Parris Mayhew is one of the founding members of the New York Hardcore band the Cro-Mags. Their first album ‘The Age Of Quarrel’ set in stone the sound – the aggression and artistry – that was New York Hard Core.
Surprising, but possibly most fitting, Parris Mayhew and Harely Flannagan were but high school age kids when they formed the band, Parris attending New York’s High School of Art & Design, Harley a 6th grade drop out and already a veteran on the underground music scene. The two wrote the masterful songs on the first release before the rest of the band was even in place. In the band photo on the first album, Parris looks like a rosy cheeked little boy compared to the rest of the band, funny to think the agressive sound originated with him.
Since the Cro-Mags, Parris went on to direct music videos and has become a steadicam operator, working on various television shows and movies, including ‘Aftermath’, ‘Factory Girl’ and ‘A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints’.
What is underground art?
Growing up in NYC it was everywhere. R Crumb was underground art. hardcore music was underground art. We were a community of artists. A dead city is always a breeding ground for creativity but today’s NYC is just a colony for America. We have been occupied and pushed out. Even the so called Williamsburg scene has produced nothing that I can see. There is fashion and many people drawn there but it’s not to anything substantial. In old Manhattan of the 70s and 80s scenes sprung up secretly around artistic expression. Actual bands made statements worth following and imitating until a pea-try dish of music began to grow and flourish. Of course this is impossible now with a combination of the Internet and the culture of no secrets and of course NYC being gone….
SLIPKNOT is underground art. Misfits. Bad brains…
What is selling out?
Selling out is when you forget what you are doing and just do what you think you did already that you think people liked and begin to be a parody of yourself… Like Metallica…just to maintain fame or finance. And you forget why you were doing it in the first place. That’s the difference also between art and craft. There are professional musicians like Winger and Bon Jovi who formulate and execute corporate music. They sit down to craft pop music. That to me is uninteresting and NOT art. Of course a good well crafted pop song can be pleasant too but never life changing…
Can underground go above ground and still be underground?
Sex pistols were life changing. Sometimes these two things can merge in rare cases where art and commercial success merge… The Police for example. A rare one… Alice In Chains… Bob Marley, Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Have you ever sold out?
Have I sold out yes. I am a film technician. I am a Union camera operator and Society of Camera Operators member … AND DAMNED PROUD OF IT! I am a hired hand in the world of commercial filmmaking. Damned fun job but not life changing.
Is it possible to steal an idea?
Yes it is possible to steal an idea. And we live in a sick time when the “creator” of Facebook is the hero of a movie. The guy steals someone’s idea screws his friend and loses the girl, but people walked out of the theater thinking and saying “that guy is my idol”, a culture where originality isn’t even expected is where we are now…
That’s why music sucks… Films suck… There is no expectation at all of original creative ideas… I had songs stolen by my former band mate. Straight up plagiarism. There is a band out right now touring as Cro-Mags playing MY songs and I have never met half of them, but they generate a living playing my Music and benefiting from my musical discoveries… They even advertise with a bio that describes me and my partner Harley Flannagan’s writing collaboration and how it was the lifeblood of the band but neither of us is part of it…
This is horrible but the truth is I go on… Why because I HAVE PLENTY more ideas where they came from… I draw from all my talents to keep moving and even as a film technician
I have a creative life.
To be continued..
Was already on my way when the asshole called
hahaha that was a text to a friend by accident…
I was very lucky to have witnessed, lived, and participated in the creative world that Lower Manhattan once was. We as a little music gang learned from the people around us and by example, before us from KISS, The Talking Heads, Dead Boys, The Runaways, Misfits and side by side while in Cro-Mags with our contemporaries the BEASTIE BOYS, Bad Brains, Type O Negative, Biohazard and White Zombie. We were surrounded by things developing, inventing and exploding into scenes because of the self perpetuating interest of the new music.
Again this world is gone. The internet, texting, cell phones, hip hop music, Guiliani and American Idol have all conspired to make the primordial soup of creativity dry up, move out and die.
My city spawned RUN DMC and WOO TANG CLAN, Sugar Hill and Grand Master Flash as well as the Ramones! Now our clubs are filled with colonists who gain entrance not because of who they are or what they did, but because they have a credit card and will commit a large amount of cash to bottle service so they can sit next to another asshole with a credit card and a button down shirt. These clubs bare little difference from any club in Dallas or Idaho. This is not NYC. And these are but a few reasons why underground is non existent in NYC… no relevant bands, no art of film happening here. We had Francis, Woody and Scorsese. Now we have Gossip Girl and Sex In The City. I prefer Death Wish and the WARRIORS! Now The Warriors was underground art!!!
