In his autobiography, John recounts his hard times and spiritual redemption. A traumatic childhood in foster homes was just the beginning of John’s evolution. Before fronting one of the most important bands in the underground punk scene, the Cro-Mags, as well as Bloodclot, John faced homelessness, addiction, betrayal and insanity. Still, even his success couldn’t save him from a relapse that set him back to square one – rock bottom. The book is a raw and unapologetic autobiography about his life. Consider yourself warned. The events mentioned may or may not coincide with your life but the symptoms and remedies would surely do. The placid demonstration of truth presents an unmasked picture of his life.
On the announcement of the re-release of his book, John shared “A lot of stuff has happened since we released the book in 2007. I’ve updated information, added a couple of chapters and photos, but the message stays the same. I want to show others that no matter what they are going through in life, they have to never quit and never surrender. If you are willing to fight through it, you can get through anything.”
John spends time mentoring at-risk and incarcerated youths & adults, feeding the homeless and participating in charitable organizations that impact the streets he grew up on in New York City. He also has many other projects in the works including books, films and TV projects. Additionally, he is a competitive Ironman triathlete, having participated in 8 events including last year’s KONA World Championship. He’s replaced the Iron Bars of the prison system with the Ironman Triathlon as a way to constantly challenge himself physically, mentally and spiritually. John has also written another book, “Meat is For Pussies,” which is an in-your-face look at guys’ health which has become an underground success and has helped thousands of men change their bad eating habits and lifestyles.
Caryn: Hello everybody! Hello everybody! I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’re listening to It’s All About Food. I’m so glad you’re joining me today. We have got one great show for you. I’m here in the Progressive Radio Network studio and I’m looking at the beautiful blue eyes of John Joseph my guest. They are blue aren’t they? Very blue! I’m really excited to have him here and to speak with him. We’re here to talk about the re-release of his book The Evolution of a Cro-Magnon where he recounts his hard times and spiritual redemption in this autobiography. A traumatic childhood that is a gentle way to put your story, John. In foster homes, just the beginning of John’s evolution he fronted one of the most important bands in the underground punk scene, the Cro-Mags, as well as Blood Clot and he faced homelessness, addiction, betrayal, insanity and today in 2017 he is one awesome specimen of a man. I am very happy to know you John Joseph and welcome to It’s All About Food.
John: Thank you for having me back. It’s been about 7 years. Might I say that you’ve aged like a fine wine. You look great, and that’s coming from a sober person.
Caryn: I wanted to say- my birthday is this Saturday. It’s Earth Day, my birthday. I will be 59 and I’m 4 years older than you. I want to talk a bit about that because we were growing up in the same scene in some of the same places. When I read your book, it brought back memories. Your book is- there are no words. I was just heartbroken for the whole scene that we live in a world that is so cruel.
John: I just gave the book to someone else- a friend of mine- and she said I can’t believe the stuff that your foster family did to you. I said, listen- there’s people out there doing a lot worse stuff to kids. I’ve heard, because I work with kids who are incarcerated, I go to prisons and I speak and I go to high schools and lockups and I get a chance to mentor these kids and the stuff that I went through, as crazy as it was and messed up, there’s a lot worse stuff that goes on to kids now a days.
Caryn: You say that a number of times, that what you went through isn’t as bad as what you’ve heard other people have gone through. It’s just mind-boggling. You talk about your foster mom and this one situation where you were fed what you call the “Oreo spit” sandwich.
Caryn: This show is called It’s All About Food so I like to bring up the food items. She would scrape the cream off with her mouth…
John: With her teeth…and she didn’t like the cream, she just liked the wafers, so she would spit it in a bowl and then whatever moldy bread was laying in the bottom of the bread drawer, she would put it on that and that’s what we got fed every single day with tea. That was it. They fed us the same food as they did the dog at the same time to show us where we fell on the food chain and how insignificant…I mean, the whole time we were there- almost 7 years, they tried to make us feel insignificant and worthless. They told us constantly no body else wants you; you’re lucky to be here. Even would take me to the nut house and say if I open my mouth this is where I’m going to end up and no ones ever going to know I’m there.
