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"This is not a book about Cro-Mag beef," Joseph says. "But it definitely is telling the real story . . . I'll let you tell your lies for fuckin' 10 years or whatever, but eventually the real story comes out about why I quit the band. 'Cause, like I said, I wanted to keep it a positive book—I don't need to slant the story, 'cause the story's the story. People can take what they want from it, but I told the events actually, cent for cent, the way every fuckin' thing happened to the T. No exaggeration, no bullshit, no embellishments, no nuttin'. What's in there is the truth."
To avoid a prolonged he-said/she-said battle, let's focus on one thing that's in there: Joseph says that in 1995, his bandmates ratted him out to the cops, trumping up intimidation charges that he vehemently denies, which they knew would also trigger an inquiry from the Navy, from whom Joseph was still technically AWOL. So he turned himself in to the Navy, which explains why he's quoted, in a Spin article that year on the Krishna influence in hardcore, from military prison, where he spent a few months.
"So here's the thing," Mayhew responds. "I did file a harassment complaint against John—I never denied that from the beginning. I did it to get a pest off my back. Now, of course, all these hardcore tough guys from the scene are throwing around the word 'rat.' I'm like, 'What is this, an episode of Baretta?' I'm not a street thug; I don't give a fuck about your so-called 'street rules'—honor among thieves, don't go to the cops. The cops, to me, were a tool to get this douchebag to stop calling my mother. And I did." Mayhew adds that the cops never acted all that concerned about the Navy thing; Joseph turned himself in on his own.
As for Flanagan, he stresses his desire to avoid feeding these arguments at all: "Brothers fight. They'll always be my brothers." (Like Mayhew, he says he hasn't read Joseph's book—both regard it skeptically.) He's concerned that the acrimony is overshadowing what the Cro-Mags accomplished, and what the New York hardcore scene meant to all of them. "The hardcore scene was one place where it was come-as-you-are. We all fit in. We were all rejects in some way from somewhere else, whether it was kids coming from an abusive family, an abusive environment, or kids who just needed to get away and find themselves, some people who were fuckin' around with drugs, some people who were tryin' to get away from families on drugs—whatever it was."
On that point, Joseph agrees: "That's why all the Cro-Mags songs—when we were writin' that album, we were livin' in the squats over there. There wasn't no, like, run to the ATM or run to fuckin' Western Union and get a moneygram from Mommy and fuckin' Daddy. Me and Harley got our fallouts, whatever, but we did live this shit. I can't take that away from him, and he's an incredible musician."
But Mayhew is often unfairly removed from that equation, by dint of his living with his mother on East End Avenue—"the only walk-up on East End Avenue," he clarifies—at the time. To him, the overemphasis on a sordid, violent upbringing and lifestyle is another, less attractive part of his band's contribution to hardcore.
"Suddenly, it became cooler to be tough than it was to be smart," he says. "And in that moment, the scene died . . . when beating up some kid and taking his boots and covering yourself with tattoos became more important than writing songs, than doing something creative and cool. I remember going to hardcore shows, and everybody just having a great time, and everybody knowing each other. And like overnight, when the Cro-Mags happened, all of a sudden there were gangs of skinheads and there were no girls anymore, and people were getting their heads kicked in. And it led to whatever hardcore is now, which is a bunch of bands that imitate rap groups, and they call themselves gangsters, and they kick the shit out of everybody."
Convinced that I intended to write a story entirely about "Cro-Mag beef," Joseph angrily cuts off all contact with me when he learns I've spoken to Mayhew and Flanagan, canceling a Voice photo shoot and rescinding passes for me and a photographer to see his new band, Bloodclot, play the next day at the Black N Blue Bowl, an annual all-day hardcore extravaganza held this year at Studio B in Brooklyn. He suggests that the Voice run a photo of Harley instead. "So your angle is obvious: shit-slinging and trash talking," he e-mails. "That's mighty big of you. I don't respect you as a journalist much less a person, as I feel you deceived me over this whole thing. Lucky for you this wasn't done to me ten years ago when I wouldn't have been so forgiving."
All that aside, the Cro-Mags are largely unconcerned with the Cro-Mags these days. Flanagan has kids and another band, and is considering writing something himself about his history in the New York punk scene; Mayhew works in film and TV, as a Steadicam operator and occasional director. (Fun fact: He did Onyx's video for "Slam.") Joseph, too, sees his future elsewhere, with Evolution as the latest evidence of a burgeoning writing career. With his writing partner, Priscilla Sommer, he's working on several screenplays; he's also preparing a health-oriented book spun off his longtime vegetarian lifestyle and workout regimen: "The brother book to Skinny Bitch," he says. "Told in my style. Comedy. Like I said, I don't preach to people. I just make people laugh about shit."