by Steven Blush

Rock history is rife with brutal personal rifts. Such hatred and subterfuge has filled the pages of untold numbers of chart-topping bestsellers. For instance, Pink Floyd made headlines after reuniting for a benefit stadium concert in which Roger Waters and David Gilmour never spoke to each other. You can’t pay Robert Plant enough money to get by Kim Graf 1984 1-21-16_previewback with Led Zeppelin. But that’s easy to say when you’re a wealthy rock star. The working class thugs of Black Sabbath and the Misfits were smart enough to settle their blood feuds for the benefit of sold out arenas, and financial security.

Which leads us to the Cro-Mags — like the Misfits, hardcore punk pioneers who changed the face of music. The Lower East Side gang/group started by bassist Harley Flanagan, ascended to greatness with vocalist John Joseph (McGowan), unleashed the most primitive, brutal and powerful rock explosion to date. These shaved headed, tattooed, homeless teens high on Krishna lifestyle created the blueprint for the past 30 years of intense music. When Metallica, Anthrax et al experienced the Cro-Mags’ form of urban warfare, they cut their poodle-hair and never wore bullet belts again. 1986’s The Age of Quarrel album with the MTV crossover hit “We Gotta Know” was more than the definitive NYHC record, it ranks as classic, up there with Black Flag’s Damaged, Bad Brains’ I Against I or Metallica’s Kill Em All.

Unlike most suburban bands, these were street kids, and their chemical reaction was so toxic that it nearly destroyed them all. Everyone ripped them off, so they turned on themselves and ripped off each other. The Cro-Mags’ demise is one of those stories where everyone involved was wrong at some point and in the end, everyone’s lost. It’s not easy to like the Cro-Mags individually. But collectively they were the voice of a generation, and for generations of subcultureWith Eric at CBGB to come.

So, how deeply seated is the hate breed? This journalist covered the “Harley Flanagan backstage stabbing” incident at Webster Hall. No witnesses proved credible and no case materialized. If anything, the evidence suggested a planned attack, and raises more questions than answers. Of course, it is plausible that both John Joseph and drummer Maxwell “Mackie” Jayson left their backstage safe-space right before showtime, just as a vicious fight exploded in the room next door. What currently passes for the Cro-Mags offers a powerfully entertaining and heartfelt sing-along tribute to what once was. But it certainly shares more in common with “Tony Iommi’s Black Sabbath” than Flag with Keith Morris and Chuck Dukowski.

Don’t expect a reunion of the original Cro-Mags any time soon. A fierce battle is now playing out in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. According to legal documents Harley Flanagan was awarded two Cro-Mags trademarks (for merch and recording) in 2009, which McGowan and Jayson are currently attempting to cancel, while fighting over the live performance rights. It’s not going far out on a limb to say that Harley Flanagan of the Stimulators was the first NYC Skinhead, and the NYHC scene developed around the band he started, the Cro-Mags; which went through several lineups before McGowan and the Age of Quarrel line-up. But that’s exactly what being contested in court. For instance, over the past dozen or so years, John Joseph has toured with no other “original” members than drummer Maxwell “Mackie” Jason. But one of the legal counterclaims says Flanagan has not been in the band for 25 years, which, if you know your band history was somewhere between CROMAGS.3.9 2-7-16_previewAlphaOmega and Revenge.

It seems that after winning the case, in a shocking display of humility — and in light of standing European reunion offers in the $75,000 range —Flanagan offered to share his trademarks equally between all five original members, in exchange for sitting down for discussion about playing five or six lucrative reunion shows, including one possible Ozzy/Danzig-style festival. That offer got shot down by the McGowan and Jayson.

After that, things got ugly. Harley withdrew the olive branch and his pitbull lawyers have been aggressively enforcing his trademark with merchandisers like Wal-Mart, who are abandoning old deals and signing with Flanagan. This morass must be the origin of the current John Joseph/ Cro-Mags dates being billed as the “Word Peace Can’t Be Done Tour.” Talk about The Age of Quarrel!

Such a reunion would make sense for all parties involved. And not to mention how it could greatly benefit the future of punk/rock. But this situation has devolved into a war of egos, over who gets credit, and who deserves it most. What’s remarkably sad is to think of how many survival issues these guys faced together, and how they protected each other back in the day — and how they cannot interact today. Not to compare their situation in any way, but it’s sort of like those stories you read about families that survived the Holocaust and then once they made it to America, hated and never spoke to each other again.

At the same time, one can certainly understand John Joseph’s strident refusal to participate, because he has the most to lose. He would be ceding his possession of the franchise he hijacked in 2002 during the ill-fated reunion of Flanagan and McGowan, and would be forced to share the limelight with his nemeses. Then of course would be the looming physical threat of Harley in his presence 24/7. John is an impressive physical specimen, but he’d stand littlecromags at CBGB (1) chance in fisticuffs with the street-fighting Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu master.

Old habits die hard, and both Harley and John Joseph have written well-received books that trashed each other. The Cro-Mag-non assaults have triggered some of the nastiest social media back-and-forths to date. But both of their careers are on the upswing, between John’s “Bloodclot” and vegan lifestyle projects, and Harley’s Hard-Core tour this last year, latest album and deep connections to Renzo Gracie and Anthony Bourdain. It goes without saying that large crowds would turn out for such a last-chance opportunity, before it all implodes. Rock industry veteran and band friend Mike Schnapp (DJ Uncle Mike) had the right idea when he suggested a proper Cro-Mags reunion would require all five members performing in individual cages. Such a performance would be street justice, indeed.