Bad Religion and Sum 41 weigh in on the war in Iraq

"Poltitcal Spunk"

If you get immersed in the culture of punk rock, it's easy to start believing that most punks are anti-establishment (which seems true) and opposed to the war (which also seems true). But punks are not without their large and subtle variations.

Consider the political shades of differences between Sum 41 singer-guitarist Deryck Whibley and Bad Religion guitarist Greg Hetson, two large figures in the punk world who both perform in Las Vegas this weekend.

"I think we're like most people. We're completely against it," Whibley says of the war. "Our song, 'Still Waiting' " -- which includes the question, "So am I still waiting for this world not to stop hating?" -- "was written a year ago. But I kind of saw this coming, (and) that's kind of what it's about."

Hetson says he doesn't know what to think, except that President Bush has mishandled war procedures, "pissing off the world even more," and Bush has used terrorism as an excuse to go after Saddam Hussein.

"It's such a complicated thing. You can't be either for or against it. It's like when Bush said you have to be either for or against us, I don't really get that. That's bullying," Hetson says.

"But something's got to be done about these horrible rulers of these countries that are killing their own and others. Sometimes, violence is the only way, unfortunately," Hetson says. "You kill a couple thousand innocent people to save 500,000 innocent people. Is it worth it? It's an age-old question."

The punk community is unique among music formats in that even entire record labels have taken a stance against Bush and the war. Fat Wreck Chords, which has been home to NoFX and Anti-Flag, sells T-shirts online and on tours that bear an image of Bush and the phrase, "Not My President."

Epitaph -- which is home to the legendary Bad Religion and was founded by Bad Religion guitarist Brett Gurewitz -- supplies anti-war links on its Web page, and keeps online political polls. One poll of 20,000 people claimed that the United States poses the greatest danger to world peace (76 percent for the States, compared to North Korea's 14 percent and Iraq's 10 percent). Another poll result said that punks should choose a side in "the largest anti-war movement in history" (76 percent). A third poll found that only 21 percent of respondents do not "pee in the shower."

And bands such as Atom and His Package have spring-boarded off the war to write creatively of their stances; Atom sings a song called "The Palestinians Are Not the Same Thing as the Rebel Alliance, Jackass."

Whibley says the war makes him nervous about touring the States, more so even than overseas, closer to the war action.

"I don't think people understand what America could easily turn into. I just think there's way more threat here than anywhere else. Well, unless you're in Baghdad," he says and half-jokes: "A lot of people do think we're American, so we're gonna have to start wearing our Canadian patches on our bags."

This is where many punks agree, that the United States is wielding its super power in irresponsible ways. Hetson certainly thinks so.

"I heard some crazy stories that the U.S. will seize the oil and pay for the occupation, which would be so imperialistic," Hetson says.

Whibley says the punk movement was less political during the Clinton administration. But Bush fired punks up. That was predictable. Punk movements often get riled up more during Republican administrations, perhaps because the GOP is seen as more restrictive of personal freedoms, more xenophobic and more aligned with the money classes and anti-individualistic, corporate structures.

"Clinton was not as bad," Whibley says. "In most of our opinions, in the band, George W. Bush is probably one of the worst presidents we'll ever have, or have had. ... I just don't know how, so far, he's gotten away with everything he's done."

Lyrically and even musically, the hard-charging Bad Religion and the more upbeat Sum 41 see the world with quite different temperaments. Bad Religion has criticized political, social and religious leaders for more than 20 years, although the band usually avoids telling fans exactly how to think. As Hetson sums up the band's motto, it's "Think for yourself."

Bad Religion's intellectual reputation has led people think they're smarter than they are, Hetson says and laughs.

"We're actually dumber than you think we are. We get these things: 'We hear you guys are all college professors.' And it's like, 'Well, only one person in the band actually finished college, and I think there are two college drop-outs.' "

Hetson says Bad Religion's atypical sound is representative of its individualistic outlook.

"When we first started, the whole goal was not to sound like everybody else. You want to have your own sound in the punk rock context," Hetson says. "Now it sounds like everybody has a particular type of sound they're trying to achieve, and a certain dress, and a certain stage antics: everybody bouncing up and down at the same time. It's like: since when was punk choreographed?"

Hetson doesn't mind that punk is more popular now.

"I just hate things being labeled punk when it's not," Hetson says. "A lot of bands out there being labeled as punk were obviously influenced by punk bands, but they're not punk bands."

A lot of punks try looking the part first, by getting tattoos and piercings.

"You have to have some kind of piercing on your eyebrow or your lip," Hetson says.

Yet, Bad Religion, which has set a standard in punk with its Southern California history, doesn't fit that stereotype. Neither Hetson nor singer Greg Graffin even have tattoos.

"It's not even shocking anymore. When you see people on 'Springer' looking like that, it's not shocking," Hetson says. "I don't have a problem with it. It's just not my thing."

Sum 41 has sometimes been criticized as yet another pop-punk band, even though Sum 41 stands out by its not trying to sound too cute or too heavy, while also playing uptempo, catchy songs. Whibley also breaks away from other pop-punk bands, which often just do a lot of complaining about parents, by focusing on real life and positivity.

Whibley even sings in opposition to suicide in a line that boils down to, "Life's not so bad." And Sum 41's "The Hell Song," despite a happy-go-lucky music video, was inspired by a friend's being diagnosed as HIV-positive. It is about how people don't realize that life can change quickly, until something tragic happens.

"All our songs are about real life and real-life situations, what we're going through, what's going on in the world, or what's going on with our friends. We've never had a break-up song. We don't really have any fictional songs," Whibley says.

The anti-suicide song came as a response to fan letters, not to world affairs, and is meant to maybe influence fans one by one, not by groups of political animals.

"We were getting a lot of fan letters. And every now and then we'd get one saying they thought of committing suicide until they listened to our record, and they changed their mind because we sing with a positive outlook," Whibley says. "That's the biggest compliment we've ever had."

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