The violence that erupted at last Friday night’s Cro-Mags show at Webster Hall came as a shock, to be sure –- but to anyone familiar with the band’s difficult history, that shock was tempered somewhat. Since their inception in the early ’80s, the Cro-Mags have been a source of constant, high-level drama: a seemingly endless list of band members have come and gone and come back again; label, legal and personal disputes are commonplace. There are numerous accusations of theft (monetary and artistic) and alleged threats of violence.
At the center of the storm are the band’s three most recognizable members (or ex-members): John Joseph (aka John Bloodclot, aka John Joseph McGowan, who has served as the band’s frontman on three of their five full-length albums), Parris Mitchell Mayhew (who played guitar on four of the band’s five albums and co-wrote most of their enduring songs, but is no longer involved in any capacity) and Harley Flanagan (the band’s founding member, their bass player, and their frontman on the two albums not featuring Bloodclot).
All three members have been involved with various incarnations of the group. The one performing at Webster Hall last week featured only Joseph and a cast of newer Mags (two of whom, Mike Couls and William Berario, were on the receiving end of Flanagan’s blade and bite). But over the years, Joseph, Mayhew, and Flanagan have slung enough mud at one another to bury each other countless times over.
The first Cro-Mags album is called The Age Of Quarrel, and looking back, that title is more than apt. What follows is a VERY truncated oral history of the Cro-Mags’ many ongoing beefs — comprising select quotes from Joseph, Mayhew, and Flanagan, culled from interviews archived across the Web — which eventually, if indirectly, led up to last week’s attack at Webster Hall. There is much more to this story than what appears here (indeed, both Flanagan and Joseph have written books about their experiences in the band), so consider this a primer, an introduction to a lifetime of quarrel.
Harley on John and the origin of the Cro-Mags: He’s a fuckin’ dick … He never wrote a song in his life and joined the band after me and my old singer had already written most of The Age Of Quarrel and we had been gigging. He basically walked into a band with a lyric book full of lyrics already written … The dude is a fraud. He was back in the day and he still is. (Via Vista Fanzine.)
John on Harley and the origin of the Cro-Mags: Before I was in the band, they were no more than an urban myth with some graffiti on the walls. Who recorded on the demo? Who recorded on The Age of Quarrel — the best Cro-Mags record, and the only one anyone cares about? I did … I wrote all the lyrics and Parris wrote 90 percent of the music [on The Age Of Quarrel]. The only song Harley had was “Don’t Tread On Me.” (Via Cromags.com.)
Parris on John and Harley and The Age Of Quarrel: I personally was there from Day One of Cro-Mags. I know what happened when, and who did and didn’t do what, and who did and didn’t write what! My stamp on the history of Cro-Mags is clear and indisputable from go, On the back of The Age Of Quarrel [it says] “ALL SONGS WRITTEN BY PARRIS MAYHEW and HARLEY FLANAGAN.” With that said of course Harley’s stamp is just as clear as mine. That truth I would never dispute and never have. Why would I? I’m not an egomaniac with an inferiority complex. (Via Cro-mags.com.)
John on Harley: I was the one who booked all the tours … Why? Because no one wants to help Harley out because everyone knows he’s a backstabber. (Via Cromags.com.)
Harley on John: He never booked our tours … Where did he pull that one, out of his ass? … John would have people believe that he started the band if he could get away with it, just like he had people believing he was a Navy SEAL for the last 20-something years. I heard that story grow and grow over the years. (Via Cromags.com.)
John on Harley: He tries to make me look like a liar about everything, like claiming I was a SEAL for 20 years (I’ve said in interviews and to people al along I didn’t make it through the training). (Via Blabbermouth.)
Harley on John and the band’s first breakup: John quit after our first trip to Europe … But he used to quit like every other week. It was ridiculous. John had quit this last time because I stayed in Europe to visit my stepdad after the tour. But when I got home, all hell had broken loose … I went and talked John back into joining, but then … no one else wanted him back in. They were tired of all his quitting and his bullshit. None of them wanted him back except me. (Via Cromags.com.)
John on Harley and the band’s first breakup: When Harley came back after his little vacation in Europe spending my rent money, I was fuming, homeless, broke, and pissed. He approached me on 9th St. between 1st and 2nd. I smacked him in the face for robbing me. Weeks later, after I calmed down, he asked me not to tell the press that the reason I left right before Best Wishes was because he robbed me. He said it would be real hard for him to live that down and carry on with the band if people knew. Like a bro, I kept it quiet. He begged me to sing on that record. I refused. I couldn’t look that dude in the face. (Via Cromags.com.)
