By Jason Diamond
A recent Village Voice article on the 25th anniversary of Agnostic Front’s seminal album, Victim in Pain, got me thinking about New York City Hardcore as the musical genre that could truly be defined as “American Primitive” (no offense to my fellow John Fahey fans out there for lifting his term).
While I feel like all that can be said of the scene as a whole has pretty much been said in a few wonderful anthologies (Steve Blush’s American Hardcore is really all you need), the Voice writer falls into the common trap many people writing about hardcore get into by sugarcoating things — giving us the same rehashed dystopian fairy tale of the Lower East Side in the 1980′s. Agnostic Front lead singer Roger Miret helps him along, playing his part by rehashing many of the common sentiments and statements that he and his comrades have made over the years in regards to the “struggle” and the “streets” (to paraphrase Warzone). While I don’t discredit the idea that the Lower East Side was an incredibly harsh place to live in the late 70′s, especially compared to it’s contemporary state, Miret’s calling hardcore an alternative to the “druggy or artsy punk scene what was happening in New York at the time”, seemed a little off to me.
Really, the piece relegates hardcore to what some have called “dumb punk.” Miret saying things like “that was old Andy Warhol stuff. Just artsy. We were rougher kids living in the streets. It had a rougher edge,” doesn’t help. It also ignores the fact that those early days of hardcore in fact, shared close ties with some of the city’s artistic mavens.
The Cro-Mags, a band in my opinion that is just as vital to the NYHC sound, exemplify that statement best. The band’s ties with the New York literary scene date back to the mid-1970′s, when future Cro-Mag bassist Harley Flanagan began publishing poetry before his tenth birthday. While this might seem like the precocious action of a child, the beginning of Flanagan’s literary career would make many contemporary writers a bit envious. Flanagan, as documented in American Hardcore, published Stories & Illustrations by Harley, which had the distinction of bearing a forward written by family friend and neighbor, Allen Ginsberg (misspelled as “Ginsburg” on the cover).
“Harley Flanagan lives in Denmark
He is 9 years old
He started this story in Morocco
The Shopkeeper and The Donkey
His mother Rosebud was a Lower East Side Hippie
and a friend of mine
Harley is also a friend of mine since he was a year old
We lived on a farm together
I’m happy he grew up to be an artist
His sense of perspective is vast
His choice of details mud-brick walls, triangular mountains, Arabic writing on bottles
paths of the Bee to the moon. balloons
with big music notes out of the mouth,
teeth in the sun, big donkey ears
is bold and smart – I’m proud to know he is a member of the Sensitive Family
May 6, 1976 – NYC
Members of the Cro-Mags would continue on a literary path, though after the band’s best days were behind them. In 2007, the band’s lead singer, John Joseph, would go on to publish a surprisingly good biography, The Evolution of a Cro-Magnon. Also of note, he plans to release a second book in the future (on Punkhouse), with a title that puts Jonathan Safran Foer’s recent book to shame: Meat is for Pussies.