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Cro-Mags: No gods. No idols. No stagediving.

Thursday 18th, May 2017 / 12:00
By Christine Leonard

“We’re just gonna play music… that’s what people want.”

CALGARY – It’s not easy catching up with John ‘Bloodclot’ Joseph McGowan. The triathlete, hardcore pundit and frontman to the legendary punk outfit Cro-Mags has been a provocative mover-shaker since the early ‘80s and yet still possesses enough endurance to run an Ironman marathon and then crowd surf until dawn. McGowan’s current trifecta of Herculean tasks includes recording with his other band (Bloodclot), crisscrossing the country to perform with his long-time act and promoting the re-release of his soul baring 2007 autobiography The Evolution of a Cro-Magnon. All this has left him with little time for distractions.

“Sorry, I’m on the road,” McGowan explains of his elusiveness.

“I left my phone in one place in L.A. and then I was running around and then I had a meeting where I had to have my phone off.”

And, his wallet?

Safely chained to his leg, thanks.

“That’s funny, I was just in El Segundo! We stayed at Venice Beach, but we went to the veggie restaurants in El Segundo. Not a place I really wanna live… It’s not my style; I love New York.”

Yes, he does love New York. And if a McGowan-led walking tour of the boroughs doesn’t confirm it, then the gritty accounts provided in his paperback will.

Despite having been published a decade ago, interest in McGowan’s ascension to punk rock infamy has not cooled.

“Well, it’s been 10 years and I always wanted to put out more copies,” he notes.

“We did 10000 copies on our own, but everybody’s been askin’, because it’s hard to get and people were charging three or four hundred dollars for it online and ripping people off. So, I thought, ‘alright let’s put out a digital edition and a small print run so everybody can get a copy.’ And then, you know, I had to update some stuff, put in some new pictures and a new afterword to bring it up to date a little bit. I also redid the audiobook which is 19 hours!”

Editing his autobiography again brought up some vivid memories for the headstrong singer, but it also reaffirmed that the past, no matter how checkered, is still very much a part of his every day existence.

“I guess if anything, that’s what you can take away from my whole story. You’ve got to fight through the bad stuff in life and not give up. And that’s kinda been my story since I was a kid.”

Crediting his Hare Krishna background and a vegan lifestyle with setting him on the path to spiritual contentment, the straight-edged vocalist’s focus remains firmly fixed on uplifting the band’s performance and reputation.

“My role is to just do what I’ve always done, and that is go out and play the songs to the best of my ability and not make excuses. That’s why I choose to stay sober and bring that energy to the stage every night. And that’s why who’s in the band is and who ain’t ain’t. It’s for a reason that this line-up exists. We’ve got (drummer) Mackie Jayson who played on the records, and (guitarist) A.J. Novello been in the band since ‘92, and Craig Scully (Sick of It All), or this cat Casey who fills in when he’s not available,” John Joseph continues. “And, I was there since ‘81.”

Okay. Here we go.

“Although a lot of people say it was ‘84. It wasn’t. It was ‘81, when the band first started.”

It’s the original punk rock soap opera. Who started what when? Everyone has their own version of events, but all concerned agree that Cro-Mag’s September 1986 debut Age of Quarrel, and to a lesser degree 1989’s Best Wishes (both on Profile Records), embodied and informed the emerging East Coast hardcore scene. The raw and raucous, yet true-to-life, songs attracted ardent fans and left an indelible impression (cough) on fellow musicians with their street savvy punk/metal riffs.

“It’s taken a while with all of the damage that was done to the band by other individuals doing crummy shows and starting fights with fans and doing stupid shit,” rails McGowan. “It’s taken a good 10 years to build the good name of the Cro-Mags back and that’s what we’ve done. That’s why the last two runs that we did were completely sold-out every night, ‘cuz they know that we’re gonna come out there and, we’re not gonna talk shit, we’re just gonna play music. And that’s what people want.”

Cro-Mags perform May 26 at the Needle Vinyl Tavern (Edmonton), May 27 at the Marquee Beer Market & Stage (Calgary), and on Sunday, May 28 at the Rickshaw (Vancouver). 

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