Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Harley Flanagan Part III

Classic Age Of Quarrel era Cro-Mags hangin' back stage at CBGB, NYC

It's funny, people talk so much shit both for and against Harley, but the bottom line is that he gets people talking and he's not afraid to speak his mind. The guy has been there, he's done it, he's walked the walk and talked the talk. He holds nothing back and you have to respect him for that. We here at DCXX appreciate Harley taking his time to answer our questions and it's obvious by the sheer amount of page views that people want to read what he has to say. "Those of us who've seen the way must stand and fight for a brighter day"... -Tim DCXX

You played a big part in getting the word out on Krishna Consciousness with the Cro-Mags in the 80s. What did you think of bands like Shelter and 108 who really made this even bigger in the hardcore scene in the 90s?

Well, I saw Prabhupada when I was a kid more then once. I was at the 2nd Avenue preaching center when he was there, I was at Ratha Yatra, and that's kind of a big deal if you're into Krishna consciousness. I don't think any of he bands you mention did.

Having been there from the punk days back in the 70s all the way through the 80s and 90s and having seen it go through its changes, I hate to say it but 90's hardcore was just a bite of the 80's shit.

As far as I was concerned, it just turned into another bandwagon thing like everything else on the NY scene. It was kinda funny, but I mean look, anything that promotes vegetarianism and spirituality and Krishna consciousness or God consciousness or whatever is a good thing so more power to them and God Bless 'em. I think Ray Cappo is a nice guy and all of them are, but the way it looked to me at the time was that it was the flavor of the week, it was just more NYHC follow-the-leader shit, that's the NYHC way, right? But at least some people took to it and to those that it had a lasting impact on, good for them, at least that trend had some good results, a lot of people went vegetarian so it was a good thing I guess.

Harley with The Mags in Rhode Island, Photo: Jessica Gorman

But you gotta hear these stories - it's funny, when I first got into it I still had one foot kinda stuck in the streets you know, and some fools thought I was getting soft. They used to call me and my bros the "Krishna Skins," we always thought that shit was funny, the guys I hung with and roadied for the Cro-Mags were ex-skinheads, street fighters, some of them were black belts. It was hysterical.

A few people tested us and we actually put quite a bunch of people in the hospital over a period of time. New jack skinheads and shit would come in on the weekends and try to flex on us and shit. I was just getting over years of being a skinhead and years of street fighting and all that shit, so I still had a hard edge to me even though I was a vegetarian and getting into all that stuff. I grew up on the LES fighting crazy Puerto Ricans and shit everyday, and all of a sudden you had all these new jack skinhead white boys and shit trying to be hard.

There was a few incidents like this. One time I busted this big skinhead's ass. I think his name was JP and I knocked out like 8 of his teeth and took his boots 'cause he was talking shit. Another time there was a major brawl at CB's and one guy wound up in a coma or some shit, it was a bad scene. There were several major brawls on Avenue A, but we always came out on top. Anyway...shit happens.


Now you got all these pseudo militant Veg Edge pissed off angry vegan bands - that shit is fucking hilarious but whatever. For me it was all part of a learning process. I mean I'm still vegetarian and I still think killing animals is wrong and so on, but it's cool that those bands kept that going.

The one obvious difference between way back in the day and now days is back then we didn't have the internet and shit like that, so now word travels faster and shit is able to spread quicker. Back then you really had to know what was up, you had to go and find out for yourself. Now you can google it, or even better Wikipedia it so you can make sure to get all your facts wrong.

Now people can try to re-write history simply based on the fact that there's this whole online cyber world and dummies sitting there clacking away on keyboards, and most of the old heads ain't around no more to set the record straight - or they are too old and burnt to be up on all this online crap. The ones who are around, the few from like the late 80s or whatever, even some of them are changing the truth now to try to make themselves look more historically important or something. I don't know, I think the whole shit is laughable at his point 'cause we're all going to be dead anyway. But I have some great stories and a lot of funny shit.

More Cro-Mags back stage at CBGB, NYC

Of all your tattoos, which is the most meaningful? Do you regret any of them? What do you think of today's tattoo culture?

Well they are all slowly starting to turn into one big tattoo. The three most meaningful, probably the devil grabbing the world on my chest. I got it when I turned 15, just 'cause it symbolizes everything that's going on in the world. It's like the devil is taking it, and my back which is me and my woman, it's like an end of the world type scene with the nuclear explosion, the city burning, Jesus and the thieves on the cross in the distance and I'm giving the reaper the finger as if to say "Yeah FUCK YOU!" And also has the number 18, as both of my sons were born on the 18th.

As far as any that I regret, of course.

