Sunday Music: Bad Religion’s 4th Turning Soundtrack – The Gray Race

Don’t you love the way books/ideas sequentially appear in your life? 

I do. Even when they’re a little doomy with a side of optimism. I’ll plug the “Optimism” episode of Breaking News we just released where we wrestle with all this stuff if you’re interested, but I know you’re here on a Sunday because Sunday’s are all about how music intersects with the rest of life here at Cultish Creative. Some people go to church. I check in with the musical gods, who aren’t offended by my breaking of tradition.

When Bad Religion’s The Gray Race came out in 1996, I was one of the teenagers who got the CD at the local record store. I still remember the cardboard slip-sleeve over the jewel case and how I’d carefully take it off to open it up every time. A little tedious, but I can still picture doing it. 

“A Walk” was actually getting some radio play and it felt “cool.” The cross buster was so much more profound than any Green Day, Rancid, or other mainstreamed punk symbolism. Even if Bad Religion were a little past their prime/80s hardcore years, a new record from them was still of interest if not downright iconic for us young gen-x/elder millennial teens.

Plus, post band related drama, Minor Threat’s guitarist (Brian Baker) was in the band now and who didn’t want to know what they’d be like without Brett Gurewitz but with little more Minor Threat/Dag Nasty?! 

In Do What You Want: The Story of Bad Religion this period is understandably rough. Lives are evolving and friends are splitting apart. Holes are being plugged. They’re all (re)figuring out what they’re good at and should be focused on for themselves (Brett focused on running/building Epitaph, Greg focused on his education and seriously, these lyrics). 

Is it a midlife crisis? Possibly the start of one. 

Is it a precursor of the 4th turning, or the generational shift from the early 90s into where we are today? In hindsight, I think so. 

Give the whole record a listen, but here are some snippets of the lyrics. Since I finished the Bad Religion book not that long after The Fourth Turning is Here, and thinking about my own life in the late 90s, I’m awash in where we’ve been and where we’re going feels. 

From the opening track:

The framework of the world
Is black and white
The infrastructure builders
Flex their might
Turning true emotion
Into digital expression
One by one we all fall down
The gray race shrivels
Trapped inside the world it creates
It’s black and white

And that song gets followed up with, 

Hate is a simple manifestation
Of the deep seated self directed frustration
All it does is promote fear and consternation
It’s the inability
To justify the enemy
And it fills us all with trepidation
Them and us
Bending the significance to match a whimsied fable
Them and us
Tumult for the ignorant and purpose for the violence
A confused loose alliance forming
Them and us
And I heard him say
We can take them all (we can take them all)
We can take them all, that’s what he said
We can take them all
But he didn’t know who we were
And he didn’t know who they were.
And there wasn’t any reason or
Motive, or value, to his story,
Just allegory, imitation glory,
And a desperate feeble search for a friend

And then on “Parallel,” which is some serious widening-gyre stuff:

Sleeping on a time bomb, staring into space
There’s an ocean of unpleasantries we are not prepared to face
Sitting on the fence post to watch the storm roll in
And terrified of the damage it will bring when it begins
It will begin
Splintered dreams of unity (our lives are parallel)
So far from reality (our lives are parallel)
Independent trajectories (our lives are parallel)
Separate terms of equality (our lives are parallel)

Pair the Do What You Want book with The Fourth Turning is Here, and don’t sleep on The Gray Race

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