In the Year 2000, Cro-Mags have become an urban legend. Their story told and retold, twisted and warped until it is unrecognizable. But now to set the record straight, this is how it all be began. Before the Quarrel.
Picture this, the year 1980, it's sunrise on NYC's lower east side, Ave. A is a barren urban wasteland of empty storefronts in abandoned buildings. the streets are littered with junkies and freaks. Heroin and cocaine are the only flourishing businesses and the only sign of life in this ghost town are the local gangs and 40 or so kids in front of A 7 (hardcore club) where Urban Waste is still on stage. Little Chris, age 11, and Eric Casanova, age 12, sit on the curb still tripping from the night before, with no money, no hope and no future, just drive and dried blood on their clothes from a night they've already forgotten. This was hardcore and the streets were ours.
Across from Tompkins Square Park Parris Mayhew and Harley Flanagan are sitting in the back booth of the Park Inn Tavern (after-hours) pounding pitchers of beer and shots of Jack, planning their new band. Nothing unusual, except that Parris was16 and Harley was 14 and their band was to change the hardcore scene forever.
In the bar, Harley is recounting to Parris the details of a robbery he and Paul Dordal had perpetrated earlier that day. As Parris sits listening and looking into Harley's drunk, drugged and crazed eyes that seem to pierce the darkness, Parris thinks "What am I getting myself into?"
That was really the beginning. There was no blueprint for hardcore, no one to teach them how, they were all just kids living their lives, making it up as they went along, inventing hardcore with every step they took. Harley was a 6th grade dropout, though at age 14 was already a veteran musician, child star of the punk scene, America's first skinhead and the notorious former drummer of NYC's premier punk band, "The Stimulators." In "The Stims" Harley brought a powerful youthful presence to an aging punk scene. He kicked the doors wide open for other kids his age to come on the scene and follow his example to be a youthful creative force like the "Beastie Boys" and Jill and Gabby of "Luscious Jackson." Adam Yauch was at one point considered to play bass with the Cro-Mags, but was about to attend Bard College.
Harley left "The Stims" to create a harder, more aggressive style of music, capturing the true hardcore lifestyle. Depicting the violence, poverty and urban decay of the streets of the lower east side in the early 8o's. Harley's personal influence and mere presence on the scene defined the transition between the old punk scene and the new hardcore scene.
Parris, a 16 year old unknown musician and an art student attending the High School of Art & Design was forever changed by the sounds of the Sex Pistols and Motorhead. Then drawn into the local NYC punk scene by the Stimulators and Bad Brains, Parris joined punk icons "The Mad," playing bass. But soon left the band setting his sights on starting his own band, playing his music.
Paul Dordal recommended Harley and Parris team-up. They had their first jam at Harley's aunt Denise's apartment on Avenue A. Denise was the guitarist of the Stimulators. Parris played the riffs that were to become (with Harley's lyrics), the first Cro-Mags song "World Peace" and the templates for the Cro-Mags' sound. After a few minutes of playing, Denise turned to Harley and said "Where did you find this kid?" But Harley was way ahead of her. he immediately recognized similarities in Parris' approach to his own that were uncanny. A musical mirror image. These two kids couldn't have been more different, but their songs seemed to belong together as if they came from the same source. How could two kids from such different worlds create such a similarly Cro-Mag-Nonimous sound?
That was the beginning of a life long musical collaboration that is as formidable today with their new CD "REVENGE" as it was when they first met.
So, Parris and Harley began hanging out, planning, writing songs and doing a lot of drinking. They became friends fast, but finding other musicians was difficult., so in the interim Harley played drums with Murphy's Law, helped them write their first album and even came up with their name. Harley was eventually replaced by future Cro-Mags drummer Pete Hines who left Murphy's Law and joined the Cro-Mags to support the" Age of Quarrel" LP and to later record the "Best Wishes" LP.
Harley grew impatient and hitchhiked across the country to California. With no money and nowhere to stay Harley just lived day to day, hand to mouth, sampling the California punk scene and definitely gave them a taste of what NYC was about to unleash. Harley the teenage tattooed terror created notoriety everywhere he went, fighting, fucking and consuming mass quantities of drugs and alcohol along the way and he was still only 15 years old. In San Francisco, Harley lived in an abandoned brewery called the "Vats," home of many San Francisco punks. Then he hitchhiked back East and North to Canada. He ran with skinheads there, basically reeking havoc everywhere he went, building on his already formidable reputation.
