03/06/2000 at 01:00 AM EST
At a rehearsal in a pal's basement, Brian Bonsall slings his Stratocaster guitar low, twists his left leg awkwardly and wails into the mike, "Oi! Oi! Oi!" Behind him his two bandmates crank up the volume on their original tune, "Good Thing I Don't Need School to Play Punk Rock."
This is cute little Andy Keaton from the hit 1982-89 sitcom Family Ties? Gone are the button-down shirts Bonsall wore to emulate hyperconservative TV brother Alex (Michael J. Fox), replaced with baggy pants and a black armband tattoo he got on his 18th birthday last December. Gone, too, is an interest in full-time acting. Instead the laconic teenager, who lives in a Denver suburb and graduates from high school in June, just wants to rock and roll. "I've been playing music for a really long time," he says.
Since Bonsall and two skateboarding friends started their band in 1998, the Late Bloomers have regularly played parties and clubs and even released a CD, This One's for Dick. To be sure, the album is just as juvenile as its title, featuring songs like "Oh How Your Kookies Are So Soft" (about carrying a torch for a girl who works at Mrs. Fields) and a back-cover photo of the boys wearing nothing but their guitars. The music has a Green Day-like energy that Bonsall vows to keep: "We're not gonna change our music style once we get on MTV." Such concerns may be premature, but Bonsall is serious. He plans to postpone full-time college in order to play music, hoping to be signed by a major label.
Thanks to residuals from his acting career, Bonsall can afford to take such a chance, says his mother, Kathleen Larkin, 43, a full-time college student. (She and Bonsall's father, Garth, 46, a telephone lineman in Delaware, split when Bonsall was a toddler.) Whenever he hears of one of his shows running on TV, "Brian says, 'Ka-ching!' " says Larkin.
Apart from residual checks, Family Ties has little bearing on Bonsall's life. His memories of the show are foggy—the California native was only 4 when he joined the cast in 1986—though he does remember that "they had to hide all the candy and doughnuts from me." Former costar Tina Yothers (Jennifer Keaton), who heads up a rock band of her own in L.A., says fondly, "He wasn't a typical Hollywood brat."
After the show wrapped, Bonsall lost touch with the Ties cast. When he heard on the news in 1998 that Fox, who was the first person to teach him a few guitar chords, had Parkinson's disease, "I was upset," Bonsall says. "I wish I could've talked to him. It's kind of weird, though. I haven't talked to him in so long."
Bonsall went on to snag roles in the movies Father Hood and Blank Check and a recurring spot as a young Klingon on Star Trek: The Next Generation. But in 1994, his mother, with her fiancé, builder Ken Larkin, 43, moved the family from L.A. to Colorado, where Bonsall's sister Jennifer, 22, attended school. (The Larkins married in 1996.) It was harder to get acting work there, so Bonsall simply gave it up. "It wasn't a big deal," he says.
Then came a troubled period in which he "ditched class a lot and didn't get good grades," Bonsall says sheepishly. His mother blames the differences between Hollywood and normal life. "Everyone [on the show] clapped for him for acting silly," she says, "and then you stick ' the same kid in the classroom and say, 'Don't act silly.' "
A year at Missouri Military Academy followed; Bonsall returned to his local high school in 1998. Then came his band—and revelation. "Music is what I want to do," he says, "for the rest of my life."
Russell Scott Smith
Mark Dagostino in Denver