BMOWP Classic Album – Stranger than Fiction

I came to know punk late, in 1994. I had missed the birth of Green Day. I had never experienced the decade’s old tradition of watching shitty bands play the only three chords they knew in someone’s garage or backyard. Instead, I learned the same way everyone else did – through major label releases on college radio. My friend Eric ran an after-school radio show on the local college station (KAUR 89.1) and, in between playing new Faith No More and espousing his hate for Soul Coughing, he started slipping some of that year’s punk selections into the mix.

BMOWP Classic Album:

Stranger than Fiction by Bad Religion

The transfer of tastes from metal to punk-alternative and grunge to straight forward popular punk was easy for us. If Metallica and Anthrax could lead to the smarter and more universally adored Nirvana and Alice in Chains, it was only logical that, with this normalization of music, we’d look to break out again.

So we both listened in awe as this new (to us) sound battered our minds. Pennywise hit my ears, thanks to Eric’s access. Strung Out. NOFX. And most of all, Bad Religion.

Stranger than FictionListening to Stranger than Fiction, Bad Religion’s major label debut, was like opening up a textbook and realizing everything made sense. It was education by surprise – there was something so simple, yet so wonderfully original, and I was flabbergasted I hadn’t discovered it earlier. This wasn’t punk for the masses like Green Day and The Offspring – instead, it was edgier. It had a message.

It had a message. A real message, one that created questions and promoted thought. That was the key.

Looking back, this is what I had been missing – music bathed in political reason, crafted from true knowledge, highlighted by incredibly clever lyrics and a series of hooks that begged to be remembered. I started memorizing, understanding viewpoints I hadn’t.

It wasn’t until I dove into the back catalog – and, in turn, moved from Best Buy to Ernie November when it came to learning about new music – that I fully grasped the intensity of Greg Graffin’s knowledge. Sure, Bad Religion never tried to be in your face – they weren’t Propaghandi or the yet to be created Against Me! But it was there, still. The first step in acceptance. The perfect primer to what music could be.

I now know that I was blinded by something new, what I thought was the ultimate in real feeling. I now know that, in comparison to others in the genre, Bad Religion is seen as a major label cop-out, punk pioneers that lost their way, too intelligent and too basic for lasting consumption. I now know that there is better, more original, more raw, more evolutionary music.

It has never stopped my ears from wrapping around the familiar sounds of the album, though. It bridged a gap – a necessary gap, one that threatened to leave me in the throws of major label martyrdom, unable to branch out for lack of knowledge, stuck to the same because I didn’t know which direction to move.

We often forget that the albums we have left behind are the same ones that helped shape our tastes today.

Even more, we forget that those albums are, for the most part, still wonderful. Still familiar. Still important.

Still worth listening to, even if only once a year.

This was lovingly handwritten on November 20th, 2008