The walkout song is a time-honored tradition in MMA. It's also a delicate balancing act. The perfect song has to pump a fighter up while settling his/her nerves, appeal to the crowd without appearing to pander. "My Walkout Song" is where we ask MMA fans who also happen to be famous musicians what makes for great pre-fight music and what song they would choose to accompany their walk to the cage.
Harley Flanagan is nothing if not a New York icon, of which there are painfully few left. Like a grown-up Dead End Kid or Bowery Boy, Flanagan is now one of the downtown scene's éminence grises. From being a 10-year-old drummer for the Stimulators right after punk rock hit in 1977 to hanging around with Andy Warhol and Joe Strummer, again at 10, to having Allen Ginsberg publish his poetry when he was like eight, Flanagan has enough art bona fides to make his inclusion here interesting. But that’s the Good Harley.
The Bad Harley, largely a product of being a white kid growing up on the streets on the Lower East Side, has been fighting since he was old enough to have figured out that running only gets you so far. And then hardcore hit and there emerged a convenient vehicle for a wide variety of counter-social activity, and Flanagan was all over it with his band the Cro-Mags. Though mired in recent times with acrimony and bad blood a’plenty with his former lead singer John Joseph over ownership rights to the name and likeness, culminating with his dismissal on charges that he assaulted and hospitalized two of a group of eight members of a Cro-Mags-affiliated group/gang DMS with a knife, Flanagan [“I was guilty of nothing but defending myself”] has removed himself from all of the agita and is content these days to do what he does best outside of music: teach Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at the Renzo Gracie Academy.
Which makes him a member of a very small group: musicians who also fight. And of this group he’s probably the most decorated, with a black belt from Renzo Gracie himself. You all might not know what this means, but it’s like getting a degree at Harvard from, um, well, Mr. Harvard or whatever.
Fightland: Usually we would ask what song would you use as your walkout music if you were an MMA fighter? But you are an MMA fighter. So what do you use?
Harley Flanagan: The last time I did any fighting where I walked in with some music was around the time I was making music for me -- specifically for me – like, in 2007. I mean I was doing a video for my Harley’s War project. I think the song was L.E.S OG. Lower East Side OG. So I picked it for artistic reasons and used the footage for the video.
Did you win the fight?
No. But I got a great video out of it. You should also add that the motherfucker was 17 years younger than me and I took the fight on one week’s notice. [laughs] But if I had to do something now I might use more of my own shit. Maybe the intro part of “We Gotta Know” mixed in with some stuff from “Age of Quarrel” from the Cro-Mags Best Wishes. That would be awesome.
But if you had to choose some pre-existing piece of music …
Slayer. “South of Heaven.” Or “Seasons in the Abyss.” But if I was going to fuck some one up at a big show I would love to hear some Slayer.
I like the beat of those songs. Heavy. And they got the creepy crawl vibe. The beatdown element. Most of you will not know what that means, but that’s okay.
So those are the basic functioning elements of a great walkout tune?
You know, I could go with “God Will Cut You Down” by Johnny Cash. The point is whatever it is that it makes you walk with attitude. Determination.
What about the Nick Diaz-esque idea that the fight begins from the very first moment two people agree to fight? So that even your song should dominate your opponent?
Well, what gets you fired up should also be putting fear in the heart of the enemy. Corny as it sounds now, “We Will Rock You” gets the blood flowing. Renzo when he fought Matt Hughes? The music was great. Tribal drumming. The music should inspire.
When did you first get into MMA?
Cats like me and you have been doing MMA on the streets for a long time. [laughs] In alleys. Parks. That was just stuff we used to do on a Friday or Saturday night.
Well, my first memory of you outside of seeing you drum for the Stimulators was seeing you throw down on some guy at an Agent Orange show. Blood-on-the-dance-floor style.
I don’t remember a lot of the foul shit I have done but you know I saw UFC 2 and so I’ve been aware that there were people who had figured out better ways of fucking people up since 1993. I mean, I was super blown away and I thought, “One day one of them has to move to New York.” So right when Renzo got there I was in. In 1995, I was one of the first dozen people who started with him, and I think I’m the only one still there. Initially I just wanted to learn new ways of fucking people up. But it’s like a dream that I’m getting a check from Master Renzo for teaching this. I never imagined this would happen. Training with Matt Serra. Ricardo Almeida, Ryan Gracie. That whole first generation of Gracies were just hard. And I am honored to have been able to learn from them.
Check out these other installments of our "My Walkout Song" series:
Japan's Karate Kid: Kyoji Horiguchi
Japan's brightest MMA prospect.
Joel Tudor on the Art of Surfing, Fighting, and Style
A surf icon helps MMA keep its sense of tradition.
Manny Pacquiao: The Man Who Reinvented Boxing
Jack Slack talks Manny Pacquiao.
The House of Rickson: An Afternoon in Rio with Jiu-Jitsu's Royal Family
Father Gracie's children Kron, Kauline, and Kauan do what they do best.
Team Lakay Has Turned Baguio into a Breeding Ground for Filipino MMA
A look at the top Filipino fighters.