John Joseph (Cro-Mags)

If you saw John Joseph in the middle of NYC, you'd take one look at his web of faded tattoos, one look at his massive stature, and one look at his chiseled scowl and think to yourself, "That's one dude I wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley!" But really, you wouldn't want to meet him in the debate hall either.

Nearly 30 years ago, Joseph was one of the founding members of the Cro-Mags, one of the first bands to blend hardcore and heavy metal. But beyond that, following in the footsteps of his mentor H.R. of Bad Brains, Joseph was also one of the first songwriters to bring spirituality to punk rock, which at the time, was plagued by a glut of nihilism (although Joseph is quick to point out that he's never pushed his beliefs on anyone). While many punk bands were wallowing in self destruction, Joseph, a practitioner of what is commonly referred to as Hare Krishna, espoused a positive life view, arguing for the better treatment of both the fellow man as well as one's own body.

Since then, he's espoused biting commentary on Monsanto corporation, explained his views on the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, and brought the Cro-Mags back from the dead. Between staying active in the hardcore community for almost 30 years, running a healthy living center in one of New York's toughest neighborhood for almost a decade, and skewering multi-national corporations, its a wonder Joseph has time to do anything except breath. But somehow, he's managed to write Meat is for Pussies(available at a guide to healthy living. So, Punknews interviewer John Gentile sat down with Joseph to get the inside info on the purpose of his new book, his view on spirituality, and what's good to eat.

Why the book and why now?

I’ve been living vegetarian without meat fish and eggs for almost 30 years now. I started in 1981. But recently, in the last few years, I’ve seen a lot of friends and family die of cancer and all kinds of stuff. It just needs to stop! Most of these kinds of deaths are diet related- what people are ingesting. People just don’t know what’s in the food that they are eating.

What’s the purpose behind your book?

I walked through the cancer ward when my mother’s boyfriend was deteriorating. This can be prevented! We have to sound the alarms and let people know with this whole system can be stopped. On the documentary Food Inc., the family says, "we cant afford broccoli." But how much were they sending in medicine? It’s not about treating the symptom; it’s about, "why did you get these diseases?" Change what you put in your system. Not only will it affect your body, it will affect your mind. The world is changing. You can either stay in the past or get with the times. You can choose to be sick or choose to be healthy.

Aren't you drawing a line in the sand with the title?

No, that’s not my intention at all. The title might suggest that I am being judgmental, but what the title is really saying is that if you continue to live the lifestyle that most Americans are living, then that lifestyle will turn you into a pussy dependent on prescription drug companies. If you look at some of the fortune five 500 companies, they are almost all pharmaceutical companies. Pharmaceutical companies and food companies look at you as revenue from when you live to when you die. They want you to get sick. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Why would food companies want you to get sick? The longer that you live, the more revenue you could give to them. Is there a conspiracy between the food companies and the pharmaceutical companies?

Walk down the isles of any food markets. The food companies and the pharmaceutical companies are all tied into together. The three things that we want are fat, sugar, and salt. American food is full of soy and corn by products from genetically modified organisms. The drug companies are in cohoots with the food companies to get you sick. When this health bill passed, pharmaceutical stocks went through the roof. The three food czars that Obama pointed to his cabinet are all top level Monsanto Agricultural Company people. This is a conspiracy against the American people by this new world order. Visit the National Health Federation for more information.

What’s the correlation between the American diet and sickness?

We are the sickest nation on earth. We consume the most meat, dairy, fish and the most processed food. You can’t tell me there’s not a link! I’m not gonna get on a pulpit, but there are several things going on that I am aware. One is codex alimentarius- which is a code to radiate all food to destroy certain genes, banning the labeling of GMO’s. Think about it- they put the genetic code of a flounder into a tomato, and they do it by using viruses to break into the DNA of the tomato, and then they shoot the tomato with radiation to kill the virus. That’s why we’re getting sick!

Do you feel an unhealthy diet is linked to punk rock?

If you are in punk rock, it means you question authority. Nowhere does it say punk rockers have to be unhealthy- that’s not punk. I can still go onstage at 48. Why is that when the people that are 10 years younger than me are having medical issues? We have to fight to keep organic food organic, so we are not injecting poisons.

Why do you think food is so closely linked with spirituality?

To me, food is major perspective of what you do in life. I met the Bad Brains and the first things they told me was to get off the poisonous food and then the drugs. You have to understand something, when you inject the flesh of animal that has been tortured, you are getting the bad karma of the animal. You can’t say that you want spirituality and peace and then you are killing six billion animals in this country per year. First, stop putting dead animals in your body. It makes you a more peaceful person. [This is] the first step in spiritual progress, not religious progress.

What separates your book from other vegan philosophies that have been promoted in punk since the early 80’s?

In the 80’s and 90’s, the whole vegan straightedge thing had so many judgmental pricks that got on this superiority complex! I think that the whole movement gave that whole veganism thing a bad label. I rather hang out with dudes going to McDonalds, cause some of those vegan click people were just whack. I don’t do drugs and I’m vegan, but I don’t judge people, I wrote the book to help people. I don’t try to push my views on anybody. My book is for a guy who wants to get fit, kick ass, and take names in the long run. I advocate not drinking, no drugs.

So, you’re not pushing your views?

If you’re gonna drink, then drink. It doesn’t bother me. This book is what works for me. I get high in so many other ways. It’s up to the people if they want to listen. I’m not telling you to draw X’s on your hand and pass out vegan literature. I don’t need to go on tangents and get in people’s faces. This book is a dialogue that needs to happen.

A lot of Christian bands in punk and metal get a lot of flack from non-Christian punks. However, I think it’s fair to say we don’t see this backlash against you personally or the Cro-mags or Krishnacore bands. Why do you think this is so?

First off, we’re not a Krishnacore band. I happen to be a follower of Prabhupada’s teachings. [note- Prabhupada is the founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, which is commonly referred to as the Hare Krishna belief system] I took the philosophy and presented in a way that represented the way of my life. Prabhupada saved my life.

Saying that, never has anyone in the band worn Hare Krishna robes. I couldn't stand the whole Krishnacore genre of music. That’s not what it’s about. Don’t be like Shelter walking on stage with dotis. They were the biggest hypocrites ever. The guys who were running that band were ripping each off. Shelter delivered their music with a flower. The Cro Mags delivered their message with a base ball bat. We got down in the sewers with everyone else. We didn’t come from the suburbs of upper middle class families in Connecticut. We were living what we wrote about.

Prabhupada just said be a real follower. That was his message. Everybody changed what his message was originally. It wasn’t some dogmatic message. It’s the message from the first Cro-Mags record. It stands the test of time. Who talks about Shelter? I’m pointing it out for a reason. Our message was universal- a message for anyone who could use it. Theirs was geared to manipulate people.

For some time, you ran a spiritual center in NYC. Are there any plans to start it up again?

If fortune comes my way, I will open a new center. My mission is to get a new building. You can talk all you want, talk is cheap, but you have to have compassion for people. Some of these people can steal someone’s money, but some of these people are at the end of their rope and they are searching for something. If you help someone and make them feel good, and then cheat them, then you are the scumbag. You are lower than pulling a gun and robbing them- stealing a spiritual path is the worst thing that you can do.

Any last comments?

I wish the best for everybody. I’ve got a cook book coming out after this book out. It’s all really healthy recipes for dudes that work out and need energy. I’ve done 12 hours day of construction and ran 10 miles. This book is a positive message. I’m not putting anyone down.