A Hardcore History Lesson
The Cro-Mags may not have been the original New York hardcore band, but they are widely recognized as being the first to combine punk with metal and god knows what else to create a whole new sound that would prove to be highly influential. Founded by a couple of teenagers in the early 80s, they released their seminal debut The Age of Quarrel in 1986 and by the time I was going out to shows in New York City it had all already fallen apart and come back together many times over.
Hardcore being what it is, everyone who has ever been in that band has a story or ten to tell, but so far as I know only John Joseph has taken the time to write an actual book about the whole thing. It’s called Evolution of a Cro-Magnon (available online through punkhouse.org) and it almost sounds like a cliche: abused kid bounces between foster homes and the street, turns to drugs and crime and other vices, and eventually finds redemption. The funny thing about clichés, though, is that a lot of times they are based in some serious truth. Otherwise they’d just be anecdotes.
So far as I can tell, John Joseph was pretty much a miserable sonovabitch when he decided to ditch the Navy in favor of hooking up with the Bad Brains in DC. Not surprisingly, this was a life-changing experience. Though he eventually turned to Hari Krishna instead of Rastafarianism, life with the Bad Brains literally opened his mind and set him on the path to where he is today. Not dead, not in jail, but instead running triathelons, eating vegan, and still hardcore as all hell. You can see the effects of a lifetime of chaos in his face, and when he recalls a particularly choice hustle or other shenanigan he lights up like it was Xmas and everything he wanted was under the tree.
I unfortunately missed the opportunity to see him read from his book at a benefit recently, but I managed to get myself there in time for the midnight Cro-Mags show (which actually happened closer to 1 in the morning – not bad for a Thursday night). Now, no offense to the almighty Bad Brains and their transcendent final CBGB show, but I have never – EVER – seen a pit like that. Made the NHL look tame. And this wasn’t even the classic Cro-Mags lineup! John Joseph was on vocals of course, with a couple of the guys from Leeway and one of his buddies from Bloodclot. Doesn’t matter; they kicked more ass than any of the newer bands I’ve seen lately even though all the members are approaching what normal folks call “middle age.” It was a pleasure and an honor to be there; sorry the pictures aren’t better but hey, it speaks the night’s finest moments.
Reported by Kat, Pictures by Rully.