Cro-Mags Singer John Joseph Thinks New York City Has ‘Lost Its Edge’
"It's New York, so there have been tour companies here forever. But I had never seen or heard of one that gave people a look at the other side of what this city has to offer," says John Joseph. The Cro-Mags vocalist is on the phone with Noisecreep promoting The History of Art, Crime, Drugs and Punk Rock on the Lower East Side, a walking tour in NYC that he created and hosts. "I wanted to show people where all of the punk rock and new wave stuff that came out of here started. There is so much history contained within Manhattan, especially downtown."
You would be hard-pressed to meet someone with more knowledge about the Lower East Side of Manhattan music scene than Joseph. Before he even started fronting the Cro-Mags, the Queens native was part of the thriving punk and hardcore scenes that was partly borne out of downtown music venues like Max's Kansas City, Great Gildersleeves, and of course, CBGB's. "It was all happening down here. There were so many creative people drawn to the city. We had people coming from all over the world to check out what was happening down here," remembers Joseph.
When the punk and hardcore scenes were developing in the late '70s and early '80s, downtown Manhattan was still an affordable place to live if you were a young artist, but the gentrification of the area in the '90s changed all that. Noisecreep asked Joseph if the place had lost its flavor in the decades since the rent prices went up. "What flavor? There's not even any food on the table now [laughs]. The guy who owned CBGB's, Hilly Kristal, used to let anyone come down and play his club as long as you played original material. He didn't care about the style you were playing or if you were trendy or not. There isn't a venue around today with that kind of spirit."
Watch 'Hard Times' from Cro-Mags
While Joseph is still a resident of lower Manhattan but he longs for the days when the city had more of an edge. "New York City used to be a city of art, music and culture. It's become a place where you either have money or you don't and if you don't – f--- off. It's come to that and it's disgusting! The city has lost its edge. I look at the big picture. Everyone has been dumbed-down to not thrive to be an artist. People have been programmed to think if you're black then you play basketball or otherwise you go to prison. I'm talking about crazy s---t like that.
"Punk rock was all about questioning authority, but if you're a band today with something to say, you're not getting played on the radio or MTV. We're [Cro-Mags] lucky because we've been around a long time. We can play places here like Roseland and Irving Plaza, but can do the up and coming bands do? There's no support for the younger musicians trying to do something different. That's why I love doing this walking tour thing. I get to show people and remind them of how cool New York used to be for artists and people trying to do something outside of the norm."
You can buy tickets to the tour here.