With tattoos today, the difference is that back in the day it was a subculture thing, it meant something, everyone on the street didn't have them. They weren't legal to do in NYC so you had to be somewhat beneath the law to even know were to get them. Outlaws, criminals, bikers and shit had them...people who were not part of main stream society. Sailors and military people got them when traveling, it was like you had to live life to earn them you know? See the world or something, or people got them when they were locked up, jail house shit, they signified different things. I mean tattoo culture is or was deep, all that old Yakuza stuff and all the old tribal stuff, warrior shit. Now secretaries have them, what can I tell you? Times have changed.

I started getting them when I was 14 or 15, homemade shit. I got my first real one from Bob Roberts around my 14th or 15th birthday when he was on 23 and 3rd.

Harley with the Cro-Mags, Photo: Jessica Gorman


JcH said...

Ray Cappo turned being a Krishna & Vegetarian into a Business Venture. When the Cro-Mags were around, HC hadn't really caught on mainstream yet, so they never got to reap the luxuries of living & touring off your band & music like Biohazard & Hatebreed have. Same goes for Bad Brains. It just wasn't marketable when they were all doing it. So basically these guys missed maybe making a living off this shit by a few years, rather than whatever it is they're doing now. Unfortunately, that's how it is. And I don't blame him for being bitter. Cro-Mags were cloned, straight up. Bands cover their songs all the time, write riffs exactly like theirs, got almost the same exact tattoos, became Krishnas & Vegetarians, dressed like them... Bad Brains weren't so easy to clone for a mostly white bread scene. Harleys one of the few people to come out of the NY scene who speaks his mind and isn't trying to fall in line with some crew or other bullshit.. and that's why he isn't liked. He shoulda went into more detail about the old Cro-Mag beef with AF back in the day.. And I'm pretty sure I remember him whipping Billy Psycho's ass next to CB's one afternoon.

Anonymous said...

True...The best Billy Psycho event I remember is when he got shot in the leg and it took him like a week to go to the hospital because he thought it made him tough....dumbass!

Funny though Billy Psycho and Harley ended up friends and a few years later a few of them bricked an Astoria dude named Andre in a fight. He was a cool guy and was never the same after that. Dito, Rob, Grudy took some revenge on Harley and after that he was never seen without his pitbull.

What times those were! I always got along with Harley and respect what he did with the Cro-Mags. I said it before and I'll say it again the John, Harley, Mackie, and Parris (add Doug for the LP) line up was untouchable and those shows at CBs were unreal....the whole building shook and the dance floor was completely insane. Shit we used to dance during the soundchecks!

Nick said...

There were a whole lot of people who became vegetarian in HC/punk for whom it had nothing to do with the cromags...

Anonymous said...

Nick, not sure of your age but there pretty much is a direct line of vegetarianism in Punk/hardcore from crass to antidote & cromags then to youth of today and then the 90's bands. The first three bands were THE pioneers of it and yes, everything afterwards followed in the footsteps they layed down. So saying the cromags didn't have role is just neive.

Stark-Arts said...

it's naive to think that people that don't eat meat got that way due to music...
By the time I started going to shows in 86 the Cro-Mags were giant but it was nothing to do with Khrshna or vegetarianism - it had more to do with Street Justice, Hard Times, Show No Mercy, World Peace, etc - Aside from the tattoos that just looked cool to most people (a multi armed beast ripping someone apart) I'd say not that most people didn't associate Krshna with the Cro-Mags - for the average HC kid it really took off with YOT and then Shelter and you can say that Ray was a business man if you like but he is also the one that walked around always preaching it week after week at shows...

To me it didn't really dawn on most people hat the Cro-Mags were vegetarian until Death Camps and for lots of people that isn't even the Cro-Mags (No Bloodclot)

In any event - I love Harley - I just wish that him and John could get along at least for couple of hours a day cause the best Cro-Mags is with both of them....

Anonymous said...

Actually, in NY the Cro-Mags were very much associated with vegetarianism and Krishna. They were always considered a Krishna band in NY even before the demo. Krishnas used to come to the shows at CBs and the dancefloor was always full of Krishna skins.

NYHC and Krishna have a history together, I never got it but oh well it was there. Keith from CFA was also Krishna and a lot of others were as well. Like I said in NY the Cro-Mags were always considered a Krishna band and they are certainly responsible for influencing many others into that world.

Anonymous said...

The Krishna thing was definitely a big part of the Cro Mags mystique from the moment they came out the gate. And at the time it was just another thing that made them badass and scary. Like, "They're big scary skinheads and they're into this weird religious cult!" I'm not saying Krishna is a cult but at the time people in general knew far less about any religions outside of the standard Christian varieties.

I would agree Youth Of Today took vegetarian consciousness to the next level but as with all things they did it seemed at the time just another thing they copied from their idols (IE: DC scene and Cro-Mags).

As far as Harley and Cro-Mags are concerned, yes, he's an egomaniac, but and yes, a lot of the hallmarks of hardcore culture in general and NYHC culture in particular come directly from him. And he's a hell of a bass player. You don't have to like him or even respect him but you can't deny his influence.