Caryn: I remember you wrote about Pilgrim State.
John: Yeah, Pilgrim State! People wonder how come kids keep quiet. They put the fear of God into you. The other thing was- my mother was suicidal. We went home on one visit and she tried to cut her wrists and take a bunch of pills and we had to call my uncle because we asked when we were coming home. She flipped out. We knew not to say anything because if she has another nervous breakdown, we’re never going to come home so that’s where that whole diary came in and we hid this diary. My brother came up with the idea to just write down everything that they did to us. When we finally left that home, the social worker broke down crying. The thing was- I always say people that hustle on the streets- if you look at the history- you’re not born that way. You do that as a result because human instinct is to survive. So, whatever we had to do to eat- and there are humorous moments in the book. They were taking us and they’re like how the hell are these kids gaining weight? We were stealing. We found out where they kept the money. That’s what they were doing it for. They have 6 kids and getting $300 a month for care, clothing. Clothing we had to just wear stuff until it fell off. Then go back to the poor box and pick out more clothes. They never bought us clothes. We never got clothes the entire time we were there. We were never allowed in the refrigerator the entire time we were there. They kept us in a garage sleeping on cots and this dirty den and we had to sit out in the patio in the freezing cold. Christmas time you’re hear them celebrating and we’re out there. So it was a lot of stuff to deal with, but it was the humor that got us through and then the fact that we were able to start getting over on them. But, even when we stole money from them, we basically ate just enough but we always bought my mother gifts. Thinking like if we buy her this…we bought her art and I stole a fish tank one time out of a damn aquarium like a 25-gallon fish tank- running down the street with it- because she said she wanted a fish tank and it was calming. Then we had to hide it in the woods until her boyfriend who didn’t want us around…I won’t say what we were doing, but they have a term for that when we’re getting in the way of his sex life. So that’s why he didn’t want us around.
Caryn: And ultimately you were there for him and his demise later on.
John: You see that? Because that was the arc of the growth. We’ve become a lot closer since the release of the book and all of this stuff that went on.
Caryn: Your mother did terrible things but you now understand why and what she was going through.
John: My father raped her twice and that’s how me and my younger brother were born. We didn’t know that. She didn’t tell me that until I was 40. Even that moment was so powerful because I just kept hurling hurtful things at her because she let that man move into the house. When her husband gambled the house away behind her back and he was a recovering alcoholic, he was in AA. He became a gambling addict and gambled the house away. He was hitting her and had I would have known that I would have beat the crap out of him after what my father did to my mother. She never told us and then when they went to get divorced, she had nothing because he gambled away the house. Then I was doing good at the time, I signed a record deal and all this other stuff. I go and I get her an apartment. I mean, she left with nothing. Like, her clothes in boxes. I had to buy her furniture, a TV, get her an apartment- all of that. Then she turns around and tells me, “I got to tell you something, the man who didn’t want you around who you were abused for 7 years, I let him move in.” That’s when it hit the fan. Since she told me her side of the story and the book, and all this stuff that’s gone down, I was there for her. Then when he passed away from cancer, he sat on my stoop- he was a big guy- he worked for Con Ed, he was one of these burly Con Ed dudes- he was down to about 115-120 pounds, dying of cancer. My mother never put him in hospice, she took care of him. This was right before he went into the hospital, maybe a week before. He sat on my stoop with tears in his eyes and asked me to forgive him. And I did. Then when he was in the hospital I went and put holy water on him and played all this stuff to help him transition to the next life. Through all of this whole ordeal we’ve become a lot closer. That foster home- it developed a lot of food- thank God that I found- it was Gary Null- listening to him in ’80 and ’81 in a squat and I wrote about that in the book.
Caryn: You had your little radio.
