The Abused's Kevin Crowley Looks Back on the Early Days of NYHC
Tales of construction gloves, riots, and the invention of the NYHC logo from a guy who lived New York hardcore and made it out alive.
All images courtesy of the author
Unless you’re an utter yutz, you probably know The Abused are a crucial part in the puzzle of early 80s NYHC. Formed in 1982, the band stood out from the rest of their Lower East Side brethren of the day by being a precision-fueled monster among primitive though potent bands such as Agnostic Front or Urban Waste. Their sole seven-inch EP from 1983, Loud and Clear, is nothing short of a brutal, concise, and crushing masterpiece.
I recently made a phone call to The Abused’s vocalist Kevin Crowley to talk about the formation of The Abused, his fashion contributions to NYHC, and to find out the best moshers on the scene in his time. Here’s how it went down.
Noisey: So where did you enter the NYHC scene?
Kevin Crowley: I went from going to see bands at Max’s Kansas City to discovering the shows going on at A7. The first time you went to one of the shows, it would knock your socks off because the band is right there on the floor and there was just this crazy energy. It was like heroin; I was hooked.
What are you memories of the A7 Club?
It was a heavy Puerto Rican neighborhood and those guys were heavily territorial. It was hairy at times, but at one point I lived on Avenue A between 6th and 7th street back in the 70s before A7 was around, so I knew the area already. The one thing I remember about A7, is you’d see all these guys with bald heads come out with steam coming off their heads. It was like going into a different world in there. You went in through the side door, and that’s just where the stage area was—to the left. Then there was the bar and couches. It was pretty cool. I used to give haircuts to people in the bathroom. I walked around with a set of clippers in my backpack and I would just cut people's hair.
Out of all those early NYHC seven-inches—Cause for Alarm, Agnostic Front’s United Blood, Urban Waste, Antidote, etc.—The Abused’s Loud and Clear seven-inch is the one that sounds the most together. Everyone loves stuff like United Blood or Urban Waste because it sounds so primitive, but the Loud and Clear seven-inch sounds like you guys really had your shit together.
We were always striving for a tight sound. We rehearsed a lot and rented rehearsal space. It’s not that we thought we were going to get famous. We just wanted to be the best band we could possibly be and it all goes back to Bad Brains. When you see a band like that and how tight they play, you say, “I want to be like these guys.”
A lot of people I talked to for the book mentioned a Dead Kennedys show that happened on Staten Island in 1981 and how it turned into a huge riot. Any memory of that show?
So much happened that night, but I remember some Staten Island guidos throwing bottles at us after the show, so we ran after the guys. I was a pretty fast runner, so I got out in the lead and then someone jumped out of nowhere and clocked me in mid stride. Then, somebody came out with a bat and was trying to hit me while I was on the ground. My face swelled up like I had the mumps and we were walking back to get to the ferry when this other car load of Staten Island kids started yelling at us, “Fuck you! You fucking assholes!” Then they go to tear off, and lo and behold they get stuck in traffic about ten feet away from us. So I walked up and got on the roof of the car and stared jumping up and down, crushing the roof in.
Where does the infamous rivalry between Boston, D.C., and New York come into play here?
Those kids were more suburbanite and not inner city. There might have been a few guys who wanted to mix it up with them a little bit, but it was nothing major. It was akin to sports rivalry. I’m sure the Boston guys hated anybody who liked the Yankees, and the Red Sox could go get fucked as far as I was concerned. So it was the same mentality. We wanted to see these bands, but we’d defend our honor if it came down to it.
Don’t get me wrong, we would fight at the drop of a hat with anyone that wanted to mess with us. We were going through puberty, so we had that testosterone imbalance happening. But we wouldn’t punch someone in the face on the dance floor for the sake of it. It wasn’t geared towards each other.
So how did The Abused form?
I was a fixture on the scene. Raf Astor (The Abused’s guitarist) and Dave Colon (The Abused’s bass player) approached me and asked me if I'd ever sang in a band before. I said no but they still asked me to sing in their band. I remembered we rehearsed and rehearsed. They all thought I was going to choke at the first show. The first show was at A7. I think they asked me because they needed a schmoozer and someone that hangs out. I started hyping the shit out of the band. I made this flyer that said “Coming Soon” before we even played any gigs. Thankfully, we sounded good at that first gig because we certainly were setting ourselves up for disaster.
When did things move from A7 to CBGB’s?
The first time we played CB’s we ended up owing Hilly (Kristal, owner of CBGB’s) money because stuff got damaged. We passed a hat around and everyone gave in what they could. The hardcore stuff was on probation with Hilly. Then we ended up doing a bunch of them. I guess in the late 80s the matinees became a staple of CBGB’s.
When did you guys start recording?
We wanted to record way before we were ready. Probably after our second rehearsal, we were like, “Let’s put a record out!” But that was the mentality back then. It was very much a do-it-yourself sort of thing. We did that demo tape. It was out in Queens in someone’s garage or basement. It was on a little four-track mixer and it came out sounding pretty good.
In our minds, it didn’t seem like you had to reach a certain level to have earned the right to make a seven-inch. It just seemed like the natural progression. You play some gigs, you do your seven-inch or sell your cassettes, you make your t-shirt.
