Brothers Broken just might be the greatest rock ‘n’ roll redemption documentary in San Jose history. Or perhaps the best San Jose redemption in rock ‘n’ roll history. Whatever works.
It comes with a Hollywood subtitle: The power of music … the curse of Scientology.
When Geoff Levin gigged at a San Jose folk club, the Offstage, in the early ’60s, he was hanging out with unknown musicians like Jerry Garcia, Janis Joplin and David Crosby. Also present were SCU students and future Jefferson Airplane legends Paul Kantner and Jorma Kaukonen. All in San Jose. When Brothers Broken was filmed a few years ago, the same building, formerly the Offstage, was a crumbling Vietnamese bakery. In one scene, we see Levin standing in front of the place.
In San Jose, Levin and his brother Robbie formed a one-hit-wonder band in the ’60s called PEOPLE! Their smash was “I Love You.” The tune was very ’60s, in terms of music, visuals, poetics, harmonies and everything else.
Then, both of them joined the Church of Scientology, the cult dynamics of which nearly wrecked their musical careers and almost destroyed their lives. Robbie finally escaped in 1984, but it took Geoff much longer, since he was part of the upper echelon, The Sea Org, where he even spent time on the yachts with the king fraud himself, L. Ron Hubbard, plus many of Scientology’s top executives.
Brothers Broken then chronicles the devastating effects Scientology had on the Levins, their bands, their personal lives, their businesses and their families, some of whom are still members and are forced to remain “disconnected” from anyone that escaped. We get a pretty solid glimpse into the cult mentality, as Geoff, even several years out of it, still finds himself trying to make amends for the harm and destruction Scientology has inflicted on people.
But Brothers Broken is also a killer music story. Geoff’s career is unique in the American rock pantheon. Even while suffering through decades of trauma caused by the toxic practices of Scientology, he managed to write music for television, films and even the famous Macintosh launch campaign in 1984.
After Robbie left Scientology, Geoff refused to even talk to him. This separation lasted for 28 years. It’s painful to watch on the screen. All the while, Robbie then went on to invent the stationary bike phenomenon Spinning and also co-founded the multi-million-dollar women’s clothing company EZ Sportswear, which became Melrose Clothing. He even spent several years gigging with Rick Springfield, who makes a cameo appearance in the film.
Decades later, Geoff went through a three-year-long breakdown including massive depression, which is likewise painful to watch, primarily because he still wouldn’t talk to his own brother, who was no longer a Scientologist. This is what cults do to people.
Thankfully, throughout the film we get to see both of them reuniting, catching up and eventually crying together in various conversations. Brothers Broken is unlike any previous expose that blows the lid off Scientology. It’s more like a rock doc meets a cult horror show via the personal journeys of two brothers on their own paths to reuniting with family and friends. The universal themes of familial love and kindred spirits emerge over and over again.
We even get to see glorious footage of former Village Voice editor Tony Ortega, who’s been investigating Scientology for more than 25 years. Ortega provides much needed context, especially if one misses the old Village Voice.
It must be repeated that Brothers Broken is a San Jose film. In 2007, back when the San Jose Rocks Hall of Fame was a thing, a huge gig was thrown together in order to induct several people. This columnist was present. That event is what finally reunited the Levin brothers. The band PEOPLE! reformed just for the occasion.
Brothers Broken includes footage of that gig. Nobody in the audience that night was even aware of the dramatic backstory going on behind the scenes. People were there for the music and the local history.
In the end, Geoff Levin has quite a story. And he’s nowhere near done.
Aug 20 at 4:35 pm
Hammer Theatre Center, San Jose
Aug 26 at 11:45 am
Mt View ShowPlace ICON Theatre & Kitchen #1