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Russ Rankin of Good Riddance

Russ Rankin

If you’re into punk music, but your collection is missing Good Riddance—c’mon, you have your choice of 10—we’re guessing it’s only because your “friend” ganked a few key CDs. These Santa Cruz natives have churned out the good stuff—the real stuff, the political punk rock that today’s scene sorely lacks—from day one. “Day one” for Good Riddance is a bit murky, having gone through a few line-up changes after forming in 1986 as “B.O.S.P.” (Bunch of Skate Punks), but the group finally gelled—and its strong following fully materialized—in 1995 when Fat Wreck Chords released For God & Country.

Through it all, Russ Rankin remained glued to the forefront as both the band’s vocalist and their idealistic mouthpiece. We knew Good Riddance always kept a fresh stack of animal rights literature at shows; we knew that the group readily donated a track to our latest comp CD; and we knew that Russ wasn’t shy about taking strong stances on political issues far and wide (the Bush administration, most recently), but what we weren’t prepared for was taking in one of the most articulate voices coming out of the animal rights punk scene. Yeah, yeah, we should’ve known …

Why did you choose to go vegan? Was it an easy transition for you—something that seemed to happen overnight—or did you struggle with it?

It took about two and a half years for me to make the jump from vegetarian to vegan. It was something I’d wanted to do from the start but kept “slipping.”

I guess it just took being confronted by my own reality and the fact that, if it meant enough to me, it (going vegan) was going to be as easy or as difficult as I made it and, if I was as committed as I liked to tell myself, than I had to, at some point, walk my talk.

Everyone has their trying moments when first going vegan. What got you through it?

I’m not really sure. I think it was just a matter of constantly reminding myself about the commitment I’d made, not only to myself, but to the animals and the planet. After even just a little while being vegan, I’d already begun to get a conscious sense of ease which I really valued. There was something about knowing that I was, in effect, taking myself “out of the loop,” so to speak, of the whole brutal, disgusting cycle.

I also listened to a lot of straight-edge music, especially songs about animal rights. This helped to further my resolve and put me even more at ease with my decision, as well as the friendly—and timely—kidding I got from a straight-edge, vegan friend right around the time I finally made the transition. Here was a walking, talking example that the lifestyle I was striving for was attainable. He’d ask me what was stopping me (from going vegan), and I had no real answer for him.

What would you say to someone who is just on the edge—so close to going vegetarian or vegan—but worried that it will be too expensive, too difficult, too inconvenient (and any number of other worries/excuses)?

I’ve been in that situation lots of times. My suggestions have included Web sites like PETA2 or Vegan Outreach, reading books like Diet for a New America by John Robbins (the book that changed my life) or even the more recent Fast Food Nation. If it’s a friend, I will often take them to a local restaurant and show them just how easy it is to scan a menu, ask a few pertinent questions of the waiter and enjoy a vegan meal almost anywhere. I tell them how easy it is compared to what I like to call the “vegan pioneers” of the 1960s. Even huge markets like Safeway have massive faux-meat and “health food” sections now.

People’s biggest concern about going vegan seems to be the issue of convenience, even for people who fully support the lifestyle. Since Good Riddance began touring several years ago, have you found that it is easier to find vegan food on the road?

That’s a good point. When we really began touring in earnest in 1995, I was the only vegan with three vegetarians. Chuck soon joined the vegan team and we began a long and sometimes humorous “experiment” in maintaining a vegan lifestyle on tour. Although it was often boring (Oh boy! French fries at Perkins again?! Lucky me!), we did it and never starved or went without. Whether in Japan or Australia, the fatherland (Germany) or the heartland, we found our way and it was really cool to know that a couple idiots could pull it off.

Since we’re on “convenience,” how do you feel about major market food corporations like Burger King offering vegan options like the BK Veggie? Have you tried it?

I think it’s good in that it’s a sign of the times … something which, even a mere decade ago, would seem completely unfathomable has now become the industry standard. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that we, the hardcore/punk community, can take some of the credit for that. All that being said, however, if you’re truly a vegan, then WHAT ARE YOU DOING AT BURGER KING IN THE FIRST PLACE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!?

OK, I’ll tell on myself … in Hamburg, Germany, we’ve indulged in the B.K. “Country Burger.” It was OK.

I know that you are a political person, concerned with the Bush administration, war, animal rights, and more, I’m sure. When did you decide to take a proactive stand? How did you go about doing it? For kids out there who want to make a difference but are unsure how to go about getting started, what is your advice?

