Cro-Mags' John Joseph: "It's a Good Thing the Music Business Fell Apart, They Ruined Music"
When it comes to musicians with compelling personal histories, John "Bloodclot" Joseph's story is a tough one to beat.
Though we recommend his first book, Evolution of a Cro-Mag, for the full story, the man's journey has seen him go from an early life spent quite literally on the streets of 1970s New York -- the Rotten Apple of yore which now lives on through Joseph's walking tours -- to becoming a revered punk-rock elder statesman and protector of New York's punk history.
Infighting, lineup changes, and even a recent, highly publicized stabbing incident involving the band's former bassist/post-Joseph frontman, Harley Flanagan, have at times threatened to eclipse the band's musical legacy.
However, the Cro-Mags -- namely the first period in which Joseph fronted the group -- changed the sound of hardcore-punk forever by fusing the riffs and churn of thrash metal with hardcore's unbridled rage and moral aesthetic.
Joseph now juggles the roles of published author, Iron Man athlete, vegan lifestyle advocate, public speaker, and screenwriter, all while keeping the band's music alive for generations young and old with a Cro-Mags lineup that features original drummer, Mackie Jayson, in addition to some other legends of early hardcore and crossover thrash.
In preparation for the band's highly anticipated performance at Churchill's Pub this week, we here at Crossfade spoke with the ever-loquacious Joseph on everything from that state of punk rock to his memories of Miami gigs past.
Crossfade: Who is involved in the current incarnation of Cro-Mags?
John Joseph: Me, Mackie, and A.J. [Novello, of Leeway] who's been playing guitar in the band for twenty years, and Craig, who has been filling for, I would say, about ten years, from Sick of It All.
Are there any plans to put out new music with the current touring lineup?
We'll see what happens. You know, everybody's got other stuff going on. I mean, I'd like to release an EP, you know, something, this year. We'll see what happens. But I've got some other music stuff I'm working on and film stuff and I'm so busy. We'll see what happens. If it happens, it would be great. The band is not a full-time thing, as you know. Maybe we'll play Miami once a year, Europe once a year, California once a year -- we just mainly do it to have fun, play the songs.
It certainly keeps the band's music alive for the fans.
I like to refer to them as friends rather than fans or whatever. Just seeing all the old-time people, the new kids coming out. I mean, we still bring it every night. It's a positive thing. Get the message out there, have some fun, travel a little bit.
Miami boasts a major population of NYC ex-pats. As a guy that seemingly bleeds for New York, do you have any thoughts on the rising cost of living and cultural shifts facing NYC these days?
It's funny because I just wrote a film based in '77 and now I'm writing a TV pilot to try to sell a show -- I signed with ICM now as an agency -- and it's become a really hot topic. If you look at these movies going down, you know, American Hustle, and there's The Wolf of Wall Street, that period between '77 to even the mid '80s, it was so artistic, and then the gentrification really started to hit Manhattan particularly in the '80s. And really, the art is just dying off, the clubs are closing. Nowadays, even the outer boroughs, man, they're fuckin' charging $2500 for a one bedroom in fuckin' Bed Stuy. It's ridiculous, you know? It's really difficult.
Luckily, I've been fortunate enough. I'm a hustler. I do what I gotta do to pay my rent and my bills. My landlord owns about 50 or 60 buildings and he's a good friend of mine, so I pay way below market value for my apartment. But for a lot of other people, it's very, very difficult.
It's still the greatest city in the world, man. As far as I'm concerned. It's freezing now, so I'm glad I'm coming down there!
Between things like the celebrity attended punk-rock gala they held at the MET last year and CBGBs now housing a men's clothing store that pedals $100 t-shirts, do you still see punk rock as a viable institution?
Chrissie Hynde, I'm friends with, and I had dinner with her right when that whole thing was going on, and the ad that they had for the MET, somebody was wearing a Pretenders shirt. She told me if she was there, she would've went with fuckin' ripped up clothes and two tampons as earrings and fucked with everybody there.
It's just become like anything else, you know? Homogenized, watered down, and fashion. I don't even call that shit punk rock. To me, it's not how you look, it's a state of mind. A revolutionary state of mind to question the status quo and what's going on and what's important in this life, and not just being sheep that believe everything the media tells you: look this way, dress this way, and here's what the celebrities are doing and all of this other bullshit. Who gives a shit? Most people are leading quiet lives of desperation and, as they say, one percent of the population is living large and everybody else is barely fucking keeping their heads above water and paying their bills.
For me, I got into punk way back in, like, '75, really. That was the first time I heard Iggy Pop and the Stooges and then the Ramones in '76 and then started going to all of the clubs in '77. There's motherfuckers I see out there, like one of the dudes from Crass has some article in Vice Magazine right now that says "you are not punk." So to me, although all the crusty punk junkies took to Crass, what they were saying initially was kind of revolutionary. So, I don't care what somebody looks like, it's really a state of mind.
That's the way I look at it. There are revolutionaries in every type of music. You're not hearing about it these days, because the media is controlled like everything else. The music business is shot. And it's kind of a good thing that the music business did fall apart because I think they ruined music.
Cro-Mags. With Trust No One, On Our Own, Nunhex, Kickturn. Friday, January 10. Churchill's Pub, 5501 NE Second Ave., Miami. The show starts at 9 p.m. and admission is $15. Ages 18 and up. Call 305-757-1807 or visit churchillspub.com.
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