John: On a little radio. I think it was BAI or something right? I listened to him on this little transistor radio. No windows, no plumbing, dangerous gang dudes trying to come in a take the building from us and by candle light. I sat there taking notes from the stuff I learned from Gary Null. That’s why when I came in I was like I want to meet him and tell him how much he’s affected my life from back in the day. Thankfully I found a healthy way to eat. I’ve had food issues from being starved as a kid. I always thought the food was going to run out and I would over eat and all of this stuff. Now I’ve learned through training for Iron Man and diet and all this stuff and writing books and being around guys like Rich Roll and Brendan Braziers of the world. They’re next level studs.
Caryn: I just want to say this book, The Evolution of a Cro-Magnon, is just an incredible story and anyone who is complaining about anything in their life- when you read this book, you’re going to shut up. You have been through so much that most people can’t even imagine anything like that happening to them. But the most amazing thing is your heart has stayed open, and you are an incredibly good person, and you’ve made so many amazing choices. You’re on a healthy vegan diet, you’re fit.
Caryn: Organic. Awesome. I just don’t understand how you’ve managed to rise above.
John: I got three letters for you, and I tattooed them on my leg. I learned them from the Bad Brains in 1980- it’s called PMA. Positive Mental Attitude. That’s the next book I’m almost done with right now. I’ve been working on it for about two and a half years, about PMA. At the time I came out of jail- because if we fast-forward I was on the streets for almost 2 years. Then I got incarcerated, I was in some of the worst places a juvenile at 16 could go. I was in Spofford in ’78- I spent my 16th birthday there. Then I went upstate for 18 months, 3 months in Spofford, got stabbed in Spofford- fighting everyday. Upstate in Lincolndale and then I came out and I got arrested again and at the time my mother had been seeing or dating this Navy recruiter and offered me the Navy as opposed to possibly facing more jail time. So, as I always say and my brother E says, the state didn’t raise no fool. So we took the Navy. He got in trouble again. My brother was locked up with me in the same place. We were both on the street. Because at a certain we said, you know what? We went down this road and we tried to let New York State handle our business and take care of us and they failed miserably. Because they never investigated that home, then they put us in these crazy boys homes, and all these other messed up families. Except for the McGallens who were cool in Garden City. But at that point we were damaged goods, so they got rid of us quick. So then we just said you know what? We’ll take our chances on the street of New York and c’mon, the streets of New York in ’76, ’77 it ain’t no joke.
Caryn: Yeah I remember you writing about that. I mean I was a good little girl going to New York City to see theater when I was in junior high school in the 70′s and 8th avenue was a scary place.
John: I mean, we called it the deuce back then, it wasn’t even called Time Square. I’ve seen people get stabbed, shot, I mean personally, I got shot with a 22 in a drug deal. After coming out of lock up and getting re-arrested, I took the Navy. I went to boot camp- we were at Fort Hamilton ready to ship out January 3, 1980 and my brother said, hey I know a place right down the block that sells angel dust. We went and bought; I think it was 4 or 5 bags of angel dust. We went to boot camp dusted on angel dust. I’ve never been on an airplane before. I went on an airplane high on angel dust and then went to boot camp and woke up and was like, what the hell where am I? But I was in great shape because when I was locked up I boxed, I lifted weights. In lockup, one of the terms they say is you got to get your weight up. I went into lock up 130 pounds soaking wet. I came out 165-pound beast that trained all the time, played sports, boxed. So I was definitely- and I had this anger issue. But the thing was, even in the Navy I was smuggling drugs, I was dealing drugs, I was selling acid. I caught a drug case in Norfolk, VA and then I met the Bad Brains and they had just started getting into Rastafarian and that was the major turning point of my life. The singer had read Napoleon Hill’s book, Think and Grow Rich or whatever, talking all about PMA and all this stuff. He put it into his lyrics. He had this song called “Attitude” and it was like blitz speed punk rock. Then I just took to that. The psychiatrist they had me seeing in the Navy said I was a time bomb waiting to go off. I did. I exploded on this guy and beat him with paint cans. The whole thing, I was facing going to Leavenworth because of the drug case and then beating this guy on my ship. They had to medivack me by helicopter off of the ship in the middle of the friggen Caribbean on the way to Brazil back to Puerto Rico. Every chain of event was like the universe, God, Krishna whatever, was just laying everything out for me to make this change. If I didn’t get the infection in my wisdom tooth and have to go to the hospital, it was just crazy how everything kept happening. Then I got a hold of- so I split from the Navy and went back and fought these Puerto Ricans in this gang- crazy stuff, you can’t make it up!
