For a start, the core events of this post went down this past Friday night, and have been widely documented all over the map by this point, so apologies for being late to the table. My comrade Elie from Bowery Boogie graciously asked me if I wanted to compose a "guest blog" about the following incident, but being that I wasn't there (and he was), I respectfully demurred. Regardless, here are my two cents on a very depressing situation.
Back in 2008, I penned a breezy little post that awkwardly synched my feelings about pushing a double-stroller through the East Village with some misty-eyed ruminations about the Age of Quarrel-era Cro-Mags. Therein, I made the somewhat understated assessment that the classic line-up of the band "didn't play nice together" anymore. Well, never was that truer than this past Friday night, when former Cro-Mags bassist and co-founder Harley Flanagan showed up at their Webster Hall gig (where they were slated to play with fellow NYHC stalwarts Sick Of It All) and proceeded to allegedly assault some current members of the Cro-Mags with a big, fuckoff hunting knife, only to get pounced upon by police and evidently have his leg broken. By all accounts, it was a scary, shocking and frankly depressing scene.
My colleague and fellow classic hardcore acolyte Drew and I had briefly discussed attending this show, although we typically never got our shit together, and Drew invariably considered it to be something of an "old timer's night" event anyway. Personally speaking, I have no problem with that. I checked out of hardcore pretty much right after the Cro-Mags released the seismic Age of Quarrel in 1986 and rarely looked back. Being younger than m'self, Drew grew up listening to a whole generation of latter-era hardcore that I know relatively zilch about. Regardless, both of us have nothing but respect for that definitive incarnation of the Cro-Mags.
Without dipping back too much into my wellspring of purple prose, the Age of Quarrel line-up of the Cro-Mags was something of a study in contradiction. Not only did their music seamlessly fuse hardcore punk and metal (two genres whose demographics had been -- until that era -- largely antagonistic of each other), but the make-up of the band itself was fraught with polar extremes. On the one hand, you had Harley Flanagan, a burly, volatile skinhead who'd cut his teeth on the mean streets of the Lower East Side and in storied NYC punk outfits like The Stimulators. On the other, you had comparatively mild-mannered guitarist Parris Mayhew, an Upper East Side collegiate type (like myself, at the time). In the middle, you had vocalist John "Bloodclot" Joseph, a tough character from the Lower East Side who'd become a devotee of Hare Krishna. Filled out by former Kraut guitarist Doug Holland and versatile drummer Mackie, you had a no-nonsense quintet that recorded an album considered a classic of the genre across the board.
Beyond their music, though, the Cro-Mags credibly cultivated a true sense of menace around themselves. For all their talk of Krishna consciousness, you were pretty much rolling the dice at a Cro-Mags show, where the intensity of proceedings was frequently palpably violent.
It's an old story, though. Given the already fractious elements of the band and the scene, that line-up fell apart in short order. The Cro-Mags went onto release a couple of other albums in different incarnations, but never really recaptured the brutal stride of Age of Quarrel. In time, different members started telling different versions of the story, and things got pointedly ugly.
From Abba to the Misfits, the list of bands who once made inimitable music together but cannot fucking stand to be in the same room with each other any longer is long and distinguished. But the Cro-Mags reached a new level this past Friday when Harley allegedly tried to kill a newer member of the band he's been estranged from since 2000. That's when all this rapturous, rock geek drivel goes right down the toilet. Yes, there are different sides of the Cro-Mags' story about who fucked over who, but once you introduce this type of activity, none of that really matters anymore.
This incident is horrible on a number of different levels. On the more trivial end of things, it regrettably reinforces a lot of stupid-but-tenacious stereotypes about punk rock --- even here in 2012. But on a more meaningful level, the fact that Harley Flanagan could be motivated to have even considered this type of perceived retaliation defies all semblance of logic. While cartoonishly renowned for being something of a hard-headed loose canon, Harley's still an adult. Even a casual glance at his Facebook page reveals the fact that he's the father of a couple of young children. I don't personally know any of the Cro-Mags, but surely no grudge, beef or band-related slight is worth putting one's family through the sort of anguish and ordeal that Harley's loved ones are currently facing, to say nothing of the pain of the individuals he injured.
What happens next I don't know. For his part, John Joseph put up a brief statement on his own Facebook page disavowing the violence and begging forgiveness of the fans, but that seems to have since been taken down. I'm not sure what the future holds for Harley, but it's probably not especially pretty. Though involved parties were quick to distance the incident from the CBGB Festival that sponsored it, one can't help but think that it's going to hinder plans for reinstating the venue here in the city. But thoughts about music and entertainment seem pretty trivial in light of the whole thing anyway. It is beyond simply a shame or fleetingly a pithy, passing headline. It's a tragedy.
DEPRESSING ADDENDUM: While it’s true that the fate that awaits Harley Flanagan (and his family) is gravely unfortunate, the fact remains that he must answer for his actions and pay the penalty. As reported by my former colleague Chris Harris on his tireless metal blog, Gun Shy Assassin, someone with some exceptionally big balls has set up a legal defense fund …. for Harley, saying: “Harley, no matter what you may think of him, has provided the NYC punk scene entertainment since his 1970s days in the Stimulators. The guy is a legend. And right now he’s up against it big time, and needs a helping hand.” Translation: Harley has provided “entertainment,” thus should be forgiven for trying to bite a few people and plunging a hunting knife into someone. Oy. Read more at Gun Shy Assassin.