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Cro-Magnon Man Harley Flanagan Stands Tall

If you occur to be in an Higher Manhattan park and see somebody working whereas frenetically taking part in bass guitar, your thoughts isn’t taking part in tips on you. It’s simply Harley Flanagan, 55, cofounder of the seminal New York hardcore band the Cro-Mags.

I’m in motherfucking beast mode,” Flanagan tells the Voice. He begins a tour on Might 18 in Philadelphia; strikes on to the Melrose Ballroom, in Queens, the next night time; after which hits eight extra U.S. dates earlier than a stretch in Europe that may preserve the New Yorker and his bandmates (Dominic Dibenedetto, Hector Guzman, Gary Sullivan) busy by July. In different phrases, “beast mode” is critical simply to maintain up. And Flanagan is up for the problem. “I’m in the park jogging and playing bass, because I can’t just practice. I gotta practice while I’m running because I gotta be running around the stage.”

Flanagan isn’t complaining in regards to the work concerned in making ready for a tour that’s not for the faint of coronary heart, as a result of given the truth that the band hasn’t been in a position to play reside (outdoors of a 2020 livestreamed present) in almost three years, there’s a variety of pent-up power to be launched—or unleashed—as soon as they hit the street. So the Renzo Gracie Jiu-Jitsu black belt is making ready accordingly—on the Gracie Academy, within the gymnasium, at house, and sure, within the park.

“Anybody who’s ever seen me play or seen the Cro-Mags, it’s a very physical performance,” Flanagan explains. “You have to be in really good shape to do this, especially to do it every night, because I’m not just training to do one show and then that’s it. I’m gonna be playing 40-something shows in 40-something days. I’m only gonna have two or three days off. And I’m gonna be playing an hour set, or close to it, every night, and you have to have really good cardio to sing at that intensity. I can’t even call it singing—it’s more like primal screaming at that intense level for that long while you’re running around and playing an instrument. So it really does take a lot, physically, to do it. But the good thing is, I train Jiu-Jitsu, I train Muay Thai, and I work out like five, six days a week. So even though I am 55 years old, I hate to say it, but I’m in better shape than most people 25 years old. And I hate to say it for them, not for me.” Flanagan laughs—for all of the stress and nerves that go together with prepping for a world tour after the insanity of the previous couple of years, he’s in a superb place, a spot many thought he would by no means get to.

Surrounded on the Decrease East Facet by medication, violence, and each unhealthy factor you need a little one to be shielded from whereas rising up, Flanagan noticed an excessive amount of too quickly. Each day fights whereas dodging drug sellers have been a ceremony of passage he was compelled to embrace earlier than he was thrust into the center of the music world as a 12-year-old drummer for the Stimulators, a gaggle shaped by his aunt Denise Mercedes. By 1983, the band had run its course, and Flanagan, now 16 and absolutely embedded within the punk scene, went on to be concerned in a number of initiatives that in the end mutated into the Cro-Mags.

“I just took the word Cro-Magnon and abbreviated it,” says Flanagan of the origins of the band’s title. “It’s kinda cool if you think about it, because Cro-Magnon man was the first, I believe, of prehistoric man to not just do cave art, but they were also the first to start waging war against other tribes. So they actually started killing off their rivals. If you think about Cro-Magnon man, it’s basically a primitive reflection of where we’re at. We haven’t evolved that much. Our weapons have just gotten better, our art has changed a little bit, but we’re still pretty much the same primitive motherfuckers that only evolved to that place.”

Flanagan’s musical evolution confirmed by within the seminal lineup of the Cro-Mags (Flanagan, Parris Mayhew, John Joseph, Doug Holland, Mackie Jayson), which produced the 1986 album The Age of Quarrel and principally created a style of music that was uniquely centered within the Massive Apple—New York Hardcore. Mixing punk influences with what would come to generally be referred to as thrash steel, musically what separated the “NYHC” bands just like the Cro-Mags from their counterparts across the nation was the fact that, very like gangsta rap on the West Coast, the New York practitioners of hardcore have been dwelling and respiration what they have been singing (or screaming) about. On the LES, that wasn’t fairly, nevertheless it was actual, and it in the end made for wild scenes that prompted some golf equipment to ban hardcore exhibits.

But it surely saved a younger man who was driving off the rails at any time when he wasn’t onstage. “It was the only release I had for a very angry, frustrated, violent, aggressive kid with no outlets,” says Flanagan. “So I had to channel all of that shit. If I didn’t have music, I would have been an arch-criminal. I would have probably been in jail for multiple murders and God knows what else. But thank God the planets aligned in a way where I was able to use my creativity as an outlet, and I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by people that were able to encourage that.”

There can be much more darkness earlier than gentle, although. Infighting between band members over every thing from writing credit and funds to document label squabbles and the possession of the band’s title led to a revolving door of gamers, lawsuits, and even a 2012 brawl that noticed Flanagan stabbed and arrested after being jumped at Webster Corridor. Flanagan received his personal licks in, resulting in fees of felony assault and prison possession of a weapon, together with a quick keep at Rikers Island earlier than these fees have been dropped.

In 2019, Flanagan received the rights to make use of the Cro-Mags title, whereas Joseph and Jayson have been allowed to make use of the title Cro-Mags JM on tour. It wasn’t clear and fairly, however nothing within the music enterprise is. In the meantime, Flanagan’s private life continued to spiral uncontrolled into the mid-’90s, because of medication and violence, till an ex-girlfriend known as with the information that she was having a child she thought could be his. And that she had contracted AIDS. Flanagan went on a testing spree over the following a number of months, took care of the newborn that wasn’t his for a number of years after rescuing her from a crack home (the 2 are nonetheless in contact), and in 1996, found Jiu-Jitsu. All of that mixed—together with the arrival of his sons Harley (now 19) and Jonah (now 17) and his marriage to Laura, in 2015—saved him. (Laura Lee Flanagan is now his enterprise supervisor and lawyer.)

