“My cheeks hurt from smiling so much. And, at the same time, I want to bite someone’s fucking face off.”
It’s a few days after the thirty-third birthday of the 1989 game-changing, subgenre-summoning Cro-Mags metallic hardcore masterpiece Best Wishes and the band’s fifty-five year-old founding member and certified living legend Harley Flanagan is explaining to Decibel the level of excitement — in that trademark colorful vernacular all his own — he feels at the prospect of once again hitting the road, post-pandemic. (Dates can be found here.)
Which, as you can see, is considerable.
In the conversation that followed Decibel got the lowdown from Flanagan on circa 2022 Cro-Mags, the upcoming tour, and how getting beat down on the jiujitsu mat can prepare one for hardcore touring. (For further reading, check out Flanagan’s 2021 appearance in Cosmo Lee’s “Health Awaits” column or Flanagan’s own essential memoir, Hard-Core: A Life of My Own, which is currently on sale, just FYI.)
Last week, you had a heartfelt Instagram post acknowledging the Best Wishes anniversary one day and the next had a post about this upcoming tour in which you said you “want to smash the opposition…crush my enemies and…bury the past, not live in it.” So, I just wanted to unpack that a little…
[Laughs.] Well, when I say bury the past, I don’t mean I’m not going to play those songs. I meant what I said — I’m not living in the past. I don’t exclusively play songs from an era gone by. I include songs from my entire catalog. Because, the thing is, this is very much a living, current band. I am still writing and recording songs. There’s a new album almost done right now that I’m very happy with and believe stands up with anything we’ve done. So, when I say bury the past…the past is gone. Gone. You know, we can talk about it. I’m happy to do that. We can play a song from the past. And we will. Many of them. But I’m not interested in doing a “senior citizens of hardcore” tour where we play only old songs and take some selfies so people can verify we’re still alive. ’cause I’m living my best life right now. I’m writing some of the best music I’ve ever written right now. I’m in great shape. And some of these other people out there should start taking a little bit better care of themselves because I’m getting ready to go on the road and show them what 55 is supposed to look like.
Speaking of age, you’ve been doing this for an incredibly long time. And, while touring can be hard, obviously, it must also be extremely gratifying to have the art you made more than a quarter century ago and the art you continue to make resonate with people all over the globe.
It’s mind-boggling, bro. It never lost on me that the music that saved me when I had nothing continues to be there for me. If I would not have had music, I would not have been able to feed myself. I made my first dollar — well, it wasn’t even a dollar; it was a crown — playing on the streets at Denmark with kids that I went to school with. So I’ve been a musician, my whole life. I’ve done a lot of other things — I taught jujitsu for fifteen years, for example — but music has always been my staple. In some ways I think it’s some sort of a mental disorder. [Laughs.] I can’t stop. It’s like my brain is always on 24-7 and full off riffs. But, yeah, I’m so grateful to be able to do what I do and have it matter to so many people.
Does that jujitsu training come into play on the road — the whole concept of using leverage to turn challenges into advantages? Is that something that you lean on in these days?
Absolutely, man. Absolutely. I actually got my ass kicked last week by a good friend of mine. And he was me calling me out about how much I sucked that day…which is great. It’s exactly what I needed to hear. Because, first of all, he was right. And second I needed to be reminded to pace myself and be present. My head was not where it should have been that day and I paid the price. But I left feeling great. I got a necessary reminder of what’s real and important in this life. You know, I love the beatings that I take. They enrich my soul.
What can you tell me about the tour?
I can tell you that we are gonna be playing songs from every record, with the exception of Near Death Experience. And we are going to be playing a lot. We’ve got a lot of dates in Europe. We’ve got a lot of dates in the UK. We’re about to do a short run in the states with The Exploited. We’re talking about Japan at the end of the year So there’s a lot of stuff coming. This is a year where I really plan on getting back to work. I literally workout five, six days a week because I know I gotta be ready for that work.
That devotion and power really came through just on the quarantine livestream you did during the pandemic.
We actually put that together in 48 hours. We were supposed to play with Body Count at Webster Hall. The Governor announced the ban on public gatherings while we were practicing for it. So I was frustrated. And I’m looking around the practice room and I see my friend’s open laptop. I said, “You know what? Let’s just set up as if we’re doing a show and broadcast it on all of our social media live.” We wound up getting over two-hundred thousand views while it was happening.
And then like two weeks later everyone was doing it!
Well, to be fair, it didn’t take a genius to come up with the idea. I’m not gonna break my neck trying to suck my own dick here. Were we one of the first? Yeah. But really I just wanted to play and I knew the rest of the world was as frustrated as I was in that moment. If we were innovative in any way, it was not charging people money for it like a lot of these bands did! It was a really weird circumstance to put on a live show in front of a camera crew and treat it like you were playing in people’s living rooms. But you know what? I love to play. I love jamming with my friends. And I really just wanted to try to turn a negative situation into something positive and help other people feel good in such a rough and time, you know?
Hey, you know what? This was an amazing honor. Any last thoughts?
I guess the only thing I would add is, speaking of honor, that aside from whatever ups and downs I may have had with any of the guys that I played with throughout the years, it was an honor to play with each and every one of them. Yeah, nothing lasts forever, but the moments that were good, were really good. And I’m glad they happened. Everything works out the way it’s supposed to and people can point fingers this way, that way or the other…I’m actually very much at peace with where I am in my life.