Book reviews / Non fiction

Book review: Do What You Want

So, if you didn’t know, I love punk music. Do What You Want is a history of one of my favourite bands, Bad Religion, who have been a band longer than I have been alive. Greg Graffin, who was a University Challenge question, has a PhD in Zoology (which I have read and own a copy of…) also wrote an essay about what punk means which influenced me a lot as a younger punk. He’s also written two other books, which I have also read.

ANYWAY, this is all to say that this is probably a really biased review.

Even though I love Bad Religion, I’m generally the kind of person who doesn’t really investigate all the details about that band. So this book was almost a history lesson on one of the bands that I’ve loved a great deal. It’s also a bit warts and all, talking about that one album that should not be named, but also the many issues with drug and alcohol abuse by various members (except Greg who doesn’t drink or do drugs, but does collect fossils, or did when younger. I quite love that Greg is so strait-laced. C’mon Greg, I’ve got a PhD too, we can be friends).

It also tracks the various members who left or rejoined over the years (I mean, they’ve been around for 40 years, so some things are to be expected), with most being amicable break ups for different members to take on new opportunities. As well, takes us from the band being on an indie label (Epitaph, which is owned by Brett Gureritz who was a member/is a member of Bad Religion), to joining a major label and back to Epitaph. I think if I had a time machine, I’d go back in time to the 1980s in LA where all the punk rock bands I loved played at some point. I’ve made notes of different venues that we can try and track down whenever we manage to get to LA (in a post-Covid world). Maybe there are some ex-punk band members in LA who do tours (I’m thinking like the ex-cartel members is Medellin Colombia, with only a slightly less violent and drug-laden history).

What was fabulous about the book was that it didn’t go into painful detail (like talking about gear) but rather was a lovely tour through the forty year history of such an amazing band. So it was never boring as each chapter brought us to a new album or part of their history (17 albums!!) The author Jim Ruland (of Black Flag and Circle Jerks!) has a very compelling and conversational style, which was just so easy to absorb. For a non-fiction book, it described the events in a way that made me think of great world building in the best sci-fi novels.

I’m not sure how many people who read this blog will be interested in a history of a band they might not know about, but it’s also a really fascinating study of punk rock over the last forty years. Going from being underground, to exploding in the 90s, to what it is today. So maybe give it a go, if you’d like to learn more about punk (or buy it for the punk rock person in your life).

Anyway, I think I’ll be listening to Bad Religion albums all month now.

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