This article was originally published in online magazine Pointless Banter on April 29, 2006.
There are a million reasons you might have heard of Brandon Cruz. A child actor, a punk legend, an editor, a producer…one would be hard-pressed to decide what this guy is best-known for. From The Courtship of Eddie’s Father to Southpark, from Dr. Know to the Dead Kennedys, Brandon has had a pretty amazing career, and was kind enough to grant me a few minutes of his time to talk about it. Enjoy, E
Photos are courtesy of deadkennedys.com, Genesis Creations, dangorder.com, and Brandon Cruz.
|Cruz with the Dead Kennedys, from left: East Bay Ray, D.H. Peligro, Klaus Fluoride, Cruz|
E: First of all, thanks so much for doing this.
BC: My pleasure.
E: I don’t want to focus on this, but I have to ask the obligatory Dead Kennedys question, so let’s get that out of the way. I know that a lot of the DK diehards had a hard time with your replacing Jello Biafra on vocals for the recent tours. Do you think that some of those individuals have come around? Overall, would you say that being in DK has been a positive experience for you, as far as fan response goes?
BC: When I was asked by D.H. (Peligro, DK drummer) to join them onstage to celebrate the release of their Mutiny On The Bay CD, I thought it was a one-time thing. A lot of people told me not to do it. Flea (bass player, The Red Hot Chili Peppers) told me not to. He said I was going against what punk stood for. I asked him why he wasn’t still playing for FEAR and not the Chili Peppers. Keith Morris (Black Flag, The Circle Jerks) was against it. Shawn Stern (Youth Brigade) is still against it, and I quit three years ago. A lot of other people told me not to, but I did what I thought was right. Dead Kennedys hadn’t played in years and a whole new generation of kids who had heard the music had never seen it live. I knew that Jello was never going onstage with the other guys ever again, and I just figured why not? It was a band I knew personally, as well as from their albums and gigs, and I loved their message; the main message being “Think for yourself.”
I called an old friend who was in a pretty big punk band at one time, and I asked him what he thought. This is a guy who I trust a lot. He told me about going to see our friends play in Punk Rock Karaoke. Eric Melvin (The Melvins), Greg Hetson (Bad Religion), Derek O’Brien (Social Distortion, the Adolescents), and Steve Soto (Agent Orange, the Adolescents). They were playing a bunch of great old songs and at one point they played a couple by my friend’s band. The songs were almost 20 years old. He hadn’t heard them in a long time. He was never too into nostalgia; he thought that progression was for him, the past was over, as he says. All of a sudden some 18 year old kid gets up there and sings this song that my friend wrote, and the passion and the intensity blasted him wide awake. He then realized that these songs are our hymns, our legacy, and that they should be remembered and shared and never forgotten. It’s what we gave to the world. I thanked him and then I called D.H. and I said yes.
I did the gig and a lot of people who had talked shit outside the club ended up on stage singing “Too Drunk To Fuck.” That cracked me up. As soon as you hear the music, it doesn’t matter who is singing, in my opinion. Hell, I sang for Dr. Know first, quit, Kyle sang, and now I’m back with them. Same thing. It takes a band, not an individual, to make a band. Sure, some people will stand out and get famous, but to me, punks were never about being rock stars. We were all one group of people from different backgrounds with a common thread – the music. Not the singers or the guitarists, but the whole thing. It was amazing to see some of the people who were against the whole idea of me singing for the Dead Kennedys become believers. I am not, nor will I ever be Jello. I never tried to be. I am me and I had fun. A lot of people were really happy to hear the music live, either for the first time or whether they had seen the band in the 80’s. When we were approached to do the tours, I just followed my heart and went out, saw the world, played punk rock that I truly believed in to Russia, Japan, Argentina, Chile, Eastern Europe, all over the place. I will never forget nor regret the experience. I made a lot of friends. They are fans, too, I guess, but it’s the friendships that I’ll remember the most.
E: I notice that you’ve mentioned your sobriety as something you’re focusing on right now. How has your sobriety affected your art? For example, the way you write, the sorts of things you write, and your style of performing it?
BC: Being sober has changed me as a person. I still have good days and bad days, but I don’t have to get high to escape or celebrate those things any more. I don’t fall down as much, I remember more words to songs, and I am in better shape. I still write the same way. I am still a drug addict an an alcoholic, I just don’t drink or do drugs. There are still some very dark places in my head.
|Cruz, then and now|
E: What’s something that most of your fans wouldn’t know about you?
BC: I am a pretty open book. I need to keep a few secrets,though. Okay, here’s one: I am probably the only man to have kissed Jodie Foster. How’s that?
E: You grew up in the spotlight as a child TV star (The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, The Bad News Bears). Did you fall into many of the traps that it seems so many child actors fall into?
BC: Oh yeah, I fell hard, but I did it out of the public eye. Most of my drug and drinking days were done with people just like you and I – surfers, construction workers, punks, skaters. I never got loaded when I was a kid, and I was only an actor from age 6 to 15. Well, I was stoned in The Bad News Bears all the time. I managed to escape a lot of the Hollywood bullshit by getting into music, surfing, and just putting Hollywood behind me as much as possible. As I get older, it seems to come up more. I am more comfortable with it so I never deny or regret my past.
E: What’s your favorite project you’ve ever been involved with?
BC: Dr. Know. It’s been 25 years of off and on again, but it’s the best thing I have done. I get to do what I want and to me, that’s freedom. As Mike Watt said, “Punk is what we make it to be.” I make it freedom.
E: What’s your favorite “show” story?