The records weren’t equated in the same realm other people put them in. We never thought, “Oh, we’re going to be famous.” It was a rite of passage. The scene was a small group of people. Everybody was looking for something because there wasn’t that much of that music around so you were hungry.
The Abused is known for being the first band in New York to wield a Straight Edge attitude.
Charlie was the guy who introduced me to the whole Straight Edge concept initially. I had already dabbled in many a thing at that age. But to see kids starting to shoot up, it was a total “Oh shit!” I couldn’t stand that. A lot of my friends were turning into junkies. You were surrounded by it and it was very prevalent back then on the Lower East Side. Heroin was a real big thing. For me, it was a control issue. You’re 15 years-old and at that point, what can you control in your life? So I liked the idea of not having anything control me.
Who on that early NYHC scene claimed to be Straight Edge?
I think you could count the Straight Edge kids in New York at the time on one hand. There was me, Al, Abbie, and Charlie. It certainly didn’t gain us any additional popularity on the scene, that’s for sure. We were outcasts within the outcasts.
So when did The Abused start to fall apart?
It took so long for the seven-inch to come out and to get traction. I think we were already slowing down a little bit. We never broke up or had any kind of falling out. We lost our rehearsal space. Raf ended up going to GIT to learn guitar. Dave was in the carpenter’s union. Brian was getting very into martial arts. I ended up working and getting my own apartment. My focus became day to day life. It was very anticlimactic.
Where did the skinhead thing come into play on the NYHC scene?
I think Harley was one of the first guys to shave his head. I think the appeal to it was that it was a working class movement. I went in that direction as opposed to the normal spiked hair thing because it felt closer to me; it was more machismo.
There was a gang called the Fordham Baldies out of the Bronx in the 50s. We latched onto that. Then I moved to Brooklyn and there was a couple other kids from Brooklyn and we started calling ourselves the BBB’s; the Brooklyn Boot Boys. We were walking around with our pants rolled up and all that. But there was never any kind of racial thing to it. The only people we really had it in for were posers.
We didn’t go out looking for targets, but because of the way we looked, plenty of opportunities would present themselves. But I think it became another way of unifying us. I guess it made us look tough. By that point in time, I had transferred out of one school and into another high school. I remember the black kids coming up to me and ask, “Yo man, did you just get out of prison?” They couldn’t figure me out.
Was there a lot of crossover between the burgeoning hip-hop and hardcore scenes starting in New York at the time?
We used to go to McGrills, where breakdancing first started. We’d go there as skinheads and hang out there while these guys did rap. This is when breakdancing was pseudo-fighting. They would kind of go up against each other. Nobody never bothered us. You had the birth of that music at the same point.
What were the pits like at those early shows?
The pits could get crazy, but no one was sitting there waiting to do something to someone. If some jerkoff was standing on the sidelines punching people that was the guy that ended up getting beat up. Everybody had their own style. Mine was flailing fists. A lot of it was so packed and crushed, it would be hard to do damage anyway.
Who were some of the best dancers from that time?
John Watson always had a really good flare when he was out in the pit. Everybody did their own thing. It was more about feeling the music and the movement. It was just so cool and go apeshit until you couldn’t breathe anymore. You couldn’t dance like that a school dance, they’d arrest you.
You’re known as the guy who started the wearing of construction gloves on the early NYHC scene.
At one point, I was getting into a lot of fights and I was bruising my hands up too much, so I started wearing them to protect my hands. I was wearing them and then Jimmy G started wearing them. I think I was the first guy to wear them. I graduated up to welding gloves. I used to wear them on the dance floor.
I remember Davd, the owner of A7, putting me on probation. He’d ask, "Why are you wearing these gloves here? You want to hit people, don’t you?" He always wanted me to take them off when I was in the club.
Where did you get the idea of wearing the gloves?
I was a total comic book nerd and if you look at every drawing I ever did, everybody was wearing gloves. That comes from superheroes, because superheroes always wore gloves. I drew all these muscle-bound guys. I was probably 150 pounds soaking wet, but the funny thing is people perceived me as this huge, muscular guy. It taught me that how you project yourself is how people are going to perceive you. We projected ourselves as this bigger than life he-men. One character I used on The Abused fliers, Captain Hardcore, was a spoof on Captain America.
How about that one character you used a lot on Abused fliers, “Mister Softy”?
We had this whole thing where we judged things by saying, “That’s hard,” or, “You’re soft.” It was our own rating system. So that’s why I created Mr. Softy. If you look at him closely, he looks like Don Rickles. That’s who I modeled the face after.
Have you ever heard this rumor about The Abused discovering hardcore through stealing a car with a Minor Threat playing in the tape deck?
I heard that one in St. Louis. One time, there was this kid hanging out who had a car and said, “I’m going to go hang out with those kids that live in Nutley, New Jersey.” So we went driving around with him to hang out with them on their turf. We found out later that we were driving around in a stolen car. I think he got arrested with the car two days later. I guess that’s how that one started.
And the other thing people probably don’t realize is you are the guy who created the NYHC logo.
One time I saw some kids with the NYHC logo painted on their clothes and I asked them about hardcore. Then I said, something like, “You know, I made that logo up.” They gave me this look that just said, “Whatever! Fuck you, old man!”
Rettman’s book NYHC 1980-1990 is available from Bazillion Points.
The re-issue of The Abused’s Loud and Clear EP can be purchased from Radio Raheem Records.