Ex-con, ex-drug addict, and frontman for the legendary Cro-Mags, John Joseph was exposed to the harsh realities of the Lower East Side during the late ’70s and ’80s and lived to tell about it.
The punk rock singer now gives a candid three-hour walking tour of Alphabet City and takes you beyond the trendy upscale boutiques, coffee shops and condominiums that you see now, to the great music, drugs and violence that used to inhabit the surrounding area.
Life for John was anything but easy. “I never experienced peace in my life, it was always chaos,” John explains. With an abusive and alcoholic father, John was placed in foster care at a very young age. By the age of twelve, John had had enough of the system and decided he would reside on the dangerous streets of New York. “I was in a foster home in ’75-’76 and I couldn’t take it anymore. I went out on the streets and that was it.”
It was not long before he was introduced to the drug and crime world of the Lower East Side and at fourteen he was arrested. After spending two years in the worst juvenile prisons in NY State, Spafford and Lincolndale, John helped form the New York hardcore punk band Cro-Mags in 1984.
Almost thirty years later, the one time squatter of the Lower East Side shares the culture and the significance of the area that has been lost in the recent years with the gentrification of the city. “I refuse to call it the Village” John says. “It’s either Alphabet City or Lower East Side.”
Looking at the trendy shops and sushi restaurants it is hard to believe that the Bowery was one of the most dangerous areas of New York. The saying during the 1980s was “Stay in school or you’ll end up in the Bowery.” John jokes that it was the only place a person could get robbed twice in one day. Salvation Armys, Hells Angel Clubhouses, winos, punk clubs, gang hangouts and drug spots occupied the LES during the 1980s.
John’s recollection of what took place during his years spent living in the LES is remarkable. He shares his anecdotes and funny stores of the crazy things that he’s seen go down. Everything from living below a murderer (The Alphabet City Butcher Daniel Rakowitz), scuffling with the Guardian of St. Marks Ave John Spacely, (whom the big rock stars came to cop from when in NYC) to witnessing the Tompkins Square Police Riot is perfectly portrayed. He takes you to the famous CBGB’s location where The Ramones and so many other legendary punk bands started, the Electric Circus where the likes of Bad Brains, Crass and so many others jammed, Max’s Kansas City and so much more.
Throughout his crazy and hectic life, John was able to find the time to detail his infamous life in his 2008 autobiography, “The Evolution Of A Cro-Magnon,” as well as write a guide to healthy living titled, “Meat is for Pussies” (John is a dedicated vegan).
Immersed in the danger and growing up on the streets of NYC since the age of fourteen, John gives a first hand account of the punk rock and crime that so many people don’t know about.
What more could you ask for in a tour guide?
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