Caryn: The book is over 400 pages.
John: My uncle was like, this is like a lethal weapon you can kill somebody with this book. It’s like he didn’t expect…
Caryn: What I love about it, you’re jumping around all these things- you can’t get the drama or the intensity unless you read the entire story.
John: It’s taken out of context.
Caryn: But, I’m still blown away by this happy ending or this happy beginning.
John: Well you know what it was? It was getting into A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada books, Bhagavad-Gita and starting to get into yoga and meditation. The Bad Brains, the main thing they told me was you can work with us, I got into this fight- this chain fight- and these guys were trying to kill me with knives, and I got stabbed in the shoulder, but I fought them and I gained respect on the street. I knew that in lock up. You don’t let people do things to you, you know? After what happened to me as a kid, what these people did to me and what these other kids did to me in this home. I said nobody’s ever putting their hands on me again. I learned how to defend myself and that’s out of respect these Puerto Rican gang members we’re like…and they had the #1 heroin and cocaine spot in America- down in the lower East Side and they were like, “Yo, you’re the only one who ever stood up to us…respect.” Then the Bad Brains gave me a job. But the main thing they said was, “You can come on the road with us, but you have to eat Ital, meaning pure plant-based. You can’t take drugs and you can’t drink.” And I said, “You know what? You could have told me to worship Skittles and I would because I love the band.” But thankfully their soundman was a raw foodist who was into Viktoras Kulvinskas, I met him. I went to see Viktoras speak at Integral Yoga Institute cause I worked at Prana Foods. They got me a job in a health food store. I started educating myself and the catalyst for change was when I stopped eating meat, all of those anger issues subsided. This amazing aura just kicked in and I started being like, for the first time in my life I started to feel peaceful. I just read this quote the other day, when you eat an animal, you’re eating every single second of tortured time that that animal has had in their life. You’re ingesting that. That’s affecting your consciousness. Even all these Bhagavad-Gita, all these vedic teachings say the same thing. You’re ingesting the karma of that animal. When I stopped eating meat and I went on this like raw food diet I was like wow, the change was just so dramatic, it was crazy. Then I got into yoga, martial arts….the whole world of higher consciousness opened up. Then I started chanting Hare Krishna, I lived as a monk for 2 years. Although the leaders after Prava left the planet did a bunch of crazy stuff too so, that was even some next- and you read the book so you know what I’m talking about. This resiliency, that’s what this whole trip has taught me- is resiliency and flexibility. You know you have to fight through things in life. The code of the warrior is never quit. Never quit. You never surrender. That’s what they drill. Like my boys in active duty Navy, I just met him and his kid. He is a team leader too which means he is responsible for other guys that they make at home a lot. He’s one of the most resilient, never panics in situations, I’ve learned a lot just from watching just what he’s been able to do in the last 16-17 years of his Navy career. He took me- he was one of the stars of Act of Valor so he takes me to the Intrepid for the premiere. There’s all these Marcus Luttrell, Seal Team 6 guys, like the baddest of the bad, and he’s like this guy, I used to go on the road with him, he used to take me to the yoga spots. And they’re like, what?? You learn a lot and that’s what I try to surround myself with A type personalities. I still have a lot to learn.
Caryn: We all do…that’s what life is about- learning. But I think you are an important messenger for a specific group of people who can understand you and hear you because you speak their language. You’ve been through the hell that they’ve been through and then you couple that with this open heart. I imagine you’re a great help and provide a lot of hope to the kids that…you work with and you mentor at-risk and incarcerated youths.
John: You know, yes, 100% I Just was at Goshen Annex Maximum security.
Caryn: You know because if I went there nobody would look at me and listen to me.
