A funny thing happened to punk band Bad Religion on the way to what its members fully expected to be a James Dean existence: They fully embraced the "live fast" part of that manifesto, but somehow forgot to die young.
The veteran Southern California band, formed in 1980 by a group of bright teenage rebels at El Camino Real High School in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley, finds itself in the slightly surreal position of gearing up for a 30th anniversary tour and a raft of related activities this year.
"We used to say, 'Never trust anyone over 30,' " said guitarist Brett Gurewitz, 47, during a recent interview at the group's record label headquarters in Los Angeles. With a sheepish laugh, he quickly added, "Anyone -- that does not apply to bands."
He was flanked by the group's other remaining original members -- singer Greg Graffin and bassist Jay Bentley -- at the offices of Epitaph Records, the equally hardy indie label that Gurewitz started in 1981 as an outlet for the band's own music.
They are in the midst of a string of 17 House of Blues concerts in Anaheim, San Diego, West Hollywood and Las Vegas, for which they'll be joined once more by longtime band members Greg Hetson and Brian Baker, both on guitar, and drummer Brooks Wackerman.
"This isn't about what happened 30 years ago," Bentley, 45, said. "It's about 30 years of us being in the scene."
Graffin, displaying punk's time-honored antipathy toward self-aggrandizement or gratuitous self-promotion, elaborated: "We couldn't be around for this long if it wasn't for the expansion and the continued vibrancy of the punk scene. To me, that's the celebration. I've tried to deflect the accolades [for the band] and say it's really about the community. If you didn't have a community to play to, then what good is it?"
That community still shows up, well, religiously for Bad Religion shows, often with its children -- and even some grandchildren -- in tow, which makes the group as strong a draw in concert as ever. As a thank you for that loyalty, the band will record a live album during the early part of the tour and make it available as a free download for those who sign up on the band's Web site.
"Never underestimate Bad Religion," Goldenvoice chief Paul Tollett once said of the group's remarkable longevity, despite minimal radio airplay typically available to hard-core punk groups. But then, punk itself has outlasted all predictions of a quick, trendy demise.
"Far from being the great iconoclast, punk rock has turned out to be the most successful movement in rock 'n' roll history," Gurewitz said. "It has spawned myriad genres. ... Whether it's indie rock, emo, screamo, hard-core, post-hard-core or whatever the hell it is, they all have punk rock as their common ancestor."
The band's themes have remained consistent throughout its three decades. Fiercely held ideas about evolution, politics and atheism have been Bad Religion's stock in trade since the beginning, and they're a significant factor in the group's ongoing connection with its audience.
"We were very young when we named the band 'Bad Religion' and we started writing about what we considered to be serious topics," Gurewitz said. "Maybe the reason we started in that direction was because we were serious kids or troubled kids, but whatever the reason, it has served us quite well."