BC: There are so many crazy gigs from the last 27 years that I have been in bands. One memorable gig was in Germany. Dead Kennedys were playing with Slayer. We got booed a lot and some skinheads were yelling “fuck you” to me, so I stood up on the speakers and told 100,000 Germans to fuck off. They shut up. I felt pretty good about that. I broke a lot of teeth and my shoulder and got a few concussions diving into the crowd, too, but I still do it when I feel like it. Sometimes I never learn. I also strangled a bouncer with a mic cord and dangled him for a little bit for grabbing a 14-year old kid in a choke hold. I am banned from that club for life. He deserved it, though.
|Cruz onstage with Dr. Know|
E: Despite what people think, being a career musician is a job. As such, you have chosen to do it – what sucks the most about your job? What is the most fun? Would you encourage/support your own children if they chose to pursue a career in show business?
BC: The worst part about it is being on tour and missing my family. I have been married for almost 12 years. We have 2 kids who I love so much, it’s crazy. The best part is also being on tour. You get to meet amazing people and make new friends. It’s freedom. I mentioned freedom, right? If my kids want to be in a band, I’ll probably be into it. You never know, though. This is a pretty fucked-up world these days. Music may be the funnest thing you do in life, but to do it for a living is another thing entirely. I haven’t made a living from music, I make my life through music.
E: What are your thoughts on what Metallica did with Napster? How do you feel about file-sharing, etc.?
BC: (Laughs) I just downloaded a shitload of Metallica from Limewire. I am all for it. I already have the albums, but I wanted it on my computer and iPod. Big deal. I upload a lot of Dr. Know and share it. It’s not like I won’t buy a CD or an old album if I can download it. MP3s have no soul, no lyrics sheets, no art. There is a big difference. Share all you want, just buy something sometimes. Hell, Metallica has made millions. They must have forgotten their manners. It’s polite to share.
E: How do you feel about the current state of record distribution? What do you think the music industry is becoming, good or bad? How are next generation’s musicians going to get their music out?
BC: Distribution is a tricky subject. I rarely deal with it. We make records, someone puts them out, and we go tour. I think the industry as a whole sucks. Major label this, major label that, blah blah blah. The first batch of big punk bands were ALL on majors. The Ramones, Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Dickies, on and on…so what? Is Epitaph owned by Warner? Did Rancid and Green Day sell out? Is Fat Mike still a multi-millionaire? Who knows and who cares? Actually, Rancid and Green Day are punker than every single emo screamo band that’s on MTV and the big radio stations, so I don’t think they have sold out. They fucking both rock and have integrity. I would still love those guys, whether I knew them or not. I hate a lot of the new bands that LOOK punky, but I could go on for days about those assholes. I would rather see Neil Young than what’s popular these days. Him and Iggy Pop. They rule. (Don’t tell anyone, but they are on majors, too. Shhh.) I think the next thing will be full downloads. CD’s will be like vinyl. Technology is progressing so fast. Sure, files will be shared, but soon we will be able to get the complete full album experience on a computer. I think that’s where Dr. Know is heading. You can’t beat a good old-fashioned piece of vinyl, though. I still buy those.
E: I read in your IMDB Profile that you worked as an editor for the 1997 season of South Park. What can you tell me about that? Sounds like a blast.
BC: Well, I am an editor. That’s what I do to make the money I need to eat, drink, have a roof over my family’s head, put gas in the tank, and fund my surf trips. It was a job I just kind of fell into. I really hate it, but I can’t surf or tour all the time, so I have to work. Everyone does. Well, most people do. And whether I like it or not, I have to work. South Park was fun, but like most things I didn’t start, it got boring. Same with the Dead Kennedys – no new material = boring to me. I had to move on. Now I get to make quality television like reality shows. Fuck does this shit suck. It pays the bills, though.
E: True or False: Punk’s not dead.
BC: Punk? What does that mean to you? If you can’t explain it, it’s not dead.
E: When you write, how does your creative process work? Does the music come first, or the poetry?
BC: Aha, the chicken or the egg question. Well, it’s both. I hear a good riff, I write to it. Or, I write some lyrics and I try to find the right music that fits it. Sometimes we write together. It just depends on who is in the rehearsal room with me.
E: What are you working on right now; what’s next for you?
BC: We are doing a brand new Dr. Know record. Then I am going to Bali. Then I am going to work. Then I am going to tour. Then I am going to work. Then I am going to surf. Then I am going to work. Do you see a pattern here?
E: You have an incredible resume. What’s something that you HAVEN’T done yet that you want to?
BC: I have never been fucked in the ass. I am in no hurry to add that to my resume. I do want to direct a movie.
E: When you pop in music and listen at home or in your car, who are you listening to?
BC: I listen to the following, in no particular order: Devo, Hatebreed, Born Against, Slayer, Foghat, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Harry Nilsson, Pig Destroyer, Ill Repute, The Slits, Green Day, She Wants Revenge, Dayglo Abortions, Nirvana, Can, Desmond Dekker, Madonna, Iggy, The Ramones, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Black Flag, 400 Blows, The Germs, The Weirdos, Pink Floyd, Rancid, etc. I like a lot of different music. If I had to pick one, I would say I listen to Pig Destroyer the most. I love that band. Them, or Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young.
E: Have you ever met one of your “idols”? What was that like/what did you say to them? Conversely, is there anyone you haven’t met that you’d like to?
BC: I have no idols. I admire my wife. That’s it. Everyone else has to show me that they are a decent human being. I already know who my wife is. I would like to meet the president. I have a lot to ask him. He would have me arrested, though.