Stolen idea? I must comment on this again because again in recent times it has been common place and acceptable. People even say absurd things like “well he did it.” after stealing someone’s idea. As if that is some sort of justification. The thing that really recently has stuck in my claw is LED ZEPPELIN. Undoubtedly the greatest Rock band of all time. Or at least I felt that way all my life. They are everything. They are beauty and fire, finesse and brutality, love and hate and certainly art. But they are also plagiarists. No doubt. But I am still torn becuase there is this wealth of original extraordinary music they made, but how do I reconcile the stealing? Why do it if you can do these other songs. Why steal DAZED AND CONFUSED if you can write BLACK DOG? Or KASHMIR? But they did. The one that kills me is BLACK MOUNTAIN SIDE. It’s an acoustic guitar piece, very personal, Jimmy all alone. Something I took as being part of him. HE STOLE THE ENTIRE THING! credited himself as the writer! This is so shitty. Wrong. He is the FACEBOOK guy all over again… so am I a hypocrite? I guess I am because I can’t shake the ZEPPELIN majesty even with this knowledge. But it’s wearing away at me. I think if I saw Jimmy Page now I’d be compelled to smack him now instead of know him. Sucks… mostly for the guy who wrote BLACK MOUNTAIN SIDE because people probably don’t believe him.
Can underground go above ground and still be underground? (Return to question)
Underground go above ground and still remain art. It has… Bob Marley, Slipknot. Pantera did it. Beastie Boys certainly got more artistic and creative as they gained success. Creative freedom can also hobble an artist. Deadlines and budgets, expectations and parameters have created some great art. For example. THE GODFATHER… He can do whatever he wants to now and he doesn’t do much.
Biggest artistic regret?
Not knowing what I was capable of and depending on lousy people because of my own loyalty and dependance. Also leaving directing music videos to make another Cro-Mags album in 1997. Never go back!
What is dangerous art?
Not sure about dangerous art. I’d image to the flood of “outsiders” who converged on the hardcore scene in the mid 80s to fill in the much bigger following we were developing along side the hardcore scene, to the “normals” I have heard many stories of fear at shows. That going to see Cro-Mags was dangerous, taking your life in your own hands and the like. Dito Montiel once said to me that back then “if you even mentioned the Cro-Mags, you would look around first and say it in a whisper.” Guy Oseary A&R Man at Maverick for Madonna’s label told me he was afraid to listen to Cro-Mags in a room alone.” For me it was all impulse. I was compelled to make that music. That first Cro-Mags record AGE OF QUARREL. It just flowed out of me as I was learning my instrument. There was no plan, design or preconceived notion, no matter what revisionist history my former partner claims. Because of course how could he plan what I would write and I wrote the definitive music. It was all fire and youth. And of course it all seemed normal to me because I looked around and it was happening all around me. RUN DMC burst on the scene out of NYC, Rick Rubin was there and a part of it, a regular face. Dante Ross producer whom I met in a bar fight! And became friends with. Kamal from the Jerky Boys was making phone calls and playing them for us… it’s endless, my friend Brooke who drove us in her mom’s car on our first Canadian tour is an actress and been on GREY’S ANATOMY and SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. Gabby Glasier my high school and college friend went on to be in Lucious Jackson. Sean Taggart my high school best friend kick started his art career doing Cro-Mags Flyers… it’s endless.
And what do we have now? Gossip Girl, and the Strokes. Drek!
Bonus Question… Nature or nurture?
Nature or nurture is of course academic. Nurture of course. There is no such thing as a genetic disease, violence or a alcoholic by birth. There may be genetic triggers but those don’t have to be flipped by starvation during pregnancy, abuse or abandonment. Science is clear on this. We live in the matrix. It’s all lies. We are debt slave indoctrinated into a life of low expectations and an acceptance of the normalcy of debt and a 9 to 5 slave mentality. Cancer is normal and voluntary self handicapping is regular. We smoke, idiocy. We addict ourselves to illicit and prescription remedies that don’t cure they mask.
My mom told me I was an artist. Led me by the hand to art school. Came to my gigs and always supported me on my path. My dad showed me a life doing whatever you want to is possible and a reality. No one ever said to me “when are you gonna get a job?” My dad definitely said “How can you generate an income doing this stuff? Figure it out and you’ll be able to keep doing it.” I did.
I hope I didn’t stray too far away from the “art” questions but to me film and music when made in these bursts of magic like Bob Marley, Lynyrd Skynyd, The Eagles, Police, Sex Pistols and Neko Case really is art. NEKO CASE is a great example of real musical art being made now and still underground. She doesn’t look like Katie Perry and doesn’t wear fishbowls on her breasts… but she can write and sing the fuck out of a song. She recorded a song my father wrote too. “If you’re gonna sink, might as well go to the bottom.” And HANK 3 performs a few of my songs live as well. Pretty odd, but pretty cool…I’ll just keep making my mark any way people want to hear or see.