WARNING: Harley says some truly horrible things in this interview when confronted about the band's [alleged? confirmed?] homophobia. In retrospect, we should have ended the interview or tried to educate them on the ignorant and hurtful things they were saying, but it didn't seem the time nor place. We will contact Harley for a follow-up and see if his views have progressed.
[Originally published: Issue #3, circa 1987]
The CRO-MAGS are a truly unique band, both for their superior talent and their unrivaled devotion to their beliefs. Many derogatory things have been written about the CRO-MAGS, specifically in Maximum Rock N Roll. Before a recent show in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania, bassist Harley Flanagan took time out from his busy schedule to talk with us about the band and his fascinating personal beliefs.
How long has the band been together?
The CRO-MAGS originally formed in 1981, but we disbanded for a while. We each went off and did our own things for a couple of years, and then we reformed. We've only been working with this drummer and this guitar player for about a year. Doug Holland used to play for KRAUT. But the CRO-MAGS, as a concept and a band, began in 1981.
How did the band first get together?
Through a series of… not really coincidences, but something that was meant to be. It just fell into place like that.
Do you like the way "Age of Quarrel" turned out?
HF: I don't like the mix. I would change a few things, but I'm not worried about changing the past. I'm worried about fixing the future - making sure we don't make the same mistakes twice.
What are your religious beliefs?
My religious beliefs are that I believe in God. I believe God has arranged all of these things for us. I believe that at the time of death - unless you are fully situated in a God consciousness - you will be forced to take on another birth. And depending on your consciousness, it'll determine what body you take. For instance, if you spend your whole life trying to perfect animal activities - eating, sleeping, mating, and defending - you will be fitted with a body suitable to do those things. The human form is meant for more than that. We have more intelligence; therefore, we should be trying to figure out what the purpose of life is, not simply doing what our senses tell us. Your senses will drag you everywhere. From here to there, from hell and back. You have to make your senses serve your intelligence, rather than your intelligence serve your senses. If you just do whatever your mind tells you, you'll be jumping off roofs and shooting people, doing drugs and getting herpes and like everything else. Basically, it boils down to you've got to learn to control your mind. And that comes from understanding God and understanding that every living entity - even a blade of grass or a mosquito - has a soul that's equivalent to the soul that's inside this body. It's just that we're on a more advanced state on the evolutionary scale. But even that blade of grass will take a human birth and will be given the same opportunity. Everybody in some point in their life wonders, "What am I doing here? Why am I suffering? Why is life such a pain in the ass? Why is everything going wrong?" When you start thinking about things like that, it gives you the opportunity to start looking for real meaning in life.
How long have you been a tattoo artist? How did you start?
That's the first time anybody ever asked me that question. [to Kevin] When did I do my first tattoo on John? Yeah, that spider. Hmmmm… Well, I had started doing them by hand with pens when I was about 15, but I've only been working professionally for a year and a half, and I've been apprenticing for other artists.
How long have you been a vegetarian?
I've been a vegetarian for close to five years now. John has been a vegetarian for seven years. We're all vegetarians to a certain degree. We all watch what we intake.
How did you get into it?
I got into it through the idea of wanting to be in better shape. I was starting to exercise. For years I had known that vegetarianism is better for you. So it was strictly a physical thing, for my own health. Then, after I was a vegetarian for a while, I started to realize that the whole idea of killing other living entities just so you could chew on their flesh and eat their blood just isn't very appealing. And besides the fact, it's poison to the body. You can't digest it. Vegetarianism is definitely one of the biggest things I'm trying to push on people - not push on them, I guess expose them to. Because anybody with intelligence, when you put the facts back to back, you'll see the reality that meat eating is completely bad for you. Not only physically, but spiritually and mentally, it just really degrades you.
What are your views on alcohol abuse?
