Punk Paradox: A Wordy, Worthy Read

Let’s do a book review instead of a guitar or pedal review, because this book is quite the read.

You’re probably looking at this article and thinking, what the hell is this? This website is for guitar and guitar gear reviews, opinions, and rants. Well, it’s also a place for me to write about all the punk rock-related things I love. So yeah, today we’re going to talk about this book I just read, because I’ve been doing way too many guitar/pedal reviews lately and need a quick break before continuing.

Punk Paradox is the memoir of Bad Religion frontman Greg Graffin, who is a bit of a role model for me. He has a PhD in zoology, and pursued and completed it all while being an active member of Bad Religion. In fact, he was working on his graduate degree during some of their most impactful and productive years as a band. So why does that matter to me? Because I’m about to defend my own PhD, also in a field of environmental science, specifically Oceanography. Yet instead of fronting a world famous punk band, I started reviewing guitar gear during my grad studies. Not as impressive!

So after reading the history of Bad Religion in their “Do What You Want” book, the Greg Graffin “Punk Paradox” was an easy choice to reach for. And you know what, it reads exactly like you expect it to. It’s a wordy mouthful of Greg’s thesaurus-like vocabulary describing how he just doesn’t quite fit in anywhere. I really appreciate the effort he puts in to describing how he himself has sort of always been an outsider, even in the punk scene that he helped form and shape over decades. He highlights how this nerdy, academic kid who liked school and sports never got into drugs and alcohol the way almost everyone around him did. In fact, he goes into plenty of humorous detail on how he was more girl-driven than anything else.

On a more serious note, Punk Paradox is actually a very revealing read that fills in a lot of blank space from Bad Religion’s previous band memoir. The way Greg highlights the cultural differences between playing/touring in the US vs Europe explains a ton about the band’s own touring decisions in recent years, as well as highlighting how screwed up our own country (the US) is. The majority of the book feels like it takes place in the 1988-1994 time frame, which probably isn’t true. But it certainly reads like well curated “sections” of his life are emphasized. Childhood – Bad Religion’s “prime” – more serious adulthood come to mind as thematic sections.

The specific discussion of punk rock and how warped it kind of became after the initial wave is the key story for me. The dissolution of the genre into nihilism and violence, becoming a scene devoid of girls and borderline pre-incel in a lot of ways is a point discussed by Graffin often. In fact, Graffin points to the absence/presence of women as a very important marker of the genre’s “health” so to speak. Not in a shallow way, where the goal is to have women around to hook up with, but more of a test of how safe and welcoming the genre was through time.

Another key takeaway for me was high close knit punk and the burgeoning thrash metal scene were. Of course there was the crossover band Suicidal Tendencies, but Graffin namedrops a few bands that they played alongside that surprised the hell out of me.

Ultimately, Punk Paradox is a brilliant look back on the punk scene in the US and Europe with a level of clarity that is rarely achieved. Unlike so many of his friends, bandmates, and peers, there are no drug or alcohol spills that cloud his memory or twist history. Even if you’re not a huge fan of Bad Religion, it’s a reality-based viewpoint that brings some levity and responsibility to the history of our beloved, but under studied punk genre. If you’re looking for a beach read this summer, Punk Paradox should be it.


Published by Matt Dunn

Guitar and music journalist for Ultimate-Guitar.com and Guitarsforidiots.com as well as a contributor for Guitarniche.com and Stringjoy.com. Reach out to talk about guitars, commission a partscaster, or ask for a review.

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