One would assume that if you’ve written three books and also happen to be one of the most celebrated voices in the world of punk and hardcore music, you will likely have a finely crafted plan of what you want to talk about for a mini-tour of speaking engagements.
But John Joseph, an outspoken artist with a gift for storytelling, says the themes at his three speaking events in Alberta this week have been purposely left unplanned.
“I never plan stuff out, I just roll with the punches and keep it authentic,” Joseph says in an interview by phone. “Every night is different.
“It’s basically to help inspire kids into the arts.”
It’s likely not too worrisome a risk for the singer of the Cro-Mags (his version of the band is now called Cro-Mags JM after settling a dispute with a former bandmate) and Bloodclot to keep his public speaking affairs spontaneous; the lifelong New Yorker maintains his own YouTube channel and regularly conducts walking tours of Manhattan’s Lower East Side where he regales those who join him with stories of the neighbourhood’s history of both creativity and violent craziness. Joseph has more than a few tales to tell.
“I actually do speaking engagements a lot,” he says. “I’ve spoken at prisons, in high schools and done spoken word and stuff like that, so it’s just one of the things I try to do.
“I’m actually working on an off-Broadway kind of night of storytelling thing right now.”
Speaking engagements are just one of what Joseph, 57, accurately describes as “multiple irons in the fire” that he has on the go at any given time.
The plant-based diet advocate says he is currently working on his fourth book (a cookbook), new music with Bloodclot and a movie, all while also training for his 12th Ironman Triathlon.
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“Even when I’m on tour with Cro-Mags, Bloodclot — whatever — I train,” he says. “You’re either going to invest your time into doing positive things or the negative things are going to take over your life. I’m seeing the repercussions of that.
“We lost our guitar player last year — Todd Youth — in Bloodclot to a heroin overdose. He relapsed so… I have demons too, from addiction and stuff like that. So like I say, ‘If you relax, you get the axe.'”
The passing of Youth, also known for his work in bands like Danzig, Warzone and Murphy’s Law, seems to serve as a reminder to Joseph of how quickly things can change in life, something he says he is all too aware of.
“Depression never starts out full-blown. You just have to have a string of sh***y days and you don’t address what’s going on and then it just gets worse and worse. And then you try to self-medicate and you cut yourself off from people, and I have friends that have taken their own lives… so you have to constantly be on guard.”
According to Joseph, being introduced to Hare Krishna teachings and spirituality in the early 1980s radically altered how he viewed and lived life. He suggests it may have saved him from a life he did not want.
“I took it serious. I’m a person that came through a very abusive childhood. I was on the streets, I got locked up, I got shot at… stabbed… I know what’s waiting for me out there if I slip up.”
Joseph says he is also careful about what kind of people he chooses to invest his seemingly infrequent stretches of free time into.
He says he believes there’s a lot of wisdom in a famous Indian philosopher’s words that say something along the lines of “it’s better to embrace a tiger than to associate with some people.”
“I’ve seen people in my Ironman races that have been blind and are missing limbs… and they’re getting out there and they’re gettin’ after it, and they don’t sit around wanting people to feel sorry for them.”
As another example of living life positively and to the fullest, Joseph points to his friend Jack Flanagan, a musician who also managed well-known heavy music bands like Gwar and Clutch, who recently passed away but kept working until he couldn’t and didn’t talk about his mortality even though he knew his life was soon coming to an end.
“But you can’t go around life like that. You have to try to live a positive life and live a good example for others.”
Joseph says he was recently running along New York’s East River when he came upon a group of elderly people practicing tai chi and found it inspiring because of their commitment despite potential challenges presented by their age.
“These people are out there every single day, even when it’s snowing.”
Despite getting older himself, Joseph maintains a daily routine that he says keeps him energized and moving forward with the vast array of goals and interests he pursues.
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“I eat a plant-based diet – organic — and this is part of my routine: in yoga they call it Sadhana, your Sadhana practice,” he says. “So I mean, I’m up early every day at 5 a.m. and… I have like corkboards, pushpin boards, and I list out what I’ve gotta get done. You know I make a list and I just go checking it off each day.
“I get up and the first thing I do is my meditations and then I write and then I eat some good food and I get with the training… it’s just a constant effort to get my sh** done, you know?”
Joseph says the fact he does not drink or take drugs also helps him make the most of every day.
“It’s a matter of trying to leave things in a better way than when you found them. That’s my philosophy and that includes people… your interactions with people should be positive.”
Joseph suggests the vitriol and politics he sees on social media these days frustrates him and that his sense of spirituality leads him to believe many people are trapped in a mindset that does not allow them to think beyond what he believes is a materialistic society.
“At this time in my life, those are the type of people I try to be around.”
In addition to his speaking engagements in Edmonton and Calgary this week, Joseph will also be speaking (and cooking) for attendees at a multi-day health and wellness conference in Kananaskis Country that he says features a lineup of speakers he considers to be “top-tier people.”
Joseph indicates he hopes he can continue to inspire others, whether in their pursuit of creativity or in just trying to live the best life they possibly can, and that if his outlook on life can benefit someone, he wants to pay it forward.
“This is what worked for me in my chaotic life,” he says. “If it worked for me, it can work for you.”
John Joseph’s spoken word tour of Alberta will see him appear at The Buckingham in Edmonton on Wednesday, Nov. 6, The Commonwealth in Calgary on Thursday, Nov. 7 and at the Ignite 360 speaker series in Kananaskis Country on Friday, Nov. 8.