Well, I'm against any kind of abuse. Anybody who has ever done things to their capacity learns that it's a road to nowhere. It's a time waster. You spend all your time running around, trying to get money to get intoxicated, trying to find somebody who has what you want. And you're really wasting your life away chasing a carrot. Like a donkey chasing a carrot, thinking he's going to get the satisfaction. He thinks he's going to get it, but then it wears out. You come back down, so what's the point? It's a temporary, momentary, fleeting thing. I try to steer clear of those things myself.
So would you consider yourself straight-edge?
I'm probably more straight-edge than most people because I'm a vegetarian. I used to crack up when people used to tell me, "Yeah, I'm straight edge. I ain't into all those drugs." And they're munching their Whopper and drinking their Coke, and I'm like, "Yo, you're still putting chemicals in your body. At least to me, straight edge was a much deeper thing than it was back then. Like I said, I don't push anything on anybody. I give them a chance to check things out on their own.
What influences your lyrics?
The life that we've led, the life that we lead, and the things we learn in the Scriptures. I read Bhagavad-Gita (which means "the song of God" or "as it is") almost every day and that gives me a lot of encouragement and concepts 'cause it's the oldest literature on the planet. It's thousands of years old. It's ancient literature, but it's still totally relevant to what's going on today. You know, two and two is four today, and it will be next week too. That's not going to change. And just like that, the Scriptures are never going to change and it's always going to be dealing with what's going on around us. So that's where we get a lot of encouragement. Through our lives we have lots of realizations. We try to share our realizations with other people so they don't have to jump into the fire and get all burnt. They can see from someone else. I have this music, and it's the only way I have of expressing myself. I'm going to die someday, and I want to have done something of value in my life, and if that means I have opened up some people's minds, then that's the best thing I could have done. Any amount of money that I could possible make playing music will be taken away at the time of death anyway. So I'm not in it for the materialistic value of music. I'm in it 'cause it's the only way I have of expressing myself and voicing my opinion to a large amount of people. It's a really nice thing to have been given. It's a nice situation God has given me. You just have to know how to use it, not to abuse it.
What do you think is the biggest problem in the world?
There's no real knowledge of God. That's one of the biggest problems. There's so many religions, but there are so few that actually understand religion. It says in the Bible, "Thou shall not kill." But I know only one Christian who is a vegetarian. If you're actually following what Christ was teaching, then you're doing REALLY good. I don't cut down any religions, you know, as long as people are actually trying. Eventually they're going to get home because it's a natural process. If you're sincere, ultimately you'll get to where you're going.
Another problem is people always protesting war who don't understand that the reason these wars are happening, that the reason these wars are happening, is because of the fact that we're breaking the laws of nature. We set up death camps to slaughter millions of animals a day all over the world. These animals are dyeing unnatural deaths. All these people are getting abortions. In reality, there's already a war going on against the animals and the unborn children. That's a war, man. That's the most brutal war that's happening because they're completely helpless. So that's one of the main reasons the world is in such a hellish predicament.
Are you politically active?
No. I think politicians are completely bogus.
Do you vote?
Well, I just turned 20 and I haven't voted yet. I don't find politicians to have anything really to say for me because they're all cheaters. They're not actually out for the nation, they're looking out to keep their positions. And they'll do whatever they have to do to get voted in again. I just don't find politicians having anything of value to say. They say, "Taxes this, taxes that…" Forget about taxes. What about the world's problems? They're not going to get solved by fixing up the subway or building more missiles. They day that they have an actual devout, religious person who's trying to run the country the way God wants it run, I'll vote for him. And the Scriptures are there to show us how to run everything. So there's no excuse of not having the knowledge, because the knowledge was given to us when the material universe came to be.
Do you believe in anarchy?
I believe that there is anarchy, but I don't believe in it. I think it's chaos. No order. What can you expect to accomplish? They'll get old, have kids, and have to support them. Big deal. It's just another false statement from a bunch of teenagers who want to scream about something. Last generation they were screaming one thing, this time they're screaming this, next time they'll be screaming something else. They're not looking for real answers.
What's the Food for Life program and what's your role in it?
