Ever Been Punched in the Face by a Book? - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Ever Been Punched in the Face by a Book?

Ever Been Punched in the Face by a Book?

By Eugene S. Robinson

Harley Flanagan (left) and Anthony Bourdain.
SourceCourtesy of Harley Flanagan


Because how many times has a book made you want to come up swinging?

By Eugene S. Robinson

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It’s an impossible story, and one highly unlikely to happen again. After all, it’s not many ages, other than the Age of Aquarius, that would see a mom letting her 10-year-old son go off on a tour of anarchist festivals with two 20-something French guys. But in Christiania, Denmark, in the early ’70s, that’s where Harley Flanagan, founder of New York hard-core stalwarts the Cro-Mags, found himself, and it’s very precisely his zag from the standard pathways that gave birth to his new book, Hard-Core: Life of My Own

According to celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain’s cover blurb, “[T]his book is the punch in the face you want and need,” and that’s just the tip of a much more unlikely iceberg to be considered when you consider Flanagan’s life. 

“Anthony’s mad cool,” says Flanagan, as he rushes to the Renzo Gracie academy in midtown Manhattan, where as a Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt, a designation as hard to earn as a Ph.D. in just about anything else, he teaches the kids’ classes and gives private lessons to Bourdain. But this is not about Bourdain. It’s not even really about Flanagan. It’s about Flanagan’s book.

Those fuckers ain’t nothing but a bunch of faded tattoos. And if they got beef, I got beef.

Harley Flanagan

“We’d talk and he’d tell me these crazy stories,” says Adam Parfrey, publisher at the seminal Feral Press. “They were crazy, but they were all absolutely true.” Stories about taking more and harder drugs than many people still walking around, and fighting more people and still walking around talking about it, including his most recent stabbing — and headline-grabbing — escapade at famed nightspot Webster Hall that landed Flanagan on Rikers Island and his three attackers in the hospital. Flanagan was quickly exonerated, and just as quickly, the festival of unlikely continued for the 49-year-old, with a marriage to a hotshot lawyer/private equity attorney who, in her scant spare time, edited his book.

Gettyimages 138338900

Harley Flanagan performing with American hard-core thrash-punk band the Cro-Mags in 1987.

Source Stacia Timonere / Getty

“She kept me focused,” Flanagan says of his wife. “Which was hard for a lot of those years.” Years that included hanging out with the Clash, Andy Warhol, Allen Ginsberg (who, before Flanagan was a teenager, had published his first book), Debbie Harry and Motörhead’s Lemmy, and using the near birthplace of punk, CBGB, as his playroom. Years that included him touring the globe with the Cro-Mags. Years that included him living on the streets, beginning at the age of 14. Not easy streets, not the Lower East Side of today with its boutiques, eateries and tech bros aplenty, but the Lower East Side where you might get stabbed. These are Harley the survivor stories.

There are also Harley the perpetrator stories, ones involving robberies, muggings and all manner of drug-fueled felonies. Stories that he tells daring you to dislike him. 

“I remembered him from my ’80s days in the East Village hanging out in Tompkins Square Park and on Avenues A and B nursing large bottles of beer with screw caps,” says Parfrey. “I tried to avoid Harley and his buddies whenever I walked by.” And these were the scene outsiders. The scene insiders, a scene Flanagan could claim lots of responsibility for? Still heavily divided, and the air is thick with rumors of contracts being put out on his life in the aftermath of the long-brewing beefs that bubbled over at Webster Hall.

“Those fuckers ain’t nothing but a bunch of faded tattoos,” says Flanagan, laughing. “And if they got beef, I got beef.” After 448 pummeling pages? More true than not. With — spoiler alert — a happy ending to boot.

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