John: You know what? Here’s the whole things, and I’m going to tell you because I think it was like 6 or 7 years ago, I spoke at the first High School. It was in East New York. All like gang members, Crips, Bloods, whatever. Am I allowed to curse?
Caryn: You can say whatever you want.
John: All right, I didn’t know that! Now we’re getting off the rated-G shit, here we go. I’m going to tell you exactly what they said. It was wintertime, I had a coat on. The English teacher had read my book and was like I want you to come speak to these kids because they’re all starting to get in trouble. As soon as I walked in, I heard the rumble, “Who does this white motherfucker think he is trying to come here and tell me some shit what the fuck does he know?” So as soon as I got to the library and I started breaking down my story and then telling them what I went through, I had their complete undivided attention. Then I broke out my passport and I started showing them, look where I’ve been all over the world. You know where all the guys that are locked up and went through all the stuff that I did? They’re either in jail, they’re drug addicts, or they’re dead. I said, you’re at a point right now in your life where every decision is going to be very, very crucial to how you’re going to live your future. Even when these kids are locked up, I met these kids doing 8, 10 years in Goshen, they were already sentenced and I said look it’s never too late to change. You work on yourself when you’re inside. You be a better person, you follow the rules, you’re going to get out, you’re only 16-17 years old. You’re still going to have part of your life there.
Caryn: That’s a universal message.
John: The other thing is I just did an interview with my friend who writes for Psychology Today and Huffington Post and he’s a psychiatrist. He said you have more effect on these kids than anybody with a degree. Because I walked in their shoes. They could care less if you got a PhD. That don’t mean shit to them. What means something to them is I understand what they’re going through. That’s why I work with these kids. I get these kids to change their diet and do all this other stuff, I give them books…
Caryn: We just have a few minutes left; I can’t believe the time just flies.
John: That’s what happens when you’re having fun. That’s what they say.
Caryn: I want to talk about your other book Meat is for Pussies.
John: Thank you for saying the title…
Caryn: I have no problem saying it! I think it’s an important book. You had first published it and then Harper Collins came out and published it. You were telling me earlier that you had some challenges with that because a lot of people take offense to the title. What’s important about it again, is you coming from where you came from and the language that you use in the book- certain people are going to relate to you, your language, and your message and hear it! Then take positive action.
John: Right. Oddly enough, most of the people that bought that book were women who bought it for their dudes. I received thousands and thousands of emails since that book first came out in 2010 and then was re-issued, from dudes saying “Yo thank you for writing this book because none of these wackadoo vegans were ever getting through to me. The way you put it and the way you talk, dude, the light came on.” I said, “Bro, that’s the way I learned it. I learned it from guys like H.R., and the Bad Brains who produced their album. Honestly this guy just got a write up in GQ magazine. He’s a vegan bodyguard and he’s Justin Bieber’s bodyguard in Australia. My friend Ian Norrington, and he’s 6’3 240 pounds like Muay Thai fighter and he went on tour with me. I was training for my first Iron Man at the time, so everybody else was getting shit faced and drunk, living the rock and roll fantasy bullshit life. I’m getting up at fucking 5 o’clock in the morning after playing, going for runs, swims, hitting the gym. And he’s like bro how the fuck are you doing that man? And I had a copy of my book Meat is for Pussies. I gave it to him. By the end of the tour he’s stopped eating meat and he’s never looked back.
John: He even got “vegan” tattooed on the side of his lip. When you pull the lip down it says “vegan.” Then he’s gone, he’s got like Hells Angels working for him in Australia with his prior company. He turned around and got all them to go plant based. It’s a grass roots movement. You’re not going to hear this information in the main stream.
Caryn: No but you’re going to hear it here at Progressive Radio Network!
John: That’s right with Caryn Hartglass!!!
Caryn: John, thank you for coming and I love you.
John: You’re the rockstar. Woo! And say hello to Gary Null for me. Tell him John Bloodclot loves him.
Caryn: I will do that.
John: Thank you!
Caryn: Okay we’re going to take a quick break and then come back and talk about the Reducetarian Solution.
Transcribed by Adella Finnan, 5/1/2017