The Food for Live program is sponsored by Iscon. Vegetarian food is prepared and offered to the Supreme Lord. It's distributed worldwide, all over India, all over America. All over the world they have FFL programs for feeding the homeless and feeding whoever is hungry. I used to help run the FFL program in New York because, when I used to live on the streets myself, that was like my only means of eating. I also really admire what they're doing. I respect it, and any way I can help, I always will. I'd rather do something positive with my time than something false.
Many people claim that the CRO-MAGS are homophobic. Do you fear or hate homosexuals?
HARLEY: I find that to be really funny because of the whole album, we say "faggots" once! I mean, come on, man! What's the big deal? I don't care what they do behind close doors or in public, but I'm not going to say that it's right. Because it's wrong. It's wrong. I ain't homophobic. There's thousands of faggots in New York and I don't care. I mean, I walk down the street, I don't care. It does not phase me. I think they're disgusting, but I'm not going to dwell on it. Why do you think there are things like AIDS floating around to deal with people like that? I really don't care. And anyway, that whole line is…
KEVIN: "Corruption and faggots all around me."
HARLEY: Yeah. "Corruption and faggots all around me…" "I'm looking around and what do I see / Corruption and faggots all around me." And that's a statement coming from a teenager in New York, and it's true 'cause everywhere you look you see total corruption. You see people living in burnt-out buildings, people sleeping on the street, and there's the guy driving by in a Cadillac. And then over here, there's two rich upper-class American faggots walking through this poor neighborhood, and they're like paying thousands of dollars for this little bummy apartment, you know, making the rent shoot up. No, I don't respect that. Yeah, corruption and faggots are all around us.
KEVIN: Also, the word "homophobic" was made up by faggots to make people paranoid about saying anything against homosexuals.
HARLEY: Yeah, that was Kevin. He's the one with the brains. [laughter] I'm not even going to dwell on it.
How long have you been into the hardcore scene?
Since it began. I was into punk rock in 1977. I was 10 years old, and I've been with the movement ever since. I've watch it due, I've watch it revive, I've watched it die a number of times. I've watched it turn into hardcore and so forth. Now I'm watching the heavy metal kids get involved. It's just something I'm supposed to be surrounded by, I guess.
Aside from other hardcore or thrash bands, what other forms of music influence your or do you listen to?
Everything. You'd be amazed by the variety of music that gets played by this band. I listen to a lot of John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and a lot of Indian music - changing and different mantras. That's very soothing I listen to a lot of jazz fusion, Santana, and one of my favorite bands, BLACK SABBATH. It's endless. You could take our tastes in every direction and strike home. I used to limit myself. I used to be like, "This is what I'm into, and forget everything else." But now I think it's more beneficial for me to open up to things. If something's wrong, then just accept. It. You open up but you don't go for everything. You don't have the mentality of "Oh, free. Everything is wonderful." It's not like that, but it's good to be open-minded.
How do you feel about the current crossover of metal and hardcore, both musically and lyrically?
Lyrically, I find that most of these kids have nothing of value to say. MOST of them, not all of them. There are a number of bands that have positive vibes about them. Generally, I find that the real negative bands have nothing to offer. What is anybody benefiting from that? Nothing. I'm glad the crossover thing happened because it gives hardcore bands the chance to finally accomplish something with their music. I know, myself, I've been playing all my life. I have no school education. I have no job. I would not function if I wasn't doing what I'm doing. I think it's great 'cause it gives us a chance. I also like a lot of speedmetal bands - not all of them. I like METALLICA and ANTHRAX and a few others. A lot of them are really cool people. Of course, in a way, hardcore is selling out, you could say, by opening up. I think that it's a really great thing. The only think I don't like is the politics of the music industry and the commercial aspects of it. You know, people ripping each other off, everybody trying to get a piece of the pie. But no one understands what it's all about. That's what I resent..
When can we expect a second album?
HF: We're working on it right now. We'll be doing some new songs tonight. It should be out in September.
