Cro-Mags' Harley Flanagan: Two Sides to Every Story
This past July 9, I reported within these virtual pages about an assault that occurred in the VIP area of the Webster Hall during the CBGB Festival involving Harley Flanagan and William Berario and Michael "The Gook" Couls. As it turns, not being a witness to the attack left me at the mercy of the reported incident by other publications and I did my best to pass on the info with my limited sources.
Call it the curse of the blogosphere or me personally being taken aback by actions that fundamentally go against the hardcore creeds I grew up with. Regardless of which, it was fairly boneheaded of me to report what I read about without including the possibility that maybe Flanagan was acting in self-defense.
Now, before we move on to more recent reports, there's an overall feeling that this extends beyond the old Cro-Mags "clash of personalities" scenario and does not in any way, shape or form demonize Flanagan for being a Jiu Jitsu practitioner who is a lunatic meathead. Nope. We need his side of the story too, because he is not a lunatic meathead, a little off? Maybe, but not a lunatic.
Steven Blush is the author of American Hardcore: A Tribal History and is in the opinion of many, the leading authority on hardcore from its inception to now. That is an opinion that I share and I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Blush last January when he appeared at Sweat Records discussing and presenting the new edition of the book on its tenth anniversary.
We held a pleasant palaver about hardcore and the book, and while I do not know him intimately, I can say that he is a very easygoing person and that I can take his words to be true. You don't have to take mine but you can take his. He recently published an article in Paper noting how many people, including himself had taken the first reports as gospel.
"Last week I spoke with Harley Flanagan and his lawyer and learned that all of the witnesses from the backstage incident who were available to the prosecutor had failed to appear. This turns the case on its head and suggests that not just the piece I wrote but everyone who wrote about the incident - from the Times and Post to various websites - dropped the ball by reporting only one side to the story: that a jealous, angry Flanagan had snuck backstage at CBGB Fest looking for a fight."
Was Flanagan jealous? Perhaps. He had participated in the CBGB Fest proceedings as a panelist and was given by the promoters an all-access pass for his career intertwining with the legendary punk hub's existence. And from what Flanagan reports, his "being" in the backstage area was due to being invited there, not sneaking in.
At this point, there are a few things to consider: a) in the eyes of the segmented fans John Joseph is either devil or angel, but by eyewitness account, he was not present during the melee, b) there seems to be a DMS (legendary street punk gang whose members in the past are intrinsically linked to the best recorded moments of NYC hardcore) angle to the fight concerning old beefs and c) Flanagan states that he was jumped by approximately eight guys.
Flanagan also stated that he was invited backstage by current Cro-Mags bass player Michael "The Gook" Couls and that he "felt something was wrong and that he'd been set up." He also states that for years the DMS crew had been threatening him and his family and that he still had gone to the show in the spirit of witnessing this new incarnation of the band perform regardless of an earlier invite to participate onstage with them had been reneged upon.
What happens from here will be another story but something is certainly up and Flanagan's version of events, while not supporting why he would have a hunting knife on his person at this venue, seems to hold some water on the being jumped scenario. But this might be easier said than done, given how now, all of a sudden, nobody saw anything and/or failed to appear in front of the prosecutor.
At least Flanagan will have someone batting for him legally who knows and understands the quirky elements and personalities of this subculture, his court-appointed Legal Aid Society attorney Sean T. Parmenter grew up in the punk scene. While I would like to posit on an outcome over this case, I'll cut my losses short and end here with Mr. Blush's words: "It would be very upsetting if any of his ex-mates knew about this, because no matter what the beef, these guys came up together, and made some incredibly powerful music that stands the test of time."
That much is true; 1986's The Age of Quarrel will be listened to for many years to come while this incident might become a weird and sad footnote in the band's already tumultuous history.
Mr. Blush's article can be found here.
Cro-Mags - The Age of Quarrel (full album)
Enjoy the whole thing and enjoy it as loudly as you can!!!
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.