Well, I’ve been fortunate, I guess, in that, being in a band, I have a bit of a forum. I’ve been lucky to have understanding and exceedingly tolerant bandmates who back me and my never-ending idealistic crusades. Punk rock exposed me to the possibilities of music as more than just entertainment but as an effective medium of communication. I was first inspired to attempt it myself by political bands such as the Dead Kennedys and Crass. The feedback we’ve received from our fans regarding the modest political work we do (donating money from record sales, playing benefits, distributing literature at shows, etc.) has been more than enough to tell me it’s worth it.

From an animal rights perspective, it’s simple: providing people with the facts, facts [that] have been kept from us as kids by an omnipotent meat-and-dairy industry so that we would ostensibly continue to blindly consume their hateful products. I believe (perhaps naïvely so) that most human beings are intelligent and compassionate. I also believe that, once one has availed themselves of all the facts regarding the misery and ecological destruction their previous (and unwitting) food choices have precipitated, they will invariably be compelled to make different choices. Our own experience in Good Riddance has born that out by the mountains of letters, e-mails, and personal accounts of how kids of all ages are taking the ball we’ve provided and [running] with it. It has been, for me, the most rewarding component of my musical career.

PETA2 has been very successful with outreach at festivals and concerts and I know Good Riddance always has AR literature at your shows. It seems like there was a period of time when you could go to any hardcore or punk show and find literature on any number of causes. Today, that seems to be lacking. Why do you think that is?

I think it’s because the punk/hardcore scene has been almost completely co-opted over the last few years by the culture industry. These people don’t care about animal rights or any form of relevant social change; it’s all about units sold, billboard charts and buzz clip videos. The industry which is grinding out watered-down corporate rock and passing it off as punk is, in my opinion, inseparable from the industry which grinds out hamburgers and milkshakes. A cursory glance at the culture industry’s main conduits of influence (television and radio/MTV) bear this out with one industry product (corporate “punk”) being used as a soundtrack to sell another (meat and dairy).

Do you discuss veganism to friends and fans? If so, what have you found to be the most effective “tool” in reaching into minds that, at first, seem very shut to the idea of animal rights and veganism?

Over the years, I’ve personally found that attraction works better than promotion on this front. If I begin laying into a meat-eater who’s curious about veganism, I don’t really feel I’m doing either of us any good. I’ve got to remember that before I was offered different information with which to form a new outlook, I was a meat-eater, too. I’ve seen some vegans go on the offensive on a personal level, telling meat-eaters that they are “wrong” and, to me, this just seems counterproductive; taking this supposed moral higher ground will probably not attract a meat-eater to veganism. It will, in fact, more likely serve to drive them further away. Nobody likes being told they’re wrong. I think the most effective course of action is to have your facts straight and, when appropriate, mete them out in response to direct questions. Never come off as a crusader or reformer, just somebody who used to eat meat and dairy products, received new information and, based on that information, was compelled to make different choices in this area.

On that note, what would you tell people who think that veganism/vegetarianism is at best pointless and at worst ridiculous?

I’ve had lots of experience in this. I usually start by talking about how much better I feel spiritually, mentally and physically since I became a vegan. I think that most people who still eat meat know someplace, in the back of their minds, that there’s something a bit off about the whole business and it is by appealing to this part of them and not attacking them that I feel the seed (of veganism) can be most effectively planted. I also mention that cholesterol, a word which sends shivers of fear down the spine of any adult in North America, is only found in animal products. It’s also a good idea to rattle off all the good sources of protein one can find in non-animal products as it seems this is a subject of great worry for the curious meat-eater. Our culture, with the aid of the meat and dairy industry, has instilled such a huge protein fear in people that this is commonly one of the first hurdles a person contemplating a lifestyle change will have to clear mentally if not actually (since most practiced vegans know it’s virtually impossible to not get enough protein).

Besides veganism, are you interested in any other areas of animal rights? If so, are you actively pursuing/looking into anything in particular?

It’s interesting—I became a vegan for a variety of reasons but mostly I just wanted to remove myself from the whole deal and I wanted to feel better. Through my band’s involvement with PETA and PETA2, however, I’ve learned about a larger canvas of animal rights issues. Circuses, leather, Make-a-Wish, etc. were all new to me as relevant animal rights issues and it really served to broaden my awareness of the gravity of what it is that I’m involved with. The knowledge that I’m participating in such a vast, humane movement is amazing. I don’t know that I’m actively pursuing anything in particular; I continue to practice veganism, talk to people about it, refuse to purchase anything that contains animal products or byproducts (except for my hockey skates and gloves. They don’t make them animal-free … YET!) and continue to use my modest position of influence in a band to pass on what was freely given to me. Most recently my band participated in the Liberation— Songs to Benefit PETA CD compilation which was released by Fat Wreck Chords. To know that I do what I can is the biggest reward.

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