay Bentley: They're still there, but the perception seems to have changed as to what we're all trying to accomplish here.

You're trying to accomplish something? And that would be?

Jay Bentley: To not beat the crap out of each other.

Tell me a Goleta Valley Community Center story. Do you remember that place?

Jay Bentley: I do remember that place. That's way back. My only memory of that place is one time I played there with TSOL, and they got paid in pot --- a giant bag of weed. That was kind of cool.

How did you get to be the bass player?

Jay Bentley: They had a guitar player already. I had a guitar, and I was a guitar player but Brett was already the guitar player, and they needed a bass player, so I went and bought a bass.

Stay with it; perhaps it'll work out. How do you account for the longevity of the band?

Jay Bentley: I think a lot of it has to do with breaking up a couple of times, putting out some crappy records and realizing your mistakes and treating it as a hobby and not taking yourself too seriously and being egotistical about it.

What have you learned on the road driving around all these years?

Jay Bentley: OK. After all these years, I've learned that I don't know anything.

That's all there is to know.

Jay Bentley: That's all there is to know, and if everyone could just work with that theory, this would be a great place.

By Bill Locey
The Ventura County Star