By Anna Merlan
By Albert Samaha
By Tessa Stuart
By Anna Merlan
By Roy Edroso
By Carolyn Hughes
By Chuck Strouse
By Albert Samaha
We should start with the time John "Bloodclot" Joseph dressed up as a retarded, wheelchair-bound Santa Claus and scammed horrified Staten Island shopping-mall patrons on behalf of the Hare Krishnas. In his memoir, The Evolution of a Cro-Magnon, Joseph claims to have made $3,000 in just one week this way, mortified mothers flinging $10 bills at him if he'd just go away, while distraught, teary-eyed children demanded to know what was wrong with Santa.
Lots of things were wrong with Santa. This colossal, at least mildly appalling act of deception (Joseph is not disabled physically or mentally, and Evolution makes clear that, at least onstage with his beloved New York hardcore band, the Cro-Mags, he was thoroughly intolerant of jolliness) is probably not the moral low point of his life. His riveting autobiography is a profoundly seedy affair: boyhood abuse while in foster care, a drug- and violence-addled adolescence on the streets of apocalyptic '70s New York, 15 years or so AWOL from the Navy, myriad Hare Krishna–related improprieties, a brief but vivid stint fronting quite possibly the most physically terrifying band in New York City history, and, just for the hell of it, on page 377, crack addiction. Joseph has survived all this, and is understandably proud. Regarding the retarded-Santa ploy, he is understandably regretful, but not for the reasons you'd expect.
"I think it's fuckin'—it's ingenious!" he crows jovially, holding court in a vegetarian restaurant on the Lower East Side, a blunt, 45-year-old, generously tattooed human bulldozer currently training for a triathlon. "I put a disclaimer in the Hare Krishna chapter: 'Some of you might be offended by what you're about to read, and some of you will see the sheer genius in it.' " Evolution walks us through Joseph's thought process: "Even better, what if this particular Santa was not only crippled, but retarded as well? This would be FUCKIN' HUUUUGE!!!" And it was. But for three years or so, Joseph now laments that he was in thrall to what he condemns as the cultish underbelly of the Hare Krishna movement, rogue con men who perverted the benevolent religion exemplified in the West by Indian guru Srila Prabhupada, whom John still reveres and follows. John says every dime of retard-Santa's $3,000 bounty was turned over to his superiors, who insisted that they'd use it help people, win converts, feed the poor, etc. Evidently they didn't. And amid widespread rumors of financial malfeasance and sexual assault, Joseph eventually broke with the group, but not before surrendering a great deal of his own time and a great deal of other people's money.
This, more than 20 years later, is what Joseph regrets.
"I regret I got the wool pulled over my eyes," he says. "It's like I said in the book—I forgot the first rule of punk rock: Question authority. I believed everything these dudes were tellin' me. And I didn't question a lot of the stuff I saw goin' on—this, that, people bein' accused of molestation, you just block it out. They always had an excuse, you know? They're fuckin' master manipulators, dude. You know?"
As Evolution attests, Joseph's had a tough and occasionally outright brutal life—terrible things have been done to him, and he's done a few untoward things himself just to scrape by. He was a hustler, but he insists he was a hustler by necessity. Edmund Burke provides Evolution's epigraph: "He who wrestles with us strengthens our nerves and sharpens our skill. Our antagonist is our helper." In his life, Joseph's found plenty of antagonists: foster parents, fellow street thugs, amoral Krishna leaders, his Cro-Mags bandmates, and, eventually, me. Because nothing makes a hustler angrier than the feeling that he's been hustled.
I don't know what rat-infested, smallpox-infected cargo ship these two parasitic pieces of shit came over on, but what I do know is that it should have sunk to the bottom of the ocean before they had their intestines eaten by sharks.
That's Joseph on the second, and most damaging, set of foster parents (Italian, you see) assigned to him and his two brothers, Eugene (older) and Frank (younger). From the onset, Evolution minces people, not words; the story it tells is both mesmerizing and thoroughly unpleasant. Joseph's tale is bookended by two horrible revelations: First, that two older boys also fostered by that family sexually abused him. "When I came to the part about sexual abuse, I didn't wanna put it in," he says now. "Because it's embarrassing. People think: 'You're a kid. What somebody does to you as a kid is not your fault.' But it's just an embarrassing thing."
Joseph doesn't linger on the lurid details, but the effect is still deeply disturbing—especially, of course, for his family. His mother, Marie, who still lives in Queens, hasn't finished the book yet. "To be honest with you, I've been reading it, and I put it down, and then I go back to it," she says. "It's very upsetting. Let's put it that way. Very upsetting. I mean, I've cried and cried and laughed. A lot of things I didn't know—the different abuse things, I had no idea."