Where was your live video ("We Gotta Know") filmed?
It was filmed all across the country on the tour we did with MOTORHEAD. Practically every club was a different place.
What with the video and the articles in big magazines, are you pleased with all of the exposure the CRO-MAGS are getting?
Yeah! I ain't gonna complain! I mean, even a bad article is a good one. God knows we got blackballed enough over the years. Enough people hate us. I don't really care. It doesn't bother me. I laugh at hem off because the same people who hated me years ago when I was nowhere are trying to kiss my ass now or are hiding from me because they don't want to deal with the fact that they couldn't stop me. So, I don't care.
What do you do in your spare time?
I have no spare time!!! I do tattoos, I play music, I go to the temple. If anyone wants to know anything about our spiritual beliefs, they should try to check out any Hare Krishna temple near them. Or any Iscon [International Society for Krishna Consciousness] center. Try to come in contact with devotees. If you want to check out a vegetarian lifestyle, it's a great place to start because they're great cooks and they can teach you a lot about food and they can teach you a lot about spiritual awareness. So, anybody who's interested should really check them out.
A while back, someone wrote a letter to Maximum RockNRoll…
Oh, people have written millions… that's the only one you've read? I can't even count them! I've lost track! They've written so much garbage about us. Anyway…
The question I was getting to is, how do you feel about violence at shows?
I'm not into it. I don't like seeing violence at gigs or people getting hurt at my shows. If there's a reason to stick up for yourself, violence is there. I mean, violence is a part of life. It's there. But I'm not going to go along with a lot of the things people are using as an excuse to fight about. No, I'm not into violence at shows, but there is a time and a place for it. And I'm not going to deny that I've used force at times. I'm also not an aggressor. I don't think people should hassle each other.
Which show was your favorite and what?
I don't know. It varies because some of my favorite shows were like in front of nobody in little clubs. I kind of liked the atmosphere best at this outdoor show we did in Austin, Texas. That was really nice. I liked the idea of playing under the stars at night and looking up and seeing the moon. I thought that was really beautiful. The CRO-MAGS' biggest places are probably New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. But even everywhere else, they give us a really good response. We've had problems only twice, but they were really minor. In one place, this one gang wanted to start some probales with us but then they realized that there were about 300 skinheads there that really liked us. So they started getting rowdy. And, you know, I dedicated a song to my boys there. I said, "This one is for all the L.A. skins!" and like 300 dudes were like, "Yeahhhh!" and the dudes who were hassling us were like, "Yo, later, man." And yesterday, some skinheads from Richmond were outside talking about beating up all the Hari Krishnas and they started threatening a friend of mine who was outside by himself .So we went out there, and they were gone. It's just such punk stuff - I don't mean punk as in punk rocker, I mean wuss. You know, soft. People like to talk a lot of trash, but they don't have anything to back it up because there's no sincerity. What is their reason for hating somebody for their feelings? Why does somebody want to give me a hard time because of what's in my mind? So there can't really be any sincerity, so he's not going to win, because he's not right. That's why I have no fear of fighting for what I believe in. Because the sincerity is there and I'll go down fighting for it. Because if it's in my heart, then that's what matters to me.
Are you friends with other New York hardcore bands?
I'm friends with a lot of people. And the people who aren't my friends, they pretend to be my friends because they don't want none. They ain't with it. [laughter]
In what direction would you like the CRO-MAGS to go?
What's in the near future for the CRO-MAGS?
Only God can tell us that. I could die when I leave this room.
Where can we get in touch with the CRO-MAGS?
You can send stuff to us through Rock Hotel Records and we will get it./ We appreciate all mail. We don't always get to write back, but we read every letter that we get.
Any last words?
One thing I can say is, if anybody is having any kind of difficulties accomplishing anything in life or you don't know where your head is going and you feel like life means nothing, simply chant, "Hare KrishnaHare Krishna Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare rama Hare," and your life will be sublime. You've got to keep doing it though. It works for me.