Cro-Mags’ Harley Flanagan: “I used to eat acid like M&Ms”

(Image credit: Nuclear Blast)

Harley Flanagan is the embodiment New York hardcore. As co-founder - and sole remaining original member – of notoriously combustible Big Apple icons Cro-Mags, the bassist-turned-frontman has been manning the barricades for almost 40 years and has the scars to prove it. Following an acrimonious legal - and sometimes physical – battle with his former bandmates, Flanagan gained the rights to the Cro-Mags name. Their latest album, In The Beginning, is their first in 20 years.

What’s the worst thing about being in a band?

“Being in a band! It’s like being married to a bunch of dudes, it can be difficult. I love playing music so you gotta put up with that shit, but it’s not easy getting on with people, period. So, when you’re stuck in a van together it’s like a marriage… with no sex.”

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

“One of the things that my mother said to me when I was young has always stuck with me: don’t lie. As long as you’re telling the truth, you never have to backpedal and cover your own ass. At a very young age that hit me and stuck with me. I’d rather speak the truth and be hated for it than be full of shit.”

When was the first time you felt like a rock star?

“I don’t think I ever have, and that’s funny because I’ve been onstage in front of 50-60,000 people, but I don’t feel any different to those people. I’m a fan, that’s all.”

When was the last time you cried?

“Might have been when my mom  passed. I don’t have a problem with tears and emotions and shit. Life is very short and I appreciate the relationship I had with her.”

What’s been your worst experience on drugs?

“Just being on them. I’ve done a fair share; I was strung out on heroin for a while, I was a speed freak, I did crystal meth like it was going out of style, I smoked a lot of PCP, I used to eat acid like M&Ms. I’d say the worst drug experience is the depression and the cycle that you can’t get out of. I’m really lucky that I did all that madness and I’m still in good shape. I think it was because I was a vegetarian! Even when I was chowing down on speed I’d still make sure I drank my wheatgrass juice…”

What was the craziest gig you have ever played?

“Cro-Mags did a show with Venom in Chicago. It was our first US tour, and we went into enemy territory, there was a big divide between metal and hardcore back then. Just before we went on they were chanting ‘SKINHEADS SUCK! SKINHEADS SUCK! SKINHEADS SUCK!’ All these metalheads hated us, booing and throwing things, we went on and my bass didn’t work and they all are screaming ‘WHAT THE FUCK?!’ Cronos loaned me his bass, we started playing and this one guy was giving me the finger, so I ran and slid across to the front of the stage and punched the bridge of his nose and it just exploded. He went from giving me the finger to giving me two thumbs up. After we finished the first three songs back to back it was just silence – but by the end of the set, we owned it.”

Do you think Cro-Mags get the credit they deserve for the punk and metal crossover?

I guess they do, people still remember us. I don’t wanna suck my own dick, but we’re still here, kids are still getting turned onto us every day, and the fact that I influenced some of the bands that are huge is almost cooler that being one of the big bands. When I get Mike Patton phoning me and telling me how much he loves the new shit, that’s vindication to me: ‘Hey! I don’t suck!’”

How satisfying is it to finally get a new Cro-Mags album out after 20 years?

“It’s so liberating, it feels like getting out of prison after all these years, it’s like getting your name back, it’s indescribable.” 

Was there ever a chance of the classic Cro-Mags line-up getting back together?

“People don’t know this, but I have been in touch with all the old guys, extending the hand. Everyone’s got their issues but fuck it, man, life is short. We made an impact on people, and the fact that these motherfuckers couldn’t put their petty bullshit and ego aside and spend 40 minutes a day making thousands of people happy blows my mind!” 

Published in Metal Hammer #339

Stephen Hill

Since blagging his way onto the Hammer team a decade ago, Stephen has written countless features and reviews for the magazine, usually specialising in punk, hardcore and 90s metal, and still holds out the faint hope of one day getting his beloved U2 into the pages of the mag. He also regularly spouts his opinions on the Metal Hammer Podcast.