Harley on John: That clown never kicked my ass, slapped me, made me cry, or anything else. I don’t know what fuckin’ planet he was on when that happened. Once a few years ago he snuck up on me from behind, hit me and ran — which I think is a cowardly, faggot-ass thing to do (especially for someone who claims to be so tough), but looking back it just makes me laugh and so does he. (Via Cromags.com.)
Parris on Harley and John and the band’s first breakup: Vanity, egomania, bad breath. Harley is an asshole. John was an asshole … We were doomed. (Via Punk Rock 77 Thru Today.)
Harley on Parris: Parris just goes on and on like some wounded bitch. (Via Cromags.com.)
Parris on Harley: [After leaving the band in 1990], I said, “Harley I never wanted to quit the Cro-Mags but you pushed me away … I gave you every opportunity and I warned you, now it is too late … you can have the name Cro-Mags I don’t care. I decided to leave so if you want, you can go with it.” … So after all was said and done … Harley ruins it all with his behavior, drives me out and is rewarded with the Cro-Mags name free and clear of the record label that had stonewalled our career. If karma is real, I have seen no evidence of it. (Via Cro-mags.com.)
Harley on Parris: Parris needs settle up all this past Cro-Mags business that he ducked out on and quit trying to fuck everybody else over and out of everything, cop-calling and trying to manipulate and monopolize the name CRO-MAGS and everything to do with it! Bottom line: he knows he didn’t start the band, nor come up with the name! So I don’t even know how he justifies it to himself. (Via Blabbermouth.)
Parris on John: In 2003, John [was] performing as Cro-Mags with a backup band of scrub musicians. That doesn’t bother me as much as the fact that upon direct questioning he told promoters in Toronto when asked about whether Harley and myself were to be performing he said “Yes.” Fraud plain and simple. Fraud against the fans and promoters. A lie designed to RIP YOU OFF! (Via Cro-mags.com.)
Harley on John: He was ripping off me and my family! And stealing from my son! By advertising the “Cro-Mags,” misleading the public and the promoters and getting paid as the Cro-Mags without me he was ripping me off … Here I am, I’ve known him over 20 years, I’m having my first kid — he should be helping me, not fucking me over. (Via Cromags.com.)
John on Harley: If he wants to put food in his baby’s mouth, that sorry ass needs to get a job. He never had a job for a single day in his entire life. (Via Cromags.com.)
Harley on John: This whole self righteous thing is such a load of shit. He ripped off more of his friends then he can probably remember. He and his Hare Krishna buddies were down at ground zero after 9/11 selling bootleg FDNY hats, claiming the money was going to relief for the firemen’s families and shit like that. They say whatever they have to to sell them. He kept bragging about how much money he made, and I kept arguing with him that it’s fucked up to sell those, and especially down there, and that profiting off a fuckin’ horrendous tragedy is bad karma! (Via Cromags.com.)
Parris on Harley and a potential Cro-Mags reunion: He’s an asshole. Liar, manipulator, sleep-farter, and egomaniac, and malignant narciscist. It was always Harley. He is the single problem … It’s his fault there will NEVER be a reunion. (Via Punk Rock 77 Thru Today.)
Harley on Parris and a potential Cro-Mags reunion: I am not trying to, nor do I have any interest in reforming the Cro-Mags! Even though it would be great! But the only way I could ever have any interest in doing anything of the sort is if it was ALL of US! … Of course, we all know this will never happen, ha ha ha, ’cause Parris has orders of protection against me and John, ha ha ha, like a little girl, ha ha ha. (Via Blistering.com.)
John on Harley and a potential Cro-Mags reunion: There’s a reason there was no [reunion], and Harley’s the reason, NOT US. But don’t take my word on it, talk to everyone else who was an original member … we were all sick of his ego, trash-talking, and stealing. It ain’t no fun to have to look over your shoulder for the next big takeover of cash or knife in your back. (Via Blabbermouth.)
Harley (again) on a potential Cro-Mags reunion: I’d do it. Once you grow up and have kids, you realize how dumb all the bullshit is, and we did a lot of great shit together, so I would do it. But I can’t see it happening. I think It would make a great reality show. Hahaha. Just kidding. But it would, if we didn’t all kill each other. (Via Vista Fanzine.)