A city walk with John Joseph of Cro-Mags



No one is able to convey the picture of a faded artistically milieu as intensely and realistically as the protagonists themselves. Therefore it’s not really astonishing, that city tours, conceived and carried out by musicians enjoy a great popularity. In Manchester, Craig Gill, the drummer of Inspiral Carpets, drives his city-tour-bus from the former Factory label-office, via the Smiths’ practice space, to Hacienda — which now contains condos, only the, cynically, kept name is still evocative of the club, Subculture as marketing-moment.
In New York City John Joseph, singer of the hardcore band Cro-Mags, offers a city-walk to all the places in which Hardcore-history was made in the late 80s/early 90s. Mesut Gürsoy, member of the Audiolith band Tubbe, took a walk on the (former) wild side with him.


NY_CityWalkAstor Place (1)
Together with 20 more participants I’m meeting a casually clothed John Joseph, who looks younger than expected. He is not at all as aloof and frightening as his colorful biography might suggest. He is nice, approachable — and an excellent entertainer. It’s not as if he has to do a lot, we are seeing all to well where we are standing, but from the start of our so called city walk Joseph stresses that we should brace ourselves for one thing: nothing is, as it used to be.
How true: looking eastward, down the seemingly harmless E 9th Street doesn’t suggest that this used to be the drug mafia’s biggest heroin hub in the USA, for whom Joseph used to work as a drug mule as early as 15.
Opposite our meeting point is a newsstand, it was the prime point to go to snatch the “”Village Voice” — during pre-internet periods it was the only source to learn about the latest events of the local artist- and hardcore-scene.





Bowery (2)
“Do you want to end up on the Bowery?” These cautionary words, have been hurled at New York kids if their efforts in school weren’t up to scratch, during his schooldays tells us Joseph. The Bowery used to be one of the most notorious parts of New York, known for criminality, and violence.
The drug war controlled the are. Pleasant side effect: no one besides the protagonists of the scene wanted to live there, therefore they were able to acquire apartments for one dollar — as long as they could proof that they repair them. This was a complimentary ticket for property sharks, drug gangs, and also penniless punks and musicians likewise. Nowadays restaurants and cafes are strung together along the Bowery, and only a handful of the houses with the typical fire-escapes are not yet renovated entirely. A few acquaintances are greeting John in passing, and the random encounters with a couple of street artists, with for the most part heavily tattooed bodies seem like a little travel trough time.

CBGBs (176 Bowery St) (3)
CBGB’s sadly can’t be found at 176 Bowery St anymore. In 2007 the club hat to close its doors for ever as part of the city’s “cleanings”. Since the middle of the 70s countless punk- and hardcore legends played there, like Blondie, Henry Rollins, Beastie Boys, Bad Brains, Ramones — and certainly the Cro-Mags as well. John Joseph tells us, that it happened a lot, that huge acts played a secret gig at CBGB’s apart from their shows at Madison Square Garden, just to have it be a part of their biography.
There was a fierce competition to Max’s Kansas City further up north , where the tour will lead later on. You either played here or there, but certainly not at both clubs.
The Hell’s Angels were enforcing the order at CBGB’s, if needed with violence. Many of them were handymen and were allowed to carry tools and hammers legally, which they used as weapons, John Joseph tells. Nowadays, after long lasting legal proceedings about the continuation of the club, the building contains a fancy “Rock’n’Roll” clothing boutique, with high end clothing, a Slingerland drum set for decoration and expensive books — about CBGB’s.


204 E 13th St (4)
After numerous waypoints (tattoo studio, street art) and shocking tales about Joseph’s encounters with New York’s mass murderers, the walking tour reaches another highlight, the address of the final shooting scene of the movie “Taxi Driver”. It is well known that director Martin Scorsese preferred to shoot on the lower East Side, “Taxi Driver” came almost completely into bin in the neighborhood. Many mafia movies wanted to capture its authentic criminal atmosphere. Joseph told us: “Only the phonies lived in Little Italy. The real bad boys lived here.”
Coincidentally a open-top sightseeing bus roles by and their tour guide engages in an amusing exchange of blows with Joseph over who has the better tour.
The bus group breaks the ground: “Are you entertained?” — “Yeaah!!”
It’s our turn afterwards. John: “Are YOU entertained?” — “Yeeeaaah!!!”
We indubitably win.






Max´s Kansas City (213 Park Ave S) (5)
The tour reaches its final address: 213 Park Avenue, north-eastern of Union Square. At the point where once the notorious club Max’s Kansas City was situated on the first floor, now is the W Hotel. At least there are still pictures of the numerous bands, who once played there mounted at the walls of the side entrance. David Bowie and John Lennon just as the Beastie Boys — back than as support for Cro-Mags, awashed with the customary hail of catcalls. Andy Warhol and Velvet Underground were regulars, especially considering that Warhol’s Factory was situated right around the corner.
The tour ends with the obligatory group photo, shake hands and a last surprise after checking the time: A total of four hours has passed.
“Time flies when you’re having fun.”



(Translation: Denise Oemcke)

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