The Evolution of A Cro-Magnon By John Joseph

9 Overall Score
Prose: 8/10
Storytelling : 10/10
Readability : 9/10

Raw | Honest | Unflinching | Detailed

May be too extreme for the faint of heart.

New York  Hardcore (NYHC to those in the know) is a very distinct and nuanced sun-genre of punk rock. It is categorized by being faster, harder, and more violent. It was a reaction to a place and time by those individuals living it on the streets.

John Joseph is one of those individuals. As the lead singer for the seminal NYCH band The Cro-Mags, he saw it all first hand. All of which he writes about in his new memoir The Evolution of A Cro-Magnon. Like the music he played, Joseph’s book is raw, intense, rage-filled and certainly holds back no punches at all. It jumps into the pit screaming and flailing limbs.

The book starts off with Joseph’s childhood, which like the rest of his life, was not an easy one. He openly discusses his parents’ drug use, mental illness, and destructive impulses.  He, in fact, calls his father’s behavior as a “campaign of terror against my mom”. He is a good writer, putting vivid images in the reader’s mind by describing childhood hardships. One later distinct image that comes to mind is his description of his then foster mother scraping Oreo cookie stuffing and spreading it in between two pieces of bread for sandwiches.

But most folks are going to read this book for the more formative years of Josephs life, and there is plenty of that. Joseph candidly describes criminal activities, his incarcerations as a juvenile, his time in the Navy, his joining the Hare Krishnas (a life changing moment for MANY in the NYHC scene) and of course his singing for the Cro-Mags.

If I can describe the book with any one word, it would be ‘passion’. Say what you will about his opinions and views, Joseph puts passion behind it all and that makes it easy to at least come to a place of understanding with him and his actions, even if you find some choices difficult or hard to agree with.

The book’s structure also keeps it going. He alternates from anecdotes about himself to talks (which feel like they are directly at the reader) about his spirituality and beliefs regarding religion, the afterlife, and lifestyle philosophies. This blends with the more episodic segments and makes for a great dynamic. It keeps things changed up.

I have to admit, I didn’t know much about the Cro-Mags or John Joseph before this book. I was always more of a pop-punk guy than an NYHC guy. However, I wast still engaged, shocked, interested and moved by this book. I even started to give the Cro-Mags another listen, and found a new appreciation for them.  Music memoirs are always at least a little interesting to me, as musicians tend to have interesting lives. But this is on a whole other level, and easily appeals to anyone who wants to read about someone overcoming obstacles and a very specific period of New York. You really don’t have to know anything about hardcore to enjoy this book. But aficionados of the genre will find it to be that much more engaging. Either way, it’s an eye-opening read about a hard life lived to the fullest.


Author: Manny Gomez View all posts by
Manny Gomez is a freelance writer based out of Florida's west coast. He obsessively reads interviews, binge watches TV shows, loves comics, movies, punk rock, hip-hop, stand-up comedy, detective novels and the mythology of baseball. His best friend is a dog. Follow him on Twitter @Manny1138

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