“I knew I had issues and I tried to address them,” Flanagan remembers. “I started seeing a therapist for a while just to try to get a grip on myself. I have PTSD like a motherfucker just from life, and because of that, it can trigger rage issues. A long time ago, I just really made a decision that for the people I love and for myself, I have to improve. What other point is there to it, in being alive? You’re supposed to try to advance yourself, otherwise, you’re just breathing and taking up space.”

By all of it—the nice, the unhealthy, and the very ugly—there’s been the music. And whereas a lot of his friends, from punk by post-punk and hardcore, have determined to play it protected by working by the hits onstage in karaoke trend, or have gone in a totally totally different musical course, Flanagan has stored the depth and grit of his music intact whereas nonetheless evolving—all in proof on the Cro-Mags’ final two releases, the EP 2020 and the full-length Within the Starting. Musically and lyrically, 2020, particularly, hit exhausting, as Flanagan addressed a 12 months that included the Covid-19 pandemic and instances of civil unrest by aptly titled songs similar to “Age of Quarantine,” “Chaos in the Streets,” and “Violence and Destruction.”

“I still enjoy the creative process and I’m not one of these artists who, God bless the Ramones, I love them, but there are a lot of bands who have a sound and that’s how it stays from the beginning to the end,” he says. “I have a sound that’s pretty consistent, but I take pride in the fact that I do different shit on every record. I’m always trying to up my game, I’m always trying to bring something. For me, the trick is, I try to give people what they want and expect and something that they completely don’t expect. And as long as I’m always doing that, then I feel like I’m doing my job.”

So, no album of acoustic love songs anytime quickly?

What’s a love song?” Flanagan asks. “You might love kicking someone’s ass. [Laughs] I got songs about kicking ass. But I think my music is as passionate as it possibly can get. I think we were the first emo band because we were very emotional.” One other match of laughing from somebody who continues to be the Hardcore King of NYC. He received’t declare that crown for himself or boast about such a legendary standing amongst his followers, however New York Metropolis will all the time be his house and his muse.

“New York is so much a part of my music,” Flanagan says. “I don’t think this music could have happened if I had grown up anywhere else. I think a lot of the intensity, a lot of the drive … New York has a certain frenetic energy. You could go to some other big cities and feel a similar energy, but New York, especially the New York that I grew up in, it’s a unique animal and it definitely helped forge me and what I do. Even at its tamest, this city is still intense, and I think it’s overwhelming to anybody who isn’t from here. And that’s why it’s so difficult for people who are from here to really leave.”

Flanagan by no means left. He’s moved uptown, although, far sufficient away from a spot that also can hang-out him.

“To be honest, I really try to avoid the area,” he says of the LES. “I do go down there, but I only go for reasons. I was down there visiting an old neighbor of mine not that long ago, and just being on my old block really kind of freaks me out because it’s a very safe block now. There’s a playground and all these yuppies and their kids and everything else, but I still walk down that street, and I still feel the same anxiety that I felt back in the ’80s when I’m there. I still feel like anything can pop off at any time just because I’ve had so many experiences in every part of the Lower East Side that were pretty intense. There’s not a block down there that I haven’t seen some sort of a violent incident or something go down, so I walk around down there and I immediately get uncomfortable.”

It’s comprehensible, however there’s much more good than unhealthy within the life of somebody who’s a dwelling, respiration instance of a survivor. Flanagan has a band lineup he loves, he’s about to hit the street, a documentary movie on his life is being directed by Citizen Ashe’s Rex Miller, he’s nonetheless getting choked and punched (by selection) in Jiu-Jitsu class, and his household is correct by his facet. He made it. He isn’t even against mending fences together with his outdated bandmates. Sure, even in any case they’ve been by.

“I just feel like all of us kinda got the shitty end of the stick. I feel like we got robbed as a band and as individuals, and I don’t really think that that’s fair,” explains Flanagan. “I feel we have been all very younger, we have been all very naive, and that had rather a lot to do with us not simply falling aside as a band and as pals however in turning on one another. When determined individuals who don’t have rather a lot get put able the place they really feel like they don’t have anything, they’ll begin preventing over crumbs and so they’ll begin stealing from one another, they’ll begin accusing one another.

“I’m not trying to go backward,” he continues. “In a perfect situation, I would want all the Cro-Mags records that were ever created to all be on the same label if possible, and all have the same home. And I would say, fuck who wrote what, everybody who played on these records should just get paid for playing on the record. Mackie didn’t ever write a song, he only played drums on one record, but he should get paid for each one of those record sales, just like John should, just like Parris and Doug. The people who played on them should get an equal cut of what those records sell for and just call it a day. And if there was ever a chance to do a one-off, one-time-only Age of Quarrel festival, I would be happy to do something like that just to say, ‘You know what man, I don’t really hate any of you guys, I really don’t.’”

Who stated a Cro-Magazine couldn’t evolve?  ❖

Thomas Gerbasi is an award-winning boxing author who has nonetheless discovered time to write down about much less violent pursuits, similar to curler derby and music, for publications similar to The Each day Beast, KO63 Music on Medium, and Rolling Stone Australia.

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