JcH said...

Ray Cappo was at HIS shows preaching it... I rarely seen Ray Cappo at any NY show unless his band was playing. John & Harley were always out & about the LES in their golf pants preaching the word.. especially in Tompkins Park & St Marks. Ray picked up what they started and ran with it. He wasn't so much a business man as much as he lucked up with the timing aspect of what was IN at the time. I don't fault him for it.. like i said before it wasn't marketable when Cro-Mags were pushing it. But that's what makes it even more enviable & solid.. They were into in on a personal level with no money or business prospects involved. The same with their "look" and "style", whatever you wanna call it. It was just who they were. Nowadays, anyone can get tatted, run around on stage like their having a seizure and get paid pretty good for it. They weren't able to. He's right about the tattoo thing, NY was one of, or THE last state to make it legal to get em.. All I'm trying to say is.. Everything about them WAS so fresh and so original at that time and they have had to sit by and watch clones (for better or worse) get PAID to DO and PREACH what they were doing when NO ONE else was. If you think about it.. that can probably wear on someones nerves.. it obviously hasn't turned out so good for HR from Bad Brains either. Another originator that watched it ALL pass by.. And don't get it twisted.. these are grown men trying to support families and make a living.. much of this comes down to MONEY & also RESPECT.

JcH said...

There is also a MASSIVE Generational gap between Harley and most of the HC music scene in general today. 25 years have up & passed. The fact that he's still relevant and commands as many views/interest/hate/love that he does.. says a lot. I'll never forget seeing the "We Gotta Know" video (after seeking it out for months) for the first time and was just like "Wow.. love this shit". It was one of the first "real" videos from HC and just totally captured the moment. Wasn't corny or staged.. When they filmed it, they ripped thru the songs live and went with what they got.. Woulda been nice to see Mackie in the video.. but whatta ya gonna do.. it was a great time. I'm sure there's people from the 1st generation of HC seen it as the beginning of the end.. which in some ways it was.. but I loved it and couldn't watch it enough. To this day.. IMO, there's no package of song/video that defines what I like about HC than that video.. By the way, I love this Blog.. brings me back to those days and I appreciate what you guys are doing, you capture it well. Please get some Eddie Sutton/Leeway feature soon and maybe a story on Jimmy/Murphys Law. Richie Birkenhead too. Thanks. Keep up the great work.

Anonymous said...

Whoever said it before was spot-on. Harley makes a stupid face in every picture he takes.


Tom said...

Ian MacKaye has claimed that Cappo became vegetarian after the two of them had a conversation about it in the mid-'80s. Ian said that it seemed like the next "logical step" in straight edge and before he knew it, Ray is singing "No More!" I want to say that he said this in the "All Ages" book Rev put out in the late-'90s.

The whole Krishna thing never interested me. For me, punk rock and religion don't mix.

Anonymous said...

As soon as the Americans started doing punk rock it was doomed ! Bad Brains sucked, Minor Threat sucked and the Cro-Mags sucked !

Ben Edge said...

That's why I only listen to punk music from the Republic of Estonia. tool.

ShayKM said...

"Now people can try to re-write history simply based on the fact that there's this whole online cyber world and dummies sitting there clacking away on keyboards"

Is this guy really that slow? When I saw these guys in LA back in the day I suspected as much, but I held out hope because they rocked. This gives a whole new meaning to 'We Gotta Know'. Maybe to resolve the low-brow, cro-magnon (bad, I know) responses you need to up-the-ante on the questions. Maybe he needs a very, very, very specific set of questions with a limit on words for each answer.

As far as the idea that they are somehow responsible for vegetarianism goes, it seems some of my fellow readers weren't watching HC as it developed all over North America, Europe and Asia. Veggie bands were common in punk scenes everywhere. Giving credit to Harley (or Cappo) is just insulting to all of us who have been this way since the early '80s. More importantly, does it matter who started eating tofu before the next guy?

And Krishna? Just pure, refined, ultra-distilled, long-lasting, potent bullshit. I argued with Cappo and Vic and others about this back in the day, and I'll argue about it again. It ruined our scene. There is really no period of HC/punk I love more than any other, and the idea that all the great bands were in NYC in the mid-80s is just untenable. It is insulting to the kids today, and it is even more of low blow to us old farts who know a few things.

Anonymous said...

Please, no more articles/blogs on this 'deadbeat', and that's being kind.

Anonymous said...

Who the fuck cares whether Bad Brains or Cro Mags got paid or not? I love both of those bands but since when was hardcore about the money? I thought it was about expression. If you can't make money off of the music then get a job like everyone else. Does it really matter who started all of that stupid Krishna bullshit? Religion in any form is mind control.

Anonymous said...

Gotta crush "ME-moniac"

Anonymous said...

Harley posts never cease to entertain me. Thank you DC!

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