These times and Harley's life in NYC, living in burnt out buildings, squats and on the streets, was the life that would be the true inspiration behind the Cro-Mags lyrics. Raw, honest truth, a lifestyle that pulled no punches in the urban decay that was the early 80's untamed streets, where violence, gangs and drugs were a way of life and music would be the only escape for this teenage rebel. He not only lived the truly hardcore way of life, he set the standard an created a legend that still lives.
Harley then returned to NYC with a renewed fire to pick up where he an Parris had left off, and a tattoo covering the chest of the devil grabbing the earth.
During this long foundation period Parris continued to pound
out riffs and songs like
"Malfunction." He also completed high school and two years of
college at the School of Visual Arts Film School. Parris would eventually
put these skills to work directing the Cro-Mags video "We Gotta Know"
and many others such as Onyx's "Slam" and Type O Negative's
"Black #1. But Parris never lost sight of his plan for him and Harley
to create the band that would become synonymous with hardcore.
Soon after Harley's return to NYC he was given the opportunity to record 4 songs of his own in which he played all the instruments. These recordings were never released but are soon to be on Cro-Mags Recordings.
Harley also played drums in a band called "Mode of Ignorance" (MOI) with future Cro-Mags' john Bloodclot and Doug Holland which faded as Cro-Mags began to take shape. Harley turned down offers to drum for the Misfits, and during the first of HR's solo ventures, Bad Brains management approached Harley to front the Bad Brains but Harley passed because finally after 3 years of writing, drinking and generally causing chaos, the search for musicians for the lineup of "NYC's Hardest Band" was complete.
It is a little known fact that John Joseph was not a founding member of the Cro-Mags or even the original singer. He was not!
In 1984, 15 year old Eric Casanova became the first singer of the Cro-Mags and co-wrote, with Harley, classic Cro-Mag lyrics such as "Hard Times," "Street Justice," "Survival of the Streets," and Eric's own "Life of My Own," based on the lives they led. With the hired services of Mackie on Drums, the Cro-Mags played their first gig at CBGB's with Government Issue. A highly anticipated gig being Harley Flanagan's new band.
Then after their second show, for personal reasons, Eric left
the band and began a revolving door of musicians that Parris an Harley watched
some and go for the entire life of their musical partnership.
But Eric's contribution to the Cro-Mags in that short time is undeniable, those first songs were the foundation that defined the Cro-Mags' sound and lyrical content and those first shows made a tremendous impact. The punk scene was shaken by the force of the Cro-Mags and the momentum was unstoppable.
Next the band recruited john Bloodclot (age 21) on vocals to replace Eric, and after only tow shows began headlining gigs. Overnight Cro-Mags had dominated the hardcore scene in NYC. As Kabula of Agnostic Front said, "We've toured everywhere and nobody's doing what the Cro-Mags are doin', it's totally new."
The transition between Eric and John was seamless. John's lyrics fit perfectly with Harley and Eric's and John brought a dynamic presence to the front man position that helped to define the image of the band. Though John's presence in the band ultimately was the undoing of the Cro-Mags.
So with 3 years of writing, a solid foundation of songs already in the band's repertoire, along with music from Harley's never released solo recording including "Don't Tread on Me," the Cro-Mags needed only a few more songs to complete the now classic set list. Those songs were completed with John Joseph and on November 2, 1984, and on February 16, 1985 the Cro-Mags went into High Five Studios and recorded 12 songs.
That moment in time when four very different freaks got together to make music was historic. The recordings made in that session were simply the blue print for all hardcore that followed and set the stage for the definitive hardcore album of all time, "The Age of Quarrel." This CD, now poignantly titled "Before the Quarrel" captured the raw fire that circumstances had created by bringing this unlikely group together. These recordings are revered as the pinnacle moment of the Cro-Mags and the favorite recordings of Cro-Mags fans.
Harley, Parris, John and Mackie not only made their mark deep in the history of hard music but made a sound that changed it forever. Obviously God didn't bring these guys together to be friends, it was to make hardcore music.
The now infamously volatile relationship between these four people turned ugly in the end but not one of them could look back at these recordings with anything but pride. No words could ever fully describe that time especially not now, so many years later, so many clone bands come and gone. But this music and these words were N.Y.C.H. at it's best, honest, aggressive and true. This CD captured it, the lifestyle that many talk about, but few ever really lived.
The Cro-Mags "Before the Quarrell" was the beginning, the genuine article and this recording is the proof.
They were trulyCro-Mag-nonimus!
To be continued . . .