The GRIMM Reader: Harley Flanagan – A Hardcore Life of My Own

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  • Title: Harley Flanagan – A Hardcore Life Of My Own
  • Author: Harley Flanagan
  • Theme: Music – Nonfiction – Autobiography
  • Publication date: September 5, 2016
  • Page count: 444
  • Publisher: Feral House
  • ISBN: 9781627310

At Ieperfest some summers ago, I saw Harley ‘Cro-Mags’ Flanagan perform for the first time in my life. As mind-blowing as the show was, people close to me already know that the show didn’t end too well for me. When he started playing Hard Times I jumped off stage and broke my ankle. I was out of business for a few months, so I had lots of time to spend on reading and listening to music. I heard earlier that he wrote a book about how he’s seen music evolve starting from hippie culture to the music nowadays. So there couldn’t be a better and more comforting thing for me to read during my recovery. One thing I know for sure: after reading it, I was once more convinced that breaking my ankle during his show was worth it and I regret nothing.

This book is really just a collection of crazy stories that more than once ended up with Harley in the hospital in some capacity. Critiquing right-wing skinheads and taking care of the general misconception that all skinheads would be right-wing for once and for all. He doesn’t deem himself a poet, neither is he trying to tell the story in a literary high-quality way. He tells his story the way it was, without any embellishments. Using harsh words, because that’s the only right way to bring across the story. This is also why I tend to believe Harley‘s story rather than John Joseph‘s. I feel like John is telling his story as if he’s the hero and completely innocent. Harley is not trying to sound like the hero in his book. He made mistakes too, and he’s not trying at all to cover them up.

I stay with my opinion that Harley should have been allowed to continue his music under the name of Cro-Mags. At the very least because of the obvious reason that he wrote the music, and came up with the name. At the time I read the book, John etc were continuing their shows under the Cro-Mags name, and Harley performed under his own name. But he gave a nice after kick still back then, by calling his solo-album Cro-Mags. What a big fuck you to, what he calls, the “Faux-Mags”. In the mean time they got to an understanding, worked out a deal and Harley got back the rights to the Cro-Mags name and is back in full force, having released both a full-length and EP in 2020!

The book is basically Flanagan‘s life story, which completely overlaps with the rise of the New York Hardcore scene the book is all about. You get to know a lot about his mother, her sister Denise and the Stimulators, the first band Flanagan played in. He grew up in a poor neighborhood in New York and didn’t have the easiest life there. You get to know about the skinhead community that made it’s way from Ireland to New York as Harley had traveled through Europe with his mother. The core of the book is of course the birth and explosion of the New York Hardcore scene for which he was one of the core forces behind its existence. Flanagan has seen a lot and his book is just one crazy, messed up story after another.

“Before you motherfuckers were swimming in your daddy’s nuts, I was New York Hard-Core. That’s what’s up.”
~Harley Flanagan, Guilty Until Proven Innocent, Ieperfest 12/08/2017

I really enjoyed reading this, but of course he’s not the best writer in the world. Though that’s not why you should read the book. It’s written in a way he could be telling you his life story while you’re having some beers at a bar. Which is exactly why (and how) you should read it. Flanagan doesn’t beat around the bush, he straight up gives you the facts and tells you how things were in New York back in the day, and they weren’t always as pretty. Don’t be surprised to come across plenty of curse words and profanity, but hey, we were at a bar anyway, right?

Usually I would try to be a bit more creative and find something you could listen to while reading the book, that isn’t the artist themselves. But I really recommend doing so for this book. But maybe don’t listen to Cro-Mags. Flanagan brought out a solo album, titled Cro-Mags, around the same time his book was released, with more or less the same message and stories behind it. Everyone should listen to this record before, while or after reading, you’ll truly get a better understanding of it.