In recent years there’s been a consistent stream of books, movies, and TV shows covering the vibrant New York music scene of the 1970s and 1980s, and just as many about the crime and violence happening on those same gritty streets. People usually get it all wrong <cough> Vinyl <cough>, but Harley Flanagan’s autobiography, Hardcore: Life Of My Own, gets it 100% right. While his bands (Cro-Mags, Stimulators and Harley’s War) aren’t my thing, Flanagan was one of the few New Yorkers who was neck deep in music and the street life, and his book recalls both in vivid, and often frightening, detail – like it really was, completely unromanticized. Born to an alcoholic, but nurturing, mother and a criminal/addict father who left the family early on, Harley’s life was insane, pretty much from the start. While most kids were playing ball, he was seeing shows at Max’s Kansas City at six (his mother worked there), publishing a book of poems at nine with a forward by family-friend Allen Ginsburg, living a nomadic life in Europe with his mother, and drumming in a Danish punk band at age ten. Things only got crazier from there, as Flanagan – now a skinhead – and his mother moved back to Alphabet City when it was a modern-day wild west. With constant pressure from locals who didn’t like the “crazy-looking” punks invading their neighborhood, he dropped out of school at fourteen and hit the streets hard. There his life was a mix of drugs, alcohol, beat-downs, and crime as he struggled to simply stay alive amidst a minefield of gangs, rival punks, and even a shotgun-wielding hitman in a pig mask out to collect a bounty on him. It was an ugly life, and the teenage Flanagan was a vicious street rat with no redeeming qualities other than the fact he could play an instrument, though I have no idea how he found time to practice and write with all the chaos around him. As bad as things got, and they got god-awful, you cannot turn away from the hundreds of pages of fascinating stories from an era of New York that no longer exists (which is probably for the best, though people like to wax poetic about the old days). Harley writes about squatting in an abandoned San Francisco brewery, living with violent satanic Nazi skinheads (!) in Canada, and his career in music, of course. While the whole book has tremendous visceral impact, I keep thinking a chapter on the 1990s where he tells readers he left out a lot of details because he doesn’t want his kids reading it. In a book where he cops to about fifty crimes, freely uses the word “fag”, and recounts performing at a Nazi skinhead concert (to be fair he didn’t know what it was until he got there – though he still played), the notion that there’s stuff so bad he doesn’t want his kids reading it is frightening. Thankfully, the book has a happy ending, with Flanagan, now 49 and a parent of two, putting his wild days behind him and finding a new career teaching Jiu-Jitsu to children (including Anthony Bourdain’s – he returns the favor by writing the forward). Throughout the book he often says “I could probably write a whole book just on this part of my life”, and based on what I’ve read, I 100% believe him. In fact, I want him to! I also want a “where are they now” section dedicated to all the crazy characters he ran with over the years. Don’t be surprised if Hardcore: A Life Of My Own gets made into a film or TV series somewhere down the road. In fact, I’ll be disappointed if it isn’t. Fascinating stuff.