Harley Flanagan and the Lower East Side

Posted on: July 11th, 2012 at 6:40 am by
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With Cro-Mags on the mainstream agenda for the first time in…well, awhile, let’s take a historical journey into Harley Flanagan and the Lower East Side.

You’ll recall that the founding bassist stabbed current bassist Michael Couls and William Berario during the CBGB Festival show at Webster Hall Friday evening. It was a night of hardcore, headlined by Sick of it All, and supported by Cro-Mags and VOD. As a result, Flanagan was mauled by security and carted away by cops, slapped with two counts of second-degree assault and weapons possession charges.

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Photo by Dave Gustav

Anyway, in light of the recent tumult, NY Natives started passing links to a recent candid conversation with the man.  We’ve republished some choice excerpts from the exchange here:

As far as the scene, like Punk and Hardcore kids – we had a couple of crash pads and apartments like Apt X on Norfolk Street- a totally illegal basement apartment. A couple people had apartments that we all crashed at and a few squats, but for the most part the only people who really lived in the area besides the locals Puerto Ricans, the gangs drug trafficking, the families that had been there for generations and a few old school punk rockers /artists … the ones who had sort of gotten their shit together like Richard Hell and the Ramones.

There was a certain level of freedom there and I don’t know if kids have access to the kind of adventure that we had – it was before the Internet so it was a totally different world. People were still creating stuff, people were still doing things, people weren’t all about a phone in the palm of their hand walking down the street.

That grittiness is not here anymore and it really feels to me like they are doing everything they can to get rid of it. And it’s unfortunate because that was the magnet that brought everyone here in the first place. So now you’ve got a bunch of people coming here for that energy and that energy, in my opinion, is no longer here. I hate to say that about my own city, but I honestly feel like it’s not my city anymore.

Twelfth Street and Avenue A – my block – was run by one of the local Puerto Rican gangs, the Hitmen. When you walked down my block, or anywhere in my neighborhood, all you heard was salsa and meringue – strictly Spanish music. And all the signs were in Spanish. At night, all the old school cats from the block would be singing doo-wop and Motown classics – complete with all the harmonies and shit. You’d hear gunshots in the distance and roosters crowing at sunset, ‘cause they used to do a lot of cock fighting in my neighborhood – as well as a lot of dog fighting.

You know how there’s always steps leading down into the buildings on the LES, like, leading into the cellars? Usually, if you go down those steps, you can go through the back of the building and out the back door, and there’s all kinds of alleys that run through behind most of the buildings. I’m sure most of that shit is shut down now, but back then, all that shit was unlocked, and I would explore. I knew how to enter one building through their basement, and come out a half a block away on the other side of the block. All kinds of escape routes. I would walk all the way to the river